The American League Central in 2012


It’s the Detroit Tigers and the also rans. This is, literally, the only division in baseball where I can only see one possible playoff team.

Some of that isn’t fair. After all… the American League is loaded, and that keeps a lot of the National League teams in contention. And, the Indians were surprising in how they ran their club in 2011… having the look and feel of a team that expected to win.

But unfair or not, it is accurate. When Tampa, Boston, New York, California and the two-time defending AL Champion Texas are playing for division and wild card slots, you had better be pretty darn good if you want to get into the discussion as well.

Detroit is such a club. One of the best in baseball.

The remaining teams are not.

Detroit Tigers
What I expect in 2012: 92-70

What they did in 2011: 95-67

Key personnel changes: Lost Victor Martinez for the year to injury. Added Prince Fielder during free agency.

My expectations: Cruising to a division win… third seed in the playoffs… home after the first round.

Yes… that simple.

But you want more? Ok.

Let’s check out the Martinez – Fielder – Cabrera fun.

Victor Martinez is out for the season. That should raise a huge problem on the offensive side of the world for Detroit. They responded to that issue when they went out and signed Fielder. And now, Fielder and Cabrera make up the most potent back-to-back in the game. (Next season, given Martinez coming back… dear lord, wow.)

In accomplishing that though, the Tigers took a weak first basemen (Cabrera) and sent him back to third base. There, he’ll be a weak third baseman. And, they added a weak first baseman (Fielder). Granted… those are the edges of the defensive arrangement, and normally you look first up the middle. But it still shows that this is not a balanced club.

After Verlander we get questions… questions… questions in the pitching. I like Max Scherzer and Doug Fister showed more in 2011 after his trade than I ever expected. Still… the Tigers are not assembling Weaver, Haren, and Wilson here.

Detroit is relying on Octavio Dotel to be the bridge into the set-up and closer spots. It’s not a bad risk… he’s had 62 or more appearances every season since 2008. (Admit it… you didn’t know he had become somewhat reliable.)

Against the AL Central, all of these things are nice. But pound-to-submission offense seldom wins in the postseason. And I see better pitching on all of the other AL contenders.

Where it could all go wrong (or, I suppose, right): The problem for the Tigers is they are built for regular season success and postseason troubles.

After Justin Verlander goes to the mound, chances are good that they will be sending out the weaker starter in any playoff contest. California and Tampa are definitely deeper and stronger… Boston, if they make the postseason, should be deeper and stronger… and New York and Texas could be better as well.

In the regular season Detroit will have a ridiculous middle of the order that will chew up inferior pitching. In the postseason we could be talking about AL opponents sending Albert Pujols, Adrian Gonzalez, and what truly amounts to solid lineups of their own to the plate.

On top of that… while I expect Verlander to be fine… the rest of the rotation is not a strikeout-happy bunch. And what I mean is that in at least three games out of every five, the defense needs to make outs. (Remember… I like Scherzer. But I already outlined where their offense came with defensive sacrifices.)

Since I enjoy throwing these things out there… Martinez is primarily a designated hitter, right? Ok then… I’m not expecting a return. Supposedly his surgical needs are so potentially severe they are performing it in two separate surgeries. Still… he’s a DH… not catching… not at first base. And the Tigers are putting Cabrera and Fielder out in regular positions, likely only giving them DH days to rest a bit while keeping the bat in the order. So… what if, when rosters expand (and the Tigers likely have a very comfortable division lead), they are able to add Martinez? You know… work him into some hitting shape as a possible pinch-hitter or even regular DH for the playoffs? And before you tell me to be quiet… Wes Welker was back on a football field about 8 months after knee surgery. Depending on his rehab schedule, September and October offers Martinez a similar time frame from his injury date, and likely about 6 months from the planned second surgery. Is it likely? No. But man could the Tigers be looking at a nice late season possibility.

Cleveland Indians
What I expect in 2012: 84-78

What they did in 2011: 80-82

Key personnel changes: Casey Kotchman? That a big one for you?

The big move is the trade back in late October for Derek Lowe. He may not be perfect, but he could add a nice bit of depth to the starting staff.

My expectations: I like this club, and I think they are going to surprise some people with a winning record. They have two problems though.

In the division, I present you with Prince Fielder, Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander managed by Jim Leyland. Problem number one – They are not good enough to win the division.

Outside of the division… let’s crown California and New York as division winners… there remains two playoff spots for clubs like Texas, Tampa and Boston. Problem number two – They are not good enough to win 90 games.

That’s a lot to overcome. And once they get outside of the division, most opponents are better.

Where it could all go wrong (or, I suppose, right): Ok… first of all… applause for this organization. They made some really gutsy moves last summer, and I do believe we are potentially seeing something bordering on quite special developing. Some improvement is in order.

Here’s an interesting thought… and I couldn’t believe it when I read it. Apparently, the Indians don’t have a single player under contract for more than two years. In other words… beyond 2013. They control some of their younger players. But the longest remaining contracts are for two seasons and that’s it. How’s that for being able to turn around your roster in a hurry if you want to?

Chicago White Sox
What I expect in 2012: 84-78

What they did in 2011: 79-83

Key personnel changes: Lost Mark Buehrle, Sergio Santos, and Carlos Quentin to trades and free agency. Also added Kosuke Fukudome.

My expectations: Detroit is just so tough. And I think I have the White Sox with too many wins.

In the AL Central, you could usually point to 88-wins and you’d be in the hunt. I don’t think that works this year. The wild card could be at a sick level… possibly requiring 96 wins for either of the wild card slots. (I doubt it too… the teams will level that out a bit when very good teams lose games to other very good teams. But Detroit should clear 90-wins (and take the division). Chicago will not. And there is no way that I see either wild card slot being filled by a team with less than 90 wins.)

The White Sox need Jake Peavy to start over 30 games and deliver about 210-innings. If he does that, then hold on, because several other things begin to become a little more likely.

John Danks and Gavin Floyd are good starters. The problem? Mark Buehrle is gone… and he was just a consistent, decent presence. If Peavy can be that presence… hmm… Chicago with a steady staff? Ok… maybe things look a bit brighter…

Unfortunately, there is a very good possibility the batting order will begin and end with Paul Konerko. And if that’s true… with players like Adam Dunn not bouncing back and performing more like 2011 than the years before… this club is in huge trouble no matter what Peavy does.

Minnesota and Cleveland may not be perfect clubs either, but they will be competitive… which spells problems for the White Sox.

Where it could all go wrong (or, I suppose, right): Peavy and Dunn. Keep saying that. Peavy and Dunn.

Jake Peavy hasn’t started more than 16 games… or pitched more than about 110 innings… since 2008. In limited action over the past three seasons, his ERA has continuously risen while his strikeouts per nine has gone down. Look at any measurement you want… WHIP, strikeouts-to-walks, hits per nine… there are reasons to wonder about what you will get from Peavy in 2012.

The thing is… it is pretty much impossible for Adam Dunn to have a worse season in 2012 than the stink bomb he delivered in 2011.

If these two guys can offer anything in 2012… and I mean more than 25 starts and something approaching 180 or more innings from Peavy, and quite literally anything that allows Dunn to add something to Konerko in the batting order… then there is a reason to give them a chance on most nights. And sometimes, a chance is all you can ask for.

Minnesota Twins
What I expect in 2012: 75-87

What they did in 2011: 63-99

Key personnel changes: Added Josh Willingham, Ryan Doumit and Jason Marquis. Lost Michael Cuddyer and Joe Nathan.

My expectations: I don’t like how much we’ve found out about the club recently. And by that, I mean how much they require Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau to carry them. When they aren’t on the field, the Twins suffer tremendously. And last year they weren’t on the field much at all.

On a positive note… no one was on the field for the Twins in 2011. I believe they sent more players to the disabled list last year than any other club. And so… if they are healthy… then using 2011 to predict 2012 is pointless.

Now… even if I tell you everyone is healthy, and Mauer and Morneau will play in a combined 290-plus games… looking to 2012 as possibly successful still isn’t easy. And yet…

Willingham and Doumit could offer as much pop in the lineup as any options like Michael Cuddyer. And if Mauer stays healthy and catches more than anything else, Doumit is a nice option to have available.

I just don’t see where Ron Gardenhire can do it once again with a bunch of guys we haven’t really heard of… or even accomplish much with those we have heard of. Carl Pavano and Francisco Liriano? Nice stories… but not one of the best pairings in the American League.

Where it could all go wrong (or, I suppose, right): Health again.

There’s a reason everyone in Minnesota holds their breath and crosses their fingers about Joe Mauer. He gets injured… and as a catcher, his injuries tend to keep him on the bench.

I think a lot of people are underestimating the Twins. I don’t think a winning record is necessarily a lost cause… and where I have Chicago with too many wins, I likely have Minnesota with too few.

It’s simply a fragile team though. Liriano is their one shot at a dominant starter. (Yeah… I said it… Francisco Liriano is the Twins hope for an ace.)

Kansas City Royals
What I expect in 2012: 64-98

What they did in 2011: 71-91

Key personnel changes: Hard to get excited about much here. The signings for the big club included Bruce Chen and Yuniesky Betancourt. And while we could debate it back and forth a bit… let’s be honest…

They brought back Chen because of an interesting set of stats he delivered in 2011. But is Chen a part of the future? Is he a bridge to the future? No… and no. Maybe… and we can high-light that in huge letters, MAYBE… a team gets desperate in the middle of the year, and he’s turning in an average effort, and the Royals can trade him.

Otherwise… yawn in this area. Want more? Ok…

They traded Melky Cabrera.

Do you care? Probably not. Does that change 2012 for them? Yeah… not so much.

My expectations: Here’s something to keep in mind about the AL Central… it’s not a particularly tough division.

Oh sure… it’s good. I like it better than the NL Central. But when you look at the top clubs in the NL East… the AL West… the AL East… it should become clear that being the Royals is a hell of a lot better than being the Orioles, Blue Jays, Mariners, A’s or Mets.

On most nights, against any division opponent, the Royals have a shot. (Yes… even against the Tigers.)

We hear potential and youth kicked around so much when it comes to Kansas City. Eventually potential and youth have to show up on the 25-man roster… otherwise, no one cares.

Where it could all go wrong (or, I suppose, right): I made this point about Toronto… which, since the AL East is a separate column, you may not have read yet… that showed how tough it is going to be for the Blue Jays to reach .500 when half of the season is played against Boston, New York, Tampa and Baltimore.

Kansas City gets the opposite idea. Let’s just say they play hard, play well, and can reach .500 in a crazy and slightly-open division. Could happen. (I suppose.)

The problem after that involves the juggernauts outside their division. .500 is about the best Kansas City could ever do in the division. Of the nine American League teams outside their division, five are as good if not better than Detroit, and Toronto is better than Kansas City. They will not play over .500 outside of the Central.

And that’s really all you need to know. If this club is going to be 15 to 20 games below .500 against the AL East, AL West and interleague opponents, they will be at least (and likely more than) 15 to 20 games below for the year.

The interesting thing is simple… if the organization would just jettison Jeff Francoeur and Betancourt (and similar veterans), there is a possible youth movement that might be able to crack into the upper half of this division next season.

If you have any comments or questions, please e-mail me at