TMS Baseball Preview: AL Central

1:00 PM | Comments (0) | by Jake the Terrible Cubs Fan

In the weeks preceding Opening Day, we here at the Saloon will be previewing each major league division and giving a brief rundown of the in's and out's of each team heading into the 2007 season. Last week, we finished covering the National League, so now we move our attention to that other league, where pitchers are too sissy to bat. I'm starting run out of time here, so with no further delay, let's break down the AL Central. Adding his insight with me this week is the Governor.

AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL

1. DETROIT TIGERS
2006: 95-67 (2nd)

So Long: OF Alexis Gomez, P Troy Percival, OF Matt Stairs, P Jamie Walker

Welcome: P Jose Mesa, OF Gary Sheffield

PROJECTED LINEUP
C - Ivan Rodriguez
1B - Sean Casey/Marcus Thames
2B - Placido Polanco
SS - Carlos Guillen
3B - Brandon Inge
LF - Craig Monroe
CF - Curtis Granderson
RF - Magglio Ordonez
DH - Gary Sheffield

Starting Rotation - Jeremy Bonderman, Kenny Rogers, Justin Verlander, Nate Robertson, Mike Maroth
Setup - Jose Mesa, Fernando Rodney, Joel Zumaya
Closer - Todd Jones

Picking Detroit number one is probably viewed a bit as a cop out move. Take the defending American League champions, real original guys. But dammit, why wouldn't we? Minus Matt Stairs and his glorious permullet and the ghost of Troy Percival, the team has stayed completely in tact and the young guys have another season of experience under their belt. Then they added Gary Sheffield at DH, and bolstered the bullpen with Jose Mesa (he's far enough removed from ever needing to close for them that it's a good pickup). This season, it'll be Detroit's division to lose.

Speaking of Percival, let's take a look at that contract real quick. $12 million over two years, for what amounted to 25 innings of work and only 8 saves. Has their ever been a more expensive save? I guess if you're looking at a per year basis, the Dodgers dropped $10 million for one save last season.

PRESEASON AWARDS
Mr. Sexy Time: SP Jeremy Bonderman - At 23 years old, Jeremy played in his 4th full major league season last year. A walking case study for what can happen if you bring a guy up too early, he took his lumps in the Tigers rotation early on (6-19 his rookie season with a 5.56 ERA). Now heading into his 5th season, he's finally emerged as the ace of this staff and looks to improve on his breakout 2006 season. Expect great things from him for years to come.

Bringing Old School Back: Jim Leyland - Jim's gritty no-nonsense style of managing helped rejuvenate this franchise last season. But I think the biggest reason he was successful was the 'stache. Seriously, there needs to be a team that as a collective group decides to all sport mustaches to pay homage to their 80's predecessors and who better to do it than the Tigers? Look at the 1984 world champions. You had Lance Parrish, 'stache. Larry Bergman, 'stache. Howard Johnson, Kirk Gibson, Tom Brookens, Chet Lemon, Jack Morris, Larry Herndon, Willie Hernandez, Ruppert Jones, all 'staches. The only guys that didn't seem to sport the ole' pushbroom were Whitaker, Trammell, Darrell Evans and Rusty Kuntz. We'll give Whitaker a free pass, and I'm not sure Trammell or Evans could even grow facial hair. Rusty Kuntz didn't have one, but he could do whatever he wants, because he's Rusty f'n Kuntz. Anyway my point is, this team is good, but if they started sporting the classic handlebar, they'd be championship bound easily. Not to mention their popularity would soar. Curtis Granderson would just be that much more kickass.

Oh and Sheffield's weird little Hitler 'stache doesn't count. What the hell was up with that thing?

Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was in): P Kenny Rogers - Cheap Gambler references? Not here. We go deeper into the Kenny Rogers catalog. So what is Kenny's condition? Tired, apparently. EDIT: Apparently Kenny had surgery to remove a blood clot in his shoulder and could be out for 3 months. I personally think it's all an elaborate coverup for him as he's still trying to find a better way to hide his poo-stained hand when he pitches.

FOR MORE READING
Roar of the Tigers
TigerBlog
Tiger Tales


2. MINNESOTA TWINS
2006: 96-66 (1st)

SO LONG: 1B Phil Nevin, P Brad Radke, OF Shannon Stewart

WELCOME: 3B Jeff Cirillo, P Ramon Ortiz

PROJECTED LINEUP
C - Joe Mauer
1B - Justin Morneau
2B - Luis Castillo
SS - Jason Bartlett
3B - Nick Punto
LF - Rondell White
CF - Torii Hunter
RF - Michael Cuddyer
DH - Jason Kubel

Starting Rotation - Johan Santana, Boof Bonser, Ramon Ortiz, Carlos Silva, Sidney Ponson
Setup - Juan Rincon, Jesse Crain
Closer - Joe Nathan

Minnesota has won the division 4 of the past 5 seasons, and yet have watched from home as two of their division rivals played in the World Series, with one even winning it. While a World Series appearance eluded them in recent years, you can't deny that this team is a contender every year.

I don't know what else to say about them, so I'll talk about their proposed new stadium. All I gotta say is "Thank God". I mean the Metrodome has served them fine, and it can be a hostile environment for opposing teams, but apart from the regular fans, I don't see many people making the drive up to the Twin Cities to catch a game, and the dome is part of the problem. This new stadium looks pretty sweet. Open air, the Minneapolis skyline providing a striking backdrop, and a limited number of upper deck seats to create a more intimate setting. Also there'll be natural grass, which means only Tampa Bay and Toronto will be the only teams still playing on turf. Hopefully they can get this done.

PRESEASON AWARDS
Mr. Sexy Time: SP Johan Santana - How can he not be? The guy is head and shoulders above all other pitchers in the league.

We Thought You Were Dead: 3B Jeff Cirillo - Once he left Colorado for Seattle a few years ago, his stats plummeted and so did his career. Jeff hit rock bottom in 2004 when he was released by the Padres during the season and it appeared all but over for him. But in 2005 he signed with Milwaukee and in a bench role, found his stroke again. Last season he hit .319 in 263 at bats. While his days of starting are over, he should be a decent pinch hitter for the Twins.

Am I Late?: OF Michael Cuddyer - Cuddyer has been around forever it seems. Once upon a time he was considered one of their top hitting prospects. After a few seasons of bouncing between Minnesota and the minors, Cuddyer seemed to stick as a serviceable utility man. Then last year, he turned a corner, hitting .284, with 24 HR and 109 RBI. At 28, Cuddyer is firmly entrenched in the starting lineup as their right fielder and looks to continue his newfound success on offense.

FOR MORE READING
Bat Girl
Twinkie Town
Twins Locker


3. CLEVELAND INDIANS
2006: 78-84 (4th)

SO LONG: 3B Aaron Boone, P Keith Foulke, 3B Kevin Kouzmanoff

WELCOME: 2B Josh Barfield, P Joe Borowski, OF David Dellucci, P Keith Foulke, P Aaron Fultz, P Roberto Hernandez, OF Trot Nixon

PROJECTED LINEUP
C - Victor Martinez
1B - Casey Blake/Ryan Garko
2B - Josh Barfield
SS - Jhonny Peralta
3B - Andy Marte
LF - David Dellucci/Jason Michaels
CF - Grady Sizemore
RF - Trot Nixon
DH - Travis Hafner

Starting Rotation - C.C. Sabathia, Jake Westbrook, Jeremy Sowers, Paul Byrd, Fausto Carmona (Cliff Lee DL)
Setup - Roberto Hernandez, Rafael Betancourt
Closer - Joe Borowski

Cleveland fans will say last year's record doesn't do the team justice, and to some extent they are right. While they finished 78-84, their incredible run differential put their pythagorean W-L at 89-73. So why the huge discrepancy? You can chalk it up to a lackluster bullpen, blowing leads late in games countless times. This offseason the Indians worked on strengthening the pen, bringing in Aaron Fultz, Roberto Hernandez, and Joe Borowski. Whether that helps remains to be seen. Borowski's history as a closer has been everything but a smooth one, and Hernandez is 42 years old, so who knows how much gas is left in the tank.

I'm expecting a better finish than last year for sure, but there are a lot of folks out there that are projecting them as this year's division champs. Of course many seem to be trying to save face as they predicted huge things from Cleveland last season.

PRESEASON AWARDS
Mr. Sexy Time: OF Grady Sizemore - He's my pick for this year's winner of the David Wright Award, for the guy that everyone loves. He's a five-tool player, he can play great defense, and he makes women swoon. It's only a matter of time before the mancrushes follow.

Best DH Ever?: DH Travis Hafner - It's incredibly premature to anoint him that title but you figure even Edgar Martinez didn't become primarily a DH until he was 32, so Hafner already has a good head start. The guy they call Pronk only played in 129 games last year but still managed to hit 41 dingers with 117 RBI.

Seriously, This Guy?: OF Trot Nixon - I'm gonna say that his best years are definitely behind him. When Baseball-Reference lists your "Most Similar Batter" as Richard Hidalgo, that can never be a good omen.

FOR MORE READING
Teepee Talk (Easily the best name an Indians blog could have.)
Tribe Report
Indians Journal


4. CHICAGO WHITE SOX
2006: 90-72 (3rd)

SO LONG: C Sandy Alomar, P Freddy Garcia, OF Ross Gload, Dustin Hermanson, P Brandon McCarthy, P Jeff Nelson, P David Riske

WELCOME: John Danks, OF Darin Erstad, P Gavin Floyd, C Toby Hall, 1B Eduardo Perez, P Andy Sisco

PROJECTED LINEUP
C - A.J. Pierzynski
1B - Paul Konerko
2B - Tadahito Iguchi
SS - Juan Uribe
3B - Joe Crede
LF - Scott Podsednik
CF - Darin Erstad
RF - Jermaine Dye
DH - Jim Thome

Starting Rotation - Mark Buehrle, Jose Contreras, Javier Vazquez, Jon Garland, John Danks
Setup - Mike MacDougal, David Aardsma
Closer - Bobby Jenks

I'm not gonna lie. You put this team in the NL Central and they're probably considered one of the favorites. But for me, in this division, they're fourth of the four good teams that could contend. That'll probably be the nicest thing I ever write about the White Sox.

This is basically the same team from last year, minus Freddy Garcia, so we know that they're capable of winning, but I just don't feel it. I know, that's some real crack analysis on my part, but what the hell do want from me? Next to Houston, the White Sox are the team I absolutely loathe the most.

On another note, is anyone else excited for Ozzie Guillen's inevitable meltdown? He's yet to have a .500 year, but when he does, you know sparks are gonna fly. And I have to say, that I'm pumped about Lou vs. Ozzie. Someone's getting beaned, mark my words.

PRESEASON AWARDS
Mr. Sexy Time: P Charles Comiskey - A man so cheap and loathed by his own team his players were willing to throw a World Series. Now that's sexy.

Chris Singleton Award: OF Darin Erstad - Jesus, is the only criteria that White Sox management have for their center fielder is to be capable of catching a pop fly?

Who Barrett Should Punch Next: ESPN execs - You know darn well that A.J. Pierzynski is positioning himself for some sort of television gig like Baseball Tonight once he retires. Can we please, PLEASE stop this from ever happening? We already have to deal with Kruk talking out of his ass while the rest try to come up with some intelligible response to his asininity.

FOR MORE READING
Black Sox
South Side Sox
The Bard's Room


5. KANSAS CITY ROYALS
2006: 62-100 (5th)

SO LONG: C Paul Bako, P Ambiorix Burgos, P Runelvys Hernandez, 1B Doug Mientkiewicz, P Mark Redman

WELCOME: P Brian Bannister, P Octavio Dotel, P Gil Meche, SS Tony Pena Jr., P David Riske

PROJECTED LINEUP
C - John Buck
1B - Ryan Shealy
2B - Mark Grudzielanek
SS - Tony Pena Jr.
3B - Alex Gordon
LF - Mark Teahen
CF - David DeJesus
RF - Emil Brown
DH - Mike Sweeney

Starting Rotation -Gil Meche, Odalis Perez, Zack Greinke, Jorge de la Rosa, Brian Bannister
Setup - David Riske, Joel Peralta
Closer - Octavio Dotel

Like Tampa Bay, the Royals have been a struggling franchise who's job to improve becomes much harder given the division they play in. This team does appear to be improving though. Ever since Allard Baird's departure, this team has been slowly headed into the right direction. For the first time in a while, the team has some rookies that are garnering a lot of buzz, and while they weren't exactly blockbuster moves, the signings of Octavio Dotel and Gil Meche are promising. Also Zack Greinke has come back after leaving the team last season due to mental health issues. He'll be competing with Josh Hamilton for best comeback story this year. I expect the Royals to do better than their 100-loss season a year ago, and finish with a better record than at least 3-4 teams.

Nowhere to go but up, right? I'm kind of pulling for them. I've visited KC a couple times and despite the dismal team in recent years, their fans are still loyal and incredibly devoted. They deserve better.

PRESEASON AWARDS
Mr. Sexy Time: 3B Alex Gordon - The preseason favorite for AL ROY, Gordon was the 2nd overall pick in 2005, the minor league player of the year in 2006, and now, the starting 3B for the Royals in 2007. Let's just hope you at least fare better than KC's last ROY. Something like their ROY previous to the last one would be nice, and definitely nothing like the one before that.

You're No Rey Sanchez: SS Tony Pena Jr. - With fans getting their noose ready before having to endure another season of Angel Berroa at shortstop, the Royals made a trade and acquired Tony Pena Jr. Junior has a decent glove, but his offense can hardly be called an upgrade. Tony's dad was the last guy to manage the Royals to a winning record back in that flukish 2003 season. Before that, the last winning season for KC involved Vince Coleman.

Todd Jones Award: RP Octavio Dotel - Awarded to the pitcher who's best days seem to be behind them, only to emerge as a solid closer yet again and parlay that into a fat contract somewhere else. Last year's winner was Joe Borowski.

FOR MORE READING
Royals Authority
KC's Royal Fan Zone
Royales With Cheese

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