Friday, April 2, 2010

AL Central and West preview

Since the season is coming up on us ever so quickly, my plan to break down every division is highly unlikely to come to fruition. So this will be part 2 of a three-part series, with the third post being a National League preview. For now though, the AL Central and AL West.

AL Central Winner: Minnesota Twins

I always pimp Ozzie Guillen and the White Sox and I always fall flat on my face. Time to change speeds and take the Twins, who really do have a solid team heading into the 2010 season. The middle of their order includes Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel, all of whom have 25-homer potential (although I think Mauer slides back a little bit this year). The additions of Orlando Hudson and J.J. Hardy should bolster Minnesota's middle infield and with Mauer and center fielder Denard Span, the Twins will be very strong up the middle.

Scott Baker and Kevin Slowey will be the team's top two starters and while neither is overpowering, they get outs and can eat up 200-plus innings. Francisco Liriano is the x-factor in the Minnesota rotation. A breakout season from him will give the Twins three legitimate starting pitchers.

The bullpen took a big hit with the season-ending injury to Joe Nathan and while a closer-by-committee seems to be in the works for now, expect either Jon Rauch or Matt Guerrier to sew up that job by the end of April. Jesse Crain and Jose Mijares add depth for the middle innings and the return of Pat Neshek from Tommy John surgery just adds to what is usually is strength for the Twins. Expecting 90 wins would be a stretch, but 85 should take this division.

The Rest

The White Sox are strong in the starting pitching department with Mark Buehrle, John Danks, Gavin Floyd and recently acquired Jake Peavy. Gordon Beckham is a star in the making but Chicago will need big season from Carlos Quentin, Alex Rios and Alexei Ramirez to contend for the division crown. It's hard to count on all three of those guys...

The Tigers have question marks surrounding their starting pitching behind Justin Verlander. Can Max Scherzer work deep into games? Will Rick Porcello take a step forward or a step backward? Does Dontrelle Willis deserve a major league contract anymore?

I expect a big season from Miguel Cabrera and by big, I mean .330 with 40 home runs and 110 RBI. Beyond him and Johnny Damon, the Tigers will be relying on a few rookies to make instant impacts in the big leagues, particularly Austin Jackson and Scott Sizemore. Detroit and Chicago will be fighting it out for second in the Central, though.

The Indians are much too young to put together much more than a 70-75 win season and their pitching leaves much to be desired when Jake Westbrook is your Opening Day starter. Look out for the return to relevance of Fausto Carmona and if youngsters Matt LaPorta and Michael Brantley grow up quickly, they could put together a formidable lineup alongside Grady Sizemore and Shin-Soo Choo.

The Royals are, well, the Royals. Zack Greinke and Billy Butler are fun players and Mike Aviles is hitting over .500 this spring, but this team will still end up in the cellar.

AL West Winner: Seattle Mariners

Love this team this season and Seattle is a definite World Series sleeper. Okay now that's a stretch, but this team has great defense, great pitching and a park that suits the way this team is built. Felix Hernandez and Cliff Lee are one of the league's better one-two punches at the top of any rotation and while their lineup lacks star power, solid under-the-radar players like Franklin Gutierrez and Jose Lopez will join with known quantities like Ichiro and Chone Figgins. The Mariners will run often to cover the lack of power in that lineup, which could also be due to the dimensions of Safeco Field. My only real question is what happens to a team that has Milton Bradley as their cleanup hitter...

The Rest

The Angels are usually the class of the West, but the departures of Figgins and John Lackey leave this team with a few holes to fill. I've learned to never underestimate a Mike Scoscia-managed team, but they need to find an ace out of Jered Weaver, Ervin Santana or Scott Kazmir. Joe Saunders and Joel Piniero round out what should be a deep rotation, but without Lackey they will need to find a horse to rely on.

Their lineup is comparable to Texas' in this division thanks to an outfield that includes Torii Hunter, Juan Rivera and Bobby Abreu, not to mention 2009 breakout star Kendry Morales at first base and World Series hero Hideki Matsui at DH. Howie Kendrick and Erick Aybar are solid up the middle and Mike Napoli will provide stability behind the plate. Don't sleep on the Angels this year, because everybody else is.

The Rangers' lineup is awesome, with potential 30-home run guys like Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz and Chris Davis and speed like Elvis Andrus and Julio Borbon. Ian Kinsler will provide both once he comes off the DL and Michael Young has always been a solid player. Now if they could just fix a pitching staff that starts with Scott Feldman and Rich Harden...

As far as the A's go, I love Brett Anderson this season. I'm in way too many fantasy leagues and he's on way too many of my teams. But beyond him I'm not sure how much I trust Ben Sheets, Trevor Cahill and Justin Duchscherer. And a lineup headlined by names like Coco Crisp, Rajai Davis, Jack Cust and Kevin Kouzmanoff isn't much to write about either.

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