The AL Central is always up for grabs. In the past 3 years, 3 different teams have won the division. This past year it was the Chicago White Sox, who beat the Minnesota Twins in a 1 game playoff. The division consists of the White Sox and Twins, along with the Kansas City Royals, Detroit Tigers and the Cleveland Indians. Every year, 3 or even 4 teams are competitive in this tightly contested division, and it is anyone’s guess who will come out on top in ’09. So, here is an in depth look at the most unpredictable division in sports.
CHICAGO WHITE SOX: The Chicago White Sox finished the ’08 season with a 89-74 record and clinching the AL Central. They were eliminated in the 1st round of the playoffs by the Tampa Bay Rays in 4 games. In early November, the South Siders traded away OF/1B Nick Swisher to the New York Yankees for utility man Wilson Betemit. A few days after that trade, Chicago GM Ken Williams traded starters Javier Vazquez and Boone Logan to the Atlanta Braves for 4 highly prized prospects. To replace Vazquez in the rotation, the White Sox signed free agent Bartolo Colon, who pitched for Chicago in 2003. Also, it was reported earlier this off-season that the team was trying to move star outfielder Jermaine Dye and his hefty salary. However, they have been unsuccessful to this point as Dye remains on the roster. The White Sox are trying to go younger, but they still have some savvy veterans that could have them repeating as division champs.
White Sox Projected Lineup;
White Sox Rotation: Mark Buehrle, Jose Contreras, Bartolo Colon, Gavin Floyd and Matt Thorton
PREDICTION- 3rd place. Maybe you can shock me this year but I just don’t see it Chicago.
CLEVELAND INDIANS: The Cleveland Indians came into ’08 with high hopes and fell flat at .500 with an 81-81 record, finishing in 3rd place. The Tribe won the division in ’07 and went to the ALCS, losing in 7 games to the Boston Red Sox. Travis Hafner and Victor Martinez were both critical to the teams success in ’07. To the dismay of Indian fans, they both suffered injuries and had sub-par years. Cliff Lee was optioned to triple A in ’07, but came back in ’08 to go 22-3. In early July, the Indians traded their ace, CC Sabathia, to the Milwaukee Brewers for stud prospect Matt LaPorta. In the off season the Tribe made a trade with the Cubs and acquired 2nd basemen Mark Derosa. Cleveland has a boat load of talent, especially with all star Grady Sizemore. The Indians will be more like the Tribe of ’07.
Indians Projected Starting Lineup;
3B- Asdrubal Cabrera
RF-Shin Soo Choo
Indians Rotation: Cliff Lee, Jake Westbrook, Fausto Carmona, Carl Pavano and Jeremy Sowers
PREDICTION-1st place, I believe that the Tribe will be like the ’07 team.
DETROIT TIGERS: The 2008 Detroit Tigers were the World Series favorite in ’08 but instead they finished in last place with a 74-88 record. Before the ’08 season the Tigers traded for Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis, however key injuries and bad play forced Jim Leyland’s club to falter and have a dreadful year. Detroit’s biggest problem was, and is, their pitching. However they have done nothing this off season to try and correct their mishaps. Detroit failed to resign shortstop Edgar Renteria, and then signed Adam Everett to fill his shoes. The Tigers made a trade with the Rangers in mid-November to get catcher Gerald Laird. In January, the Tigers got on the phone with the Rays and pulled off a deal that sent pitcher Edwin Jackson to Detroit and OF Matt Joyce to Tampa. The Tigers have loads of talent but that talent is either too old or too young, it may be another tough one for a team who was in the World Series in 2006.
Tigers Projected Lineup;
Tigers Projected Rotation: Justin Verlander, Nate Robertson, Dontrelle Willis, Edwin Jackson and Jeremy Bonderman.
PREDICTION-4th place: You need to get younger to get better.
KANSAS CITY ROYALS: The Royals are used to disappointing seasons and last place finishes. However, in ’08 they came in 4th place with a 75-87 record. KC had a decent off-season, as in late October they acquired power hitting 1st basemen Mike Jacobs from the Florida Marlins. The Royals then traded reliever Ramon Ramirez to the Red Sox in exchange for speedy outfielder Coco Crisp. They also resigned Zach Greinke for 4 more years. With Ramirez gone, the Royals needed some bullpen help, so they signed hard throwing righty Kyle Farnsworth. After losing out on Rafael Furcal the Royals signed Willie Bloomquist to a 2 year contract. In reality, the Royals do try but it is not enough, I do not see why ’09 will be any different than ’08.
Royals Projected Lineup;
SS-Tony Peña Jr
Royals Projected Rotation : Gil Meche, Zach Greinke, Luke Hochevar, Jimmy Gobble and Brian Bannister
PREDICTION-5th place. I know same old story, not enough talent, a scrappy team missing a few ingredients.
MINNESOTA TWINS: Then Minnesota Twins are the epitome of a team with a low payroll that is always competitive. The Twins came in 2nd place last year with an 88-75 record, but lost the division by 1 game to the White Sox. No one thought the Twins could be good after trading away star pitcher Johan Santana to the Mets, and after the Angels signed Torii Hunter, the Twins were looked at as a laughing stock. To top things off, young phenom Fransico Liriano will be out more than half the year with injuries. However, the Twins are a resilient bunch and will have a remarkable season. The only thing that the Twins have done this off-season is re-signing 3rd basemen Nick Punto. Minnesota always puts out a good product and with stars like Joe Mauer and home run derby champion Justin Morneau still around, the Twins will be back with a vengeance in ’09.
Twins Projected Lineup:
Twins Projected Rotation: Francisco Liriano, Jesse Crain, Boof Bonser, Nick Blackburn and Pat Neshek
PREDICTION-2nd place. Another good, solid year for the Twins, not quite enough to win it all, but you’ll be in the race to the end.
The AL Central is always an interesting one to watch. Every year it seems a different winner emerges from the pack. While some seem revamped, others are heading down the toilet that is the cellar of baseball. It will be interesting to see what comes of the AL Central in 2009.