The next division I will be previewing is the AL Central:
Last year, the AL Central title was a battle between the Chicago White Sox and the Detroit Tigers. The White Sox were in the lead for much of the season until they faltered with just a couple weeks left as the Tigers clinched the division on October 1st. The Tigers finished 88-74 with the White Sox at 85-77. The White Sox lost six of their last 10 games to end the season while the Tigers won eight of their last 10. The Kansas City Royals, Cleveland Indians, and Minnesota Twins all were a non-factor in the division race as the Royals finished 16 games back, the Indians 20, and the Twins 22. It was the second straight division title for the Tigers and their first back-to-back post season appearance since 1934-35.
Chicago White Sox- The White Sox fell dramatically in the last month of the 2012 season as they led the division for almost the whole season until the Tigers took it from them. The White Sox didn’t make any big moves in the offseason but did sign 2B Jeff Keppinger who hit .325 last year and had a career high 9 home runs with the Rays. The team will have to replace C A.J. Pierzynski and his 27 home runs last year after he signed with the Rangers. C Tyler Flowers is expected to be the White Sox starting catcher. Flowers has never played more than 52 games in a season in his four years in the majors. The White Sox have power hitters in their three, four, and five spots as OF Alex Rios, 1B Paul Konerko, and DH Adam Dunn combined for 92 home runs last year. The White Sox offense finished 7th in the league with 748 runs last season. P Chris Sale had a breakout season last year as he became the White Sox ace en route to his first career All-Star appearance. Sale was rewarded for his 17-8 record last season with a five year, $60 million contract last week. But besides Sale, the White Sox rotation suffered lots of injuries last year as pitchers Jake Peavy, John Danks, and Gavin Floyd all made trips to the disabled list. If they can stay healthy, the White Sox will have a solid rotation but that is a big IF. The White Sox are trying to forget about last season but do have question marks surrounding their rotation and back end of their lineup, but if the Tigers falter, the White Sox could win their 4th division title.
Cleveland Indians- After three disappointing seasons, the Indians fired manager Manny Acta with six games left in the 2012 season and now will hope that new manager Terry Francona will bring success to the team like he did with the Red Sox. The Indians had a busy offseason as they released 1B Travis Hafner and traded OF Shin-Soo Choo to the Reds but received CF Drew Stubbs and P Trevor Bauer as part of the three team trade. Stubbs is coming off of his worst year of his career but is capable of 15 or more home runs and 30 stolen bases. Bauer only pitched in four games for Diamondbacks last year and is 22 years old so the guy does have potential. The Indians also signed OF Nick Swisher and 3B Mark Reynolds. Swisher hit .272 last year and had 93 RBIs, his most since 2006. Reynolds is a home run or bust player as he consistently goes over 150 strikeouts every year but does have 181 career home runs. But their biggest signing didn’t happen until last month when they signed All-Star CF Michael Bourn. Bourn is one of the fastest players in the league and will be a perfect leadoff hitter. The Indians lineup also features two-time All-Star SS Asdrubal Cabrera and C Carlos Santana both of whom are emerging as star players. The Indians rotation is a huge question mark. The Indians had a 4.78 ERA last year, which was 29th in the league. P Ubaldo Jimenez has struggled with the Indians since being traded from the Rockies in 2011. The starting rotation will also feature P Justin Masterson, P Brett Myers, and P Daisuke Matsuzaka. If the Indians have the lead entering the 9th inning, chances are CP Chris Perez will look to shut opposing teams down. Perez was sixth in the league last year with 39 saves and only 4 blown saves. The Indians added a lot of offensive weapons but with question marks surrounding every starting pitcher, they could be find themselves on the outside looking in come October.
Detroit Tigers- The Tigers ended the 2012 regular season strong as the won the division by three games. 3B Miguel Cabrera had one of the best individual seasons in MLB history as he became first player since 1967 to win the triple crown, leading the AL in batting average .330, home runs 44, and RBIs 139. Pitchers Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer combined for 33 wins and went 1-2 in the AL in strikeouts with 239 and 231. The Tigers beat the A’s in the ALDS before sweeping the New York Yankees in the ALCS and making their second World Series appearance in six years. The Tigers resigned P Anibal Sanchez and signed OF Tori Hunter in the offseason. But what is really going to help the Tigers is the return of DH Victor Martinez who sat out the 2012 season rehabbing his torn ACL. When you add Martinez to the Tigers explosive lineup that also includes 1B Prince Fielder, Cabrera, Hunter, and OF Austin Jackson, it gives the Tigers one of the best lineups in the league. The Tigers also have one of the best rotations in the MLB with Verlander, P Doug Fister, Scherzer, Sanchez, and P Rick Porcello. All of those guys are capable of at least 13 wins with Verlander being a CY Young candidate every year. The only question for the Tigers is who will be their closer? Last year it was Jose Valverde but the team opted to not re-sign him. Besides their closer issue, the Tigers have the team that can certainly win not only the division but also the American League for a second straight year.
Kansas City Royals- The last time the Kansas City Royals made the playoffs was 1985, also the only year they won the World Series. The 2012 Royals won one more game than the previous year as they went 72-90. The last time the Royals had more than 80 wins was 2003 but things are looking up for this young squad. The Royals made a gutsy trade in the offseason as they traded OF Will Myers to the Tampa Bay Rays in exchange for pitchers James Shields and Wade Davis. Myers is one of the best prospects according to Baseball America and won the Baseball America’s Minor League Player of the Year last year. The Royals also resigned pitcher Jeremy Guthrie and traded for Ervin Santana from the Angels. The Royals now have tons of depth at starting pitching with Shields, Guthrie, and Santana most likely being the top three. The Royals lineup is very young but they do have two great power hitters in DH Billy Butler and 1B Eric Hosmer. Butler was an All-Star last year and posted career highs in home runs and RBIs with 29 and 107. Hosmer was most recently chosen to replace 1B Mark Teixeira on Team USA. I believe the Royals will reach 80 wins for the first time since 2003 but are two or three years away from being a playoff team.
Minnesota Twins- It is hard to believe that only three years ago the Minnesota Twins won the AL Central title. Since 2010, the Twins are 129-195. The Twins traded CF Denard Span to the Nationals in the offseason but did sign pitchers Kevin Correia and Mike Pelfrey and also traded for Vance Worley. Signing these pitchers was much needed for the Twins who ranked 28th with a 4.77 team ERA. P Scott Diamond, who went 12-9 last year and would most likely be the Twins Opening Day starter, is now hoping he will be ready for Opening Day after having elbow surgery in December. CP Glen Perkins emerged as the Twins closer last year as he finished the season with 16 saves. 1B Justin Morneau had yet another injury plagued season last year as he only played in 134 games and Twins fans are hoping that he returns to his 2006 form when he won the AL MVP. OF Josh Willingham had the best season of his career last year as he hit 35 home runs and 110 RBIs. C Joe Mauer is still one of the best catchers in the league but besides those three guys, the Twins don’t have the lineup to compete in the AL Central. But if Mauer and Morneau can both play the full season, the Twins could play the role of spoiler this year.
Prediction- The Tigers are definitely the favorites to win the AL Central but they were also the favorites last year when the White Sox led till the very end. I think that the moves the Tigers made in the offseason and the return of Martinez is too much for the White Sox to contend with.
1. Detroit Tigers
2. Chicago White Sox
3. Kansas City Royals
4. Cleveland Indians
5. Minnesota Twins
images were used from sbnation.com, cleveland.com, bleacherreport.com, espn.go.com, and sportsillustrated.cnn.com