Welcome to another addition of MLB Insight where this time we will discuss the American League Central Division. So, let’s get started.
#5 – Minnesota Twins (2013 Record: 66-96)
Pitching – The starting pitchers for the Minnesota Twins were the laughing stock of the American League last year allowing opposing hitters a .305 batting average and posting a dismal 5.26 team earned run average. And I don’t think the Twins helped anything by signing pitcher Phil Hughes from the Bronx. Hughes was terrible when he was with the Yankees, but maybe the change of scenery to Target Field might do him some good. On the relieving side, the Twins will have some former starters in their arsenal. The main talent here lies in their closer, Glen Perkins. There’s one big problem with that, however, and that is they are not putting themselves in winning positions to use him.
Batting/Defense – The batting/defense for the Twins has many problems, but the major one lies in their batting power. Joe Mauer, Brian Dozier, Kurt Suzuki, and Trevor Plouffe all lack the power necessary to go deep, which a team in their division needs. If they can pull in some young talent from the farm system to mix in with their veterans, it would provide more power as well as a nice balance of leadership and youth. One youngster that comes immediately to mind is Miguel Sano. Signing him would be a great step forward, but only if they use him as a utility player. In 2013, Sano hit 35 homeruns and had 70 extra base hits.
Bottom Line – The Twins have a lot of problems to fix before they can ever reach the top of their division. Their pitching and batting is terrible–not a good mix. The only bright spot is that they have high quality defensive players who get outs when they can and don’t commit errors–they just have trouble in inning transitions. I do believe it will be a while before the Twins will turn from the most laughed at to the most respected team. I predict they will once again be the scum of the American League Central and finish fifth.
#4 – Chicago White Sox (2013 Record: 63-99)
Pitching – The starting pitching for the Chicago White Sox has a little going for it this year. Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, and John Danks are the best guys in their rotation. After that it is a bit of a tossup. There is good reason to believe that Erik Johnson will join those top three. Even though Johnson only pitched in five major league games last year, he did a decent job by posting a 3.25 earned run average, hurling 18 strikeouts, and winning three out of the five. On the relieving side, the White Sox will be testing out a new closer by the name of Nate Jones. This move makes no sense to me for one huge reason…Jones has had experience as a “set up” man but has never closed out a game in his entire time in the Majors.
Batting/Defense – The batting/defense for the Chicago White Sox is in dire need of help because they have some of the best batters at none other than striking out! Adam Dunn and Paul Konerko have excellent power, but that power comes with a price-“K’s” for opposing pitchers. To add to that, they have a rookie first baseman named Jose Abreu who has excellent power but doesn’t do so hot with the faster pitches, as he tends to swing through them. Avisail Garcia, Adam Eaton, and Alejandro De Aza also all have a tendency to swing through their pitches.
Bottom Line – The bottom line for Chicago is that they need to change their “socks” so to speak (pun intended.) The pitching staff has made some strides by getting younger arms in the bullpen, but still these are inexperienced pitchers who need some training and help from the veteran pitchers. On the defensive side, they have some of the best defensive players in the game, but they are terrible at batting. They need to figure out why they have so many holes in their bats. I do believe the Sox will stink again this year (though they should smell slightly better than the Twins) and they should finish fourth in the division.
#3 – Kansas City Royals (2013 Record: 86-76)
Pitching – The Royals have three fairly solid starting pitchers: James Shields, Jeremy Guthrie, and Jason Vargas. This trio threw for a combined 600+ innings in 2013, and though they didn’t roast batters with their fastballs, they certainly made them swing and frustrated them by staying on the mound so long. On the relieving side, the Royals are set up for success. They have Greg Holland, Aaron Crow, and Kelvin Herrera, who are all great relievers.
Batting/Defense – Expect Billy Butler and Eric Hosmer to bring the big guns again this season. And the Royals finally have a decent second baseman for the first time in many years–Omar Infante out of Detroit. Infante is heavily underrated and does an above average job in every aspect of the game. But on the flip side, third baseman Mike Moustakas is worrying Royals fans because his batting stats have declined and he is only 25-years old. The outfield gained a great addition out of Milwaukee with the signing of Norichaki Aoki. Aoki adds a good deal of speed and contact to lead off their batting order.
Bottom Line – The bottom line for the Royals is that they are on the tip of greatness. They will need a little more power in their batting lineup, and their starting pitching could use some improvement. It’s because of this that I believe the Royals will finish in the middle of the pack at third.
#2 – Cleveland Indians (2013 Record: 92-70)
Pitching – The starting pitching stats for the Cleveland Indians were very low last year, but somehow they made it work. This staff is led by Justin Masterson who gets outs by throwing a downright nasty sinker. Opposing batters can’t seem to figure this pitch out, seeing that 71.3% of his outs came from ground outs. Two other starters are young fireballer Danny Salazar and another sinker slinger named Corey Kluber. On the relieving side, the Indians will have to get by without closer Chris Perez who was arrested on marijuana charges last year. The new man coming into the 9th will be veteran John Axford from Milwaukee. Axford is a very solid closer with 70 saves out of 75 chances over the past two seasons.
Batting/Defense – The batting/defense for the Indians is not too shabby at all. They have great hitters such as Jason Kipnis, Nick Swisher and Carlos Santana. Kipnis is one of the best second basemen in the game right now. Not only is he a great defensive player, but he is great on the offensive side as well in both in hitting and base running. Swisher has arguably the best personality in the game and is always an on-base threat for opposing teams. As for Santana, he is a great catcher who does an excellent job behind the plate and hits better than he catches.
Bottom Line – The bottom line is that the Indians are a great team. Terry Francona arrived and transformed this team from one of the worst into a playoff contender. They have plenty of young pitchers to build off of as well as a great batting squad that can hit (even though they don’t look like they can.) I predict the Indians will be in great position to win the Central division, but they will fall just short finishing number two.
#1 – Detroit Tigers (2013 Record: 93-69) Lost in World Series to Boston
Pitching – The starting pitchers for the Detroit Tigers are about as good as they get. At the top of the rotation is Justin Verlander. Verlander struggled for the most part of last season but got his act together in the postseason allowing only 1 run in 23 innings. Next is Max Scherzer who had an American League Cy Young Award winning season in 2013. Scherzer was 21-3 with a 2.90 earned run average and 240 strikeouts. Last is Anibal Sanchez who surprised everyone. Sanchez had a 2.20 ERA in 14 starts (after the All Star break) and averaged 10 “K’s” per nine innings. On the closing side, the Tigers no longer have to break a sweat in the 9th inning. They acquired long time closer Joe Nathan from the Rangers. Over the past few seasons, Nathan has converted 80 out of 86 save chances.
Batting/Defense – The batting/defense for the Tigers is one of the best in the major leagues. In the infield is the always dangerous and hard to pitch to Miguel Cabrera. Cabrera is one tough player who played through injuries last year and still ended the season with a .348 batting average. Cabrera will move to first base since Prince Fielder was sent to Texas. The infield also has speedster Ian Kinsler as a new addition which will hopefully increase the team’s stolen base numbers. In the outfield they have veteran Torii Hunter, Rajai Davis (who will add some much needed speed), and Austin Jackson (who will round out the outfield with speed and ball hawking ability).
Bottom Line – I expect the pitching for the Tigers this year to be excellent. Verlander will return to normal, Scherzer will be unstoppable, and Sanchez will pick up where he left off. The batting and defense should be unrelenting, and I expect the stolen bases to increase. However, the home runs should decline due to the loss of the “Prince”. I don’t think that will matter much, though. I predict the Detroit Tigers will win the American League Central, but with some tight competition from the Royals and Indians.