2009 MLB Preview: AL Central
Happy Manny Day everyone!
I decided to celebrate Manny Day ’09 by writing this preview while wearing my authentic home No. 99 jersey. Am I a little old to be wearing jersey outside of the ballpark? Probably, but I felt that it would be appropriate to commemorate my Cleveland Indians pick in the threads of a horse who earned his stripes playing for the Tribe.
I am picking Cleveland, aren’t I?
Before we get to the standings, there’s the little matter of a disclaimer to plow through.
There is not a single great team in the AL Central, nor is there a single terrible one. That means every monkey-in-the-middle has a shot. Along with the AL EAST this division could produce one of the more exciting chases in baseball.
5) Chicago White Sox
As I mentioned, with no awful teams, someone has to lose the division and unfortunately the Sox are in the running for the “prize”.
I’m not a big believer in their ace, Mark Buehrle. He hasn’t pitched well in three years, though last season was solid from start to finish; just not one a team wants from their No.1 starter.
I just can’t put my finger on what it is I don’t like about MVP candidate, Carlos Quentin. Is it that he hasn’t played in more than 130 games in a season yet? Is it that his career average is .262? Is it that he hit 31 more home runs last year than he did in ’07?
Look, Quentin may very well be end up as the cornerstone of this franchise. He could live up to the year he had last season. Or, he could scale things back, U-turning this train back toward his career averages.
John Danks is a solid pitcher. The end. He isn’t great, and doesn’t have the stuff to be a premier guy. Gavin Floyd, on the other hand, just might.
Jermaine Dye secretly stinks.
Ok, anyone with a brain who has the ability to look up stats (ie: everyone on the planet) can see that Dye’s decline hasn’t been much of a decline at all. He’s still going strong. Unfortunately, after Quentin, Dye is the only dependable bat in the line-up. Alexei Ramirez is good too… I guess.
Like I said, the Sox aren’t bad, but someone has to finish last.
-Carlos Quentin: I just have an inkling this cat isn’t quite as good as he played last year.
-Mark Buehrle: 2008 was the lefty’s first stab at a decent season in years. The Sox need an ace. Buehrle isn’t one.
-Paul Konerko: He will have to do better than .240 if the Sox are to compete.
-Alexei Ramirez: The little guy has game; how much game?
TEAM GRADE: C-
4) Minnesota Twins
If any team’s fate can hang on the durability of a single arm, it’s the Twins with Francisco Liriano’s left wing. If Liriano’s left arm is really ready to sling sliders with reckless abandon, he will have no issues. The only problem? His coaches don’t want him to. I smell trouble in paradise.
Minnesota is an extremely young team. But does that mean that they will be good? I think not my friends.
Carlos Gomez and Delmon Young haven’t lived up to lofty expectations thus far. Young has lost his job, and will have to hit well this spring to earn it back. Gomez seemed to hit a wall last year, and while he is an extremely exciting player, that may be all he is. Even though he doesn’t have a plus glove, and speed to burn.
-Francisco Liriano: Is his mind right? What about his arm slot? Does any of this matter at all?
-Scott Baker: Doesn’t have the stuff of Lirano, but is more dependable.
-Justin Morneau: Does it seem real that this guy actually won an MVP? I mean he’s good, but an MVP?
-Joe Mauer: Mauer is no longer considered the league’s top-dog at the catcher, but I’d take .328 and 85-RBI from my catcher any day.
TEAM GRADE: C-
3) Kansas City Royals
Kansas City has been the trendy pick this winter to emulate what the Tampa Bay Rays were able to accomplish last year. I’m not here to rain on any parades, far from it. I’m just going to sprinkle a scoach of nutmeg-flavored reality on top of this chai latte. While the Royals certainly have stocked their stable with some of the best young talent in the game, they don’t quite have what it takes to be an elite team.
Does that mean they won’t contend in the Central? Far from it, and you can count on guys like Alex Gordon and Billy Butler to be leaps and bounds better than they were last year. They may win the division, it is that wide open, but they will not be an elite team which can contend with any that comes out of the East or West.
Zach Greinke had B+ stuff throughout most of the year. Are his past off-the-field issues behind him? The Royals sure hope so.
In time this may be a very good team, as for now it’s only a fairly decent one with loads of promise.
-Zach Greinke: If the psychological issues are gone for good the Royals may have struck gold with a future all-star.
-Alex Gordon: One of the better 3B prospects in the game, but didn’t show it last season. He hit only .260 with 16 home runs. Fantasy owners everywhere cried themselves to sleep through most of the summer months.
-Billy Butler: Played so poorly in May he was sent to Triple-A. He didn’t do much better after being called back up, but did hit .330 in August. The dude can hack though, and if his confidence is back he should be fine.
-Luke Hochevar: This guy hasn’t thrown particularly well at any of the professional levels. He threw just good enough to advance. Will he put it together in the Show?
TEAM GRADE: C
2) Cleveland Indians
The Indians had a shot at the Central last year, but couldn’t quite put it all together, and ended up sending C.C. Sabathia to the Brewers for a magical run that was second only to Manny Ramirez (We can just stop talking about Manny. Knee me in the groin if you’re sick of it, but while I’m keeled over I’ll probably be rambling about .398.) as the story of the second half.
If Cleveland hadn’t sent Sabathia packing, would they have beaten out the White Sox? Ehh, probably not. So what has changed? Fausto Carmona is healthy (possibly) and Matt LaPorta -the treasure of the Sabathia deal- may be on his way to help out the cause soon. They also have Carl Pavano (good gosh, I just dry heaved).
Two paragraphs into my Cleveland breakdown and I still haven’t mentioned Grady Sizemore? I feel like the rest of the media.
Odds are you know his name, but unless you are an Indians fan or a fantasy baseball geek you probably don’t know just how talented the guy is. It’s a coin flip between Sizemore and Ryan Braun as to who the best 26 and under outfielder in MLB is.
I keep peering into my crystal ball and continue seeing the Tribe coming up short. Perhaps they will prove me wrong.
-Grady Sizemore: Just a freak of a baseball player. Buy mlb.tv and actually stop to watch an Indians game. Do yourself a favor.
-Fausto Carmona: Was amazing in ’07 and just as bad in ’08. A top young talent, but needs to get his game right. Frick, I sound like Stephen A. Smith. I’m going to go ahead and sit the next couple of plays out.
-Cliff Lee: I didn’t mention him above because I don’t believe. Prove me wrong, Cliff. Do it.
-Victor Martinez: I will punch Britton in the kidney if V-Mart doesn’t hit at least ten homers this year. That’s a promise.
TEAM GRADE: B-
1) Detroit Tigers
I know what you’re thinking — Didn’t I get burned like the rest of the Western Hemisphere, who picked Detroit to break all kinds of records, while waltzing into the Series?
Now, didn’t the Tigers lose more than they gained this offseason?
(I’m not reffering to Miguel Cabrera’s weight.)
That depends on what you are referring to. If it’s losing Pudge Rodriguez (who like many Americans and 10% of California, now finds himself out of work) than I’m calling it addition by subtraction.
Gerald Laird isn’t anything to write home to Mom about, but he should be better than the washed-up possible roider (did I just suggest… yes I did, don’t sound so shocked).
I’m also willing to call Edwin Jackson and Brandon Lyon significant additions. Though to be fair, I am holding my breath. Those two have had a history of making fans sweat.
Miguel Cabrera had a career high in home runs but hit less than .320 for the first time since 2004. Most of us expected the chubby first baseman to knock in somewhere in the neighborhood of 160 runs, and felt wronged when Cabrera finished with just 127 RBI. His OBP was also far below his career average. Still, Cabby will anchor a better than average Tigers offense, and as always has the potential to post mind-boggling numbers.
The reason Detroit will leave the Indians and company in the dust isn’t the offense; it’s the pitching staff. I don’t care if Dontrelle Willis throws his shoe to the plate (he’d be be just as likely to throw a strike with it as a ball), if Jeremy Bonderman’s shoulder is ok, the Tigers will have a fantastic front four. Edwin Jackon should be a big help.
As a side note, and a fairly cool one, I have officially joined the ranks of the thousands of Americans who can say they played high school ball with an honest to God Major Leaguer. My former teammate is catching prospect Dusty Ryan. I speak from “experience” when I say Ryan is a slugger with a rocket arm. His main downside is his glove. The Tigers asked him to work on blocking balls in the dirt this winter. The only thing that stands between Ryan and serious playing time is Gerald Laird and Matt Traynor. Laird is decent, but if he were to go down, Ryan likely will jump past Traynor as the starting catcher.
Why am I spending this much time on a player that likely won’t be too terribly relevant to the Tigers’ run at the division? Because I played with a guy who was good enough to make it to the bigs; and like all of you, I most certainly was not.
And that my friends is why I write.
-Justin Verlander: I picked Verlander to win the Cy Young last year, so believe me, I felt like a moron when he went 11-17. Not a great prediction on my part. It was a rough patch, but he can’t possibly pitch worse; can he?
-Gary Sheffield: I know the guy is 41 years old, but please, for all of us; hit better than .225.
-Armando Galarraga: We all want to know if this kid can step up. He’s had one full season in the bigs. He is 27 years old. Hold on to your hats folks; I smell a something… it’s… it’s… CAREER DEFINING.
-Jeremy Bonderman: Be healthy… be healthy… be healthy.
TEAM GRADE: B