posted on Mar.30, 2012
All right we covered the West last week, with less than a week until Opening Day (unless you’re a Mariners or A’s fan), let’s get to the Central Divisions. Next week will be the East predictions. Okay, first my general overview of these two divisions. In the AL, the Indians are a now team. I think that they have better pitching, such as Ubaldo Jimenez, than the Tigers, but the Tigers will surely make things interesting. The Royals, despite the losses of Joaquim Soria and Salvador Perez, are ready to start competing. The White Sox are rebuilding and have to deal with the Adam Dunn albatross and have a new manager, none of which are recipes for success. In the NL, the Reds are a now team. I also think Ryan Braun is going to have a down season with the steroids issue following him all season, no Prince Fielder behind him. The Brew Crew pitchers will have to adjust to a different style of team from last year. I don’t think they are ready for that. The Cardinals have a new manager and no Albert. The Pirates will hopefully continue to fight, maybe even to 82-80, and be the most exciting .500 team in baseball.
So starting in the AL, the Indians are ready. I think a lot of this hinges on Ubaldo Jimenez, and he should be up to the task. Now will he win 20 games this year? No, I don’t think so, but unfamiliarity is on his side in the AL, in addition to the fact that he threw a great game against the Yankees last year in New York. They also made the trade for Derek Lowe, and he comes with low expectations, which will probably benefit him in his new city. Justin Masterson finally found it last year and was Masterful, the rest of their rotation is pretty good, and the bullpen is actually very good.
The Tigers look like the mid-2000s Yankees. Tons of offense, but a little skimpy on the pitching. Obviously they have Justin Verlander, and behind him a much better rotation than those Yankee teams had, but this bullpen last year had a clear distinction between the pitchers used when winning, and pitchers used when losing. Al Albuquerque had a TERRIBLE postseason, and we will see how he rebounds, Octavio Dotel is a nice addition, but there is still a dropoff from Valverde and Benoit to the rest of the pen is still noticeable. They are going to score a ton of runs, but they are going to give a ton up on defense with lack of range and simple inability to make plays. I don’t know that they can overcome that. And of course, in a huge spot, we all know one of the two guys that will be walked, Cabrera and/or Fielder. And in that case, I would rather have a lefty face Fielder than even chance Cabrera.
In Kansas City, the future has come, or is near. Eric Hosmer is dynamite waiting to explode on the pitchers of the league. This year or next, I could see this team fighting and clawing and winning games. They will surely make things interesting this year too. Another pitcher that unfamiliarity will benefit is Jonathan Sanchez, who had a good year in 2010 but took a step back last year and the Giants deemed him expendable. He gives the Royals a quality starter who is not named Bruce Chen, and a guy who has big game experience to teach the youngsters. While the loss of Soria and Perez hurts, I think the acquisition of Humberto Quintero to replace Perez early in the season and the Jonathan Broxton to set up Soria will benefit the Royals. While the Royals won’t be winning the division this year, there will actually be watchable baseball played in Kaufmann Stadium this year.
On the South Side of Chi-town, two words follow this team: Adam Dunn. Both of those are four letter words, and they are often preceded by much worse on the South Side when his name is mentioned. Two more words: new manager. And an adjective or qualifier: rookie manager. Robin Ventura is a smart man, but he can only be so good in his first year with this team. I would not be surprised if this is another rough year for the ChiSox. I actually think they will continue the freefall they were in last year. There is no Mark Buehrle, no Sergio Santos (and no one to close games), no Carlos Quentin. It would not surprise me if this team was blown up at the trade deadline.
In the Land of 10,000 Lakes, there is a team in the twin cities that is regretting money it gave Joe Mauer the day he put the pen to the paper. Or the day Target Field opened. Yes, Ben Revere had the reigning web gem for over 2 months, but other than that there was nothing to watch last year for the Twins. Many young guys came up from the minors to account for injuries and looked overmatched. The only thing to be happy about last year was the Mauer and Morneau still have all their limbs attached. Kubel is gone, Cuddyer is gone, Thome is gone, Nathan is gone. Twins fans called Mauer the most overpaid singles hitter in all of baseball last year, he may eventually have to move to first base because his power has been sapped by the ballpark and the rigors of catching. First base is where the other big star for this team has gone MIA. Morneau has not played a full season of baseball since 2008, and has not been able to fully recover from his concussion a few years ago. Also, the Japanese infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka has so far been a bust. He is so fragile, he was injured less than a week into the season when Brett Gardner took him out on a hard slide. I don’t know how long of a leash Ron Gardenhire has left, but it would not surprise me if he was gone soon.
In conclusion, I think the Indians are the better team in this division over the Tigers, who may contend for a Wild Card, and the Royals will win around 81 games.
4. White Sox
NL time! The Reds are a win-now team as well, Joey Votto is a free agent soon, Walt Jocketty made some moves in the offseason for Mat Latos and Sean Marshall, they brought in Jeff Francis, and have tons of youngsters ready to contribute to this team now. The Reds overall took a step back last year, but I can’t imagine Bronson Arroyo has as bad a year as last year when he was throwing Home Run Derby at home. The Madson injury could be a killer but I think Aroldys Chapman will find the form he had in Cuba when he wins the closer job.
The rest of the division 2-5 will be bunched around .500. I think the Cardinals will finish second, but not be in contention for much. They have a new manager, Carpenter has been hurt for most of Spring Training, Pujols is gone, I also wonder how Jason Motte does in his first full year as a closer. David Freese’s health has always been a question mark. But they are the Cardinals, and I have a feeling that they will fight but not win much this year.
Next in the Central is the Pirates. Clint Hurdle made this team respectable last year. The Bucs were on FOX and ESPN for the first time in years, I know for a fact the ESPN game was the first time the Bucs were on ESPN since 2004. I think AJ Burn-up-in-Flames will eventually come back and pitch respectably. I really think this is the year the Pirates win 82 games. They have talent and more on the way. This should hopefully be the end of the that dreadful streak of losing seasons.
After the Pirates, I expect Theo Espstein and Jed Hoyer to make this team respectable. The Paul Maholm acquisition was a good one, as was the trade for Travis Wood, though losing Sean Marshall is a tough pill to swallow. But that gives this team something it has sorely lacked, and that is pitching. Their bullpen has taken some hits, with Jeff Samardzija winning a starting spot, but this is not a bad team. We also know they can hit. The other good things in favor of the Cubbies, Carlos “Head Case” Zambrano is gone, as is Kosuke Fukodome and his contract, so this team has almost ridded itself of those disaster signings of the mid-2000s. Do I think they will win the division? No, but they will be a better team than in past years.
The Brewers are the team that will take the biggest step back from where it was last year. This team lost Prince Fielder and now has the cloud of Ryan Braun’s Steroid test hovering over their heads. I said on previous shows I think he was juicing, and that this year his numbers are going to tank this year. He also won’t have Fielder protecting him, sorry Aramis Ramirez, but you are not Prince Fielder and never will be. This team also will have more media coverage and eyes on it than it did during the entire postseason last year. I think that will take its toll on some guys on that team, especially Zack Greinke. There is a reason he is not in New York, and that was because the Yankees did not think he could mentally handle the media. I think that will be too much for him, and it will be interesting to see how Shaun Marcum rebounds from his AWFUL postseason. A 14.90 ERA over 2 postseason series is pretty bad. As I said on the show Tuesday, the tree at Rockefeller Center doesn’t get lit up as much as Marcum did in the playoffs. We will see. The other guy I wonder about is John Axford. He blew the save in Game 5, rebounded in the NLCS, but I wonder whether he will be the same guy he was last year.
Finally, the Astros. Really nothing much to say about this team. They move to the AL West next year, they have cleaned shop in the front office, I think the former Red Sox from the Melancon trade (Weiland, Lowrie) will do well in the NL Central. But the Astros are bad, their attendance is in freefall. But I also ask, can you blame the fans? This team is dreadful. There is NOTHING good to watch here. Other than to see if the Astros get the first draft pick.
Alright here are the final standings.