Monday, March 21, 2011

2011 MLB Final Standings Predictions: AL CENTRAL

Chicago White Sox 83 - 79
Why is this team interesting?  Ozzie Guillen.  Also, the middle of the order is pretty scary.  Adam DunnPaul KonerkoCarlos Quentin and Alex Rios combined for 124 home runs last year, and Quentin wasn't even very good.  Unfortunately, the guys batting in front of them-Juan Pierre and Gordon Beckham, aren't really good at getting on base.  

Otherwise this could be a violent White Sox offense.  

Third base for Chicago should be interesting.  Last year 969 year old Methuselah 43 year old shortstop Omar Vizquel was the 'primary' third baseman.  This year human vacuum cleaner Brent Morel should get the bulk of the time.  But can he hit?  

The starting staff is very solid: Mark Buehrle, Gavin Floyd, John Danks should be locks for 3+ WAR each.  Edwin Jackson has really turned himself around the last 2 seasons and could be as good as any of them.  Comebacking Jake Peavey and Up-And-Coming Chris Sale could give the White Sox 5 well above average starters.  

In the bullpen JJ Putz and Bobby Jenks have moved on allowing Matt Thornton to get some saves and the opportunity to push himself into the consciousness of baseball fans when they are discussing best relievers in the game.  

Minnesota Twins 82 - 80

Why is this team interesting?  Defending division champions?  The repeated losses to the Yankees?  The three-team race in the AL Central?  Their small market, home-grown-player philosophy?

Not really.  A little bit.  Definitely.  That's subjective.

The reason I think this team is interesting are the questions.  What's going to happen with Justin Morneau this season after his concussion?  I'm projecting him for a fairly complete comeback.  But, if he doesn't that'll knock 2 - 3 wins off of the Twins total, making a close division that much closer.   There's also Japanese import Tsuyoshi Nishioka whom is replacing Orlando Hudson's 3 WAR last season.  There is Danny Valencia who came on like gang-busters after his call up last season.  Is he really that good?  Will the real Delmon Young please stand up?  Was 2010 Jim Thome's last gasp?

Can Francisco Liriano do it in 2011 or do we have to wait 3 another years?  Has the league figured out Nick Blackburn and why do the Twins think he's better than both Kevin Slowey and Scott Baker?  Is Brain Duensing a better starter than reliever?  Why do the Twins think that HE'S better than Slowey and Baker?  How will Joe Nathan perform after missing 2010?

I think the Twins are the most talented team, top to bottom, in the division.  They have more questions than the White Sox and Tigers though, making them more of a make or break team.  I'm figuring for more makes than breaks.

How can I discuss the Twins without discussing Joe Mauer, the best player in the division?  I can't.

There he is, tied with Hanley Ramirez for the 4th most WAR in baseball over the last 3 years.

Detroit Tigers 81 - 81
Why is this team interesting?  The Tigers have the more exciting and explosive players out of the three contenders in the AL Central.  Miguel Cabrera does nothing but mash the ball, well, he does do something other than mash the ball.  There is Justin Verlander and Max Sherzer who struck out 403 batters combined last season-the most of any duo in the American League.  There is a bullpen anchored by Jose Valverde and Joaquin Benoit.

Austin Jackson was exciting for Tigers fans last year, but what can we expect from him in 2011?  Ryan Rayburn looks to have finally showed the Tigers that he's a full time player, but will another Brennan Boesch hot streak put Rayburn back on the back burner?

The Tigers can win the division if: Phil Coke makes it as a major league starter.  Brad Penny can make it through the entire season as a starter.    Victor Martinez plays more catcher than DH.  A few of Alex Avila, LeAnne Will Rhymes, Joel Peralta, Magglio Ordonez and Rick Porcello put together a better than average season.

Cleveland Indians 70 - 92
What is interesting about this team?  Catcher Carlos Santana and OFer Shin-Soo Choo are two of the best players in the league that no one has heard about.

Santana (acquired from the LA Dodgers for Casey Blake.) put up 2 WAR in about a third of a season last year.  He hit .260 with 6 home runs in 150 at bats.  That'd give him 18 home runs in a full (for a catcher) season.  He walked more than he struck out (37 BB to 29 K).

Choo has 11 WAR over the last 2 seasons.  More than any OFer not named Carl Crawford or Matt Holliday.  That means it includes OFers named: Ichiro, Werth, Hamilton, Braun, etc...

Fausto Carmona had a decent year last year but last year was about the extent of his talent.  There's no real room for him to improve.  Justin Masterson is a good pitcher as well.  If he could only face right-handed batters he'd be an excellent pitcher:
vs R: 8.8 K/9, 2.9 BB/9, 2.96 FIP
But pretty bad vs left-handed pitchers:
vs L: 5.4 K/9, 4.3 BB/9, 4.78 FIP
The rest of the starters (Mitch Talbot, Carlos Carrasco, and Josh Tomlin) are young and have some skills, but none seem to be on the verge of anything special.

The rest of the team is... ... ... ...there's really nothing there.  Matt LaPorta was a highly regarded prospect when he was included in the CC Sabathia trade, but he hasn't done much in Cleveland.  Other than that the rest of the Indians roster should be on the bench or in AAA.

Kansas City Royals 67 - 95
What is interesting about this team?

April: Nothing to see here
May: Nothing to see here
June: that Mostakas and Hosmer?  No?  Nothing
July: Have they called up Mostakas and Hosmer yet?
Now we have something!!!

The Royals return one position player, Billy Butler, who rated as average from last year so an influx of talent is a must.   There is help on the way. First baseman Eric Hosmer and third baseman Mike Moustakas aren't the best 2 members of the Royals' impressive farm system but they should be the first to arrive.  Both are left-handed sluggers who figure to get called up sometime during the season.  Both represent Hope to a Royals fan base who haven't had much to hope for in some time.

CFer Lorenzo Cain and SS Alcides Escobar, acquired in the Greinke deal, also figure to be two of the Royals better players-neither will be expected to hit much but both are considered plus defensive players.

LF/3B/former-can't-miss-prospect Alex Gordon figures to get one more shot in KC to make something happen.  Unfortunately-for the Royals, Royals fans, and Gordon-Gordon has been pretty good.  He was a 2+ WAR player in both 2007 and 2008 before the Royals gave up on him and sent him to the minors in 2009.  He's been up and down since then and hasn't been the same player.

There is also 1B/DH Kila Ka'aihue who deserves (has deserved for a while; while the Royals went with nothing happeners like Mike Jacobs) a shot to try out his patient-with-a-bit-of-power ways before he loses his positions to the combination of Butler and Hosmer.

Everyone else who figures to get penciled into the batting order should pretty much be thanking their lucky stars that they are on Royals where they can cash a major league check instead of the AAA variety that they would get on any other team.

Joakim Soria is the Royals' best pitcher.  He's also the closer.  When you're going to win 60 some games, having a great closer is not the most efficient use of resources.

The starting rotation is a mess.  Former #1 pick Luke Hochever isn't a bad pitcher but he hasn't lived up to #1 pick billing.  Jeff Francis comes over from Colorado after missing 2009 with injury.  Despite a 5 ERA in 2010 he pitched well (5.8 K/9, 2 BB/9, 3.88 FIP) and could be a steal for the $2 million the Royals are paying him this year.  Vin Mazarro was traded for the Royals' best player (David DeJesus) last season.  Unfortunately, Mazarro isn't good-neither is anyone else who figures to make many starts for the Royals this year.

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