The American League Central in 2009


In previous years, I’ve used the six divisional columns to predict records and make comments about the teams. This year, I’m debating the records part. There will still be a summary column… so I’m thinking of putting records over there if I do them.

For now… let’s take a look at the AL Central. The listing of teams is in the order I’m predicting the division to finish…

This division overall scares me to predict probably more than any of the others. And here’s why… there is no favorite, at least not a consistent, proven one.

Every team except Kansas City has performed well… made the playoffs… been a disappointment… exceeded expectations… played well… played poorly… and basically has done anything they could to make the playoffs and then mess things up the next year. And Kansas City has a shot not just in this division, but in the entire American League, at turning in the most improvement compared to last season.

And I can show you multiple examples of each of these concepts relating to every one of these teams without going back any further than 2005. Detroit and Chicago have been to the World Series. Cleveland had knocked off Goliath only to fall apart about a week later. Minnesota has challenged for the playoffs in years when people didn’t expect them to sniff 80 wins.

So… pick one… to win?


(At least in the confusion that is the NL Central the Cubs appear a bit better than everyone else. They just collapsed in the playoffs.)

Alright… let’s see what we can make out of this mess…

Cleveland Indians ~ I’m not thrilled about having them lead this pack.

Carl Pavano.

Not kidding… Carl Pavano.

I would love to see him go 16-9 and make 30+ starts. It would drive folks in New York to the point of jumping off a bridge. I just don’t think that’s possible. So instead of more Pavano jokes, let’s take a look at Cliff Lee.

When I finished the NL Central preview, I had written about Ryan Dempster and how his history suggests a 40% chance he’ll mange to turn in an average season. Not great… not good… not a comparison of this season against his personal previous performances… compared to every other pitcher in the league, a less than 50-50 shot at being average.

Cliff Lee made his first appearance in 2002. Only in 2007… with 20 appearances and 16 starts… is there anything but starter in his record. And he’s 76-41 doing that. Good stuff.

(Wait. Hold on a second. 22-3 last year… 18-5 in 2005. That’s 40-8 over his two best seasons. So now he’s a much more modest 36-32 when we consider 2003, 2004, 2006 and 2007. A third of the time… seems really, really good. Two-thirds of the time… well, that divides out actually to four years of 9-8. Still a winning record though. But dominant? Hardly.)

The good news is that I think Lee will be ok. But I’m talking 12-15 wins ok. Not Cy Young repeat. Dempster is 40% to reach average… Lee is 50% to be decent.

And if that’s the case… Pavano isn’t making New Yorkers cry and Lee is not much better than average… why would I be picking Pavano and Lee to win this division?

Well… for once… the team might legitimately have a closer. If Kerry Wood stays healthy, I’m ok with the bullpen.

And outside of Lee and Pavano, we’re talking Jake Westbrook and Fausto Carmona as starters… which could be nice. More likely it means that the Indians are going to have some good days… and some bad days… but through all five slots of their rotation they won’t be too overmatched by any other club. The problem with pitching is… they don’t have a sure-fire ace of the staff.

When it comes to regular position players, there’s Grady Sizemore. He’s arguably the best outfielder in baseball right now. Kelly Shoppach is emerging. I actually like the defense here. And if either Victor Martinez and Travis Hafner has a solid season, the batting order could be really good.

I admit that this isn’t much of an argument in favor of Cleveland. I gave Texas no love based on what happens if everything goes right. But as opposed to those other clubs, here we have a superstar… Sizemore. And, the rest is a bunch of parts where everyone could be seen as contributing equally. If Lee isn’t winning 15-20… well… Carmona might.

And that’s better than what I see in the rest of these clubs.

Minnesota Twins ~ If I trusted their starting rotation just a wee bit more, I’d probably take them to win the division. But instead, I don’t know what to make of the pitching. Talented… very talented… but in places a bit young… and are they ever healthy at the same time? I simply don’t see much depth that can be relied on for 2009. I understand, they have alot of good young arms, but none that I can point to and count on for 10… 12… 15 unexpected wins. Similar issues plague the bullpen… capable of very good efforts, trustworthy in general, but there are a few question marks that will be on the roster when they get started.

Having said that…

I do like the pitching. Kevin Slowey might be that missing piece of the puzzle for them. And while you may not recognize the names, there are several arms in line with Slowey. The Twins do have pitching. They do have good pitching. They just don’t have battle-tested, injury-free pitching. (Hello Mr. Liriano… not implying anything since it was just one injury-filled season and you’re just starting your career… but they need 30 starts from you.)

The Twins look ok defensively… which I think matters. You know that old adage that momentum is the next day’s starter? Well… I agree with that in general. But I would add to it that a decent team defensively can be just as important to season-long momentum. Teams playing well defensively, in my opinion, seem more consistent. I don’t have the time I’d need to do the stats on this… it’s one of those things that you never notice when it’s there, but always see when it isn’t… teams that play solid do lose games, but they don’t seem to hit “how will they lose today” extended streaks.

Joe Crede was a decent addition at third base. Other than that though, not much was really added to the Twins.

For me… this whole season comes down to Joe Mauer. If this injury is something major, Minnesota just doesn’t have the roster to win the division or contend for the wild card. If he returns quickly and lasts the year, this club should be able to grind out 88... maybe 90 or so wins, and be in contention when September arrives.

Detroit Tigers ~ I refuse to fall for it. Not again. Not after last time. Not after the time before last time. I refuse to believe this team will win the division. But damn… it’s just so hard to look at this roster and not think big things.

Edwin Jackson added to Justin Verlander, Nate Robertson and Jeremy Bonderman should give you two starters that are above decent. Unfortunately, inconsistencies and injuries have been associated with Detroit pitching more than quality since the World Series appearance.

Brandon Lyon and Gerald Laird are some of the more interesting additions to this team. And… well… that’s not so interesting… so, look…

You have Magglio Ordonez and Miguel Cabrera. You don’t have Edgar “oh crap, I can’t play in the American League” Renteria or Kenny “why doesn’t anyone appreciate me” Rogers. This absolutely should be the foundation of a 90 win team.

The problem?

Recent history suggests they will underachieve.

Another problem?

The economy suggests that not only will they move Ordonez in July, but Cabrera might be available for a discount price as well.

So I’m not falling for it. They’re good enough to stay out of the basement, but I won’t pick them to win it.

Chicago White Sox ~ I always regret not taking Chicago seriously. When the season ends I look back and think crazy things … and a few times since I started doing these columns, the season has ended with the White Sox in the playoffs.

Mark Buehrle? I like Mark Buehrle.

Bobby Jenks? Eh… take him or leave him personally… but the guy had 40 or more saves in 2006 and 2007, looked good in 2008, and he’s only 28. (In fact, the more I think about it, I’d say take him.)

And then Thome, Konerko and Dye? Got it… aging… but at least the pieces fit and aren’t forced the way other teams have 4 or 5 1B/DH types. And they can all have good days.

No… this is a team to be looked at seriously. Right?


Bartolo Colon will be fine, for 5 or 6 starts. He’s not giving you a full season ever again.

Jose Contreras? Does anyone remember when there was alot of excitement about this guy? I do. Seems like it was a heck of a long time ago… but wait, it was actually the 2003 season!

I suppose… lightning in a bottle… this is a club worth respecting. But I’m not going to be placing them near the playoffs at all.

They’re still looking for starting outfielders… which, depending on how we count, makes this at least season three of that problem. And that’s just an example of what I mean here. I’m not crazy about this club.

Kansas City Royals ~ Here’s the question I have when it comes to Kansas City… are the Royals seriously trying to get better, or are they just adding some bells and whistles to give off the appearance of trying to get better?

Coco Crisp doesn’t impress me… but… you know… whatever. Have a ball.

(Funny thing is… Coco really doesn’t have a place in a batting order. He doesn’t produce enough to hit in a slot of major responsibility, like leading off… and he’s too enticing, too much of that magic potential, to feel comfortable leaving him hitting in the bottom of the order. Again… you know… whatever. That’s me. Not the true statistics I suppose. But what I’ve seen suggests when he gets hot, he’ll be very hot… but when he gets cold, he is bru-tal. (On the other hand, the supposed true statistics also say he’s a good defensive player. Yeah. Sure. No arm and does it all with speed, smoke and mirrors.) So if you want him… enjoy. I’m not impressed.)

Let’s look in another direction. Kyle Farnsworth? Why? Was there something at Kaufmann Stadium that needed to be burned beyond the recognition of any realm of science? Didn’t they do enough demolition work there before the season began?

In short, on the surface, I do not see where people are claiming improvements worthy of note on this club.

Ah… but change your perspective. Don’t look at the additions for this year, look at what existed before, and suddenly there is some talent.

Gil Meche has been better in Kansas City than I ever expected him to be. Zack Greinke deserves far more credit than he gets… apparently Tampa gets better press than Kansas City, because Greinke against Kazmir, don’t be so fast to pick between the two by taking Kazmir. Joakim Soria may be the best unknown reliever in baseball.

I think there is room for improvement and it’s possible good things are closer than you might think… and for reasons that aren’t being publicized.

Just not winning record in 2009.


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