AL Central Preview: AKA Tiger Town?

An article by posted on March 29, 2014

The AL Central is a division that has been owned by the Detroit Tigers since 2011, and it won’t be easy to take that crown away from them in 2014.

5th Place: Chicago White Sox

In 2012, Robin Ventura’s White Sox looked like they might actually be more of a force in the near future than perhaps many of us thought.

Then last year, the White Sox showed their true colors.

JoseAbreuWBC

A huge factor in whether this team succeeds in 2014 will be Jose Abreu, and whether or not he can be the superstar caliber 1B that some people thought he could be. I know Abreu is dealing with an ankle issue right now, but assuming he is healthy – he is the player to watch here.

Abreu to me isn’t surrounded by a lot of dynamic talent on offense.

As for the rotation, Chris Sale and Jose Quintana are clearly the two pitchers in this rotation that hold the key to any success they may desire. Quintana is probably lesser known than Sale, but he might be more important than Sale.

Sale is nasty, but I like Quintana this year to take his game to the next level.

Overall though, there just is not enough talent here and I think Chicago will have a tough year.

4th Place: Minnesota Twins

The Twins are that team that baseball fans are almost expecting to just come out of nowhere sometime soon.

They aren’t there yet though.

On offense, their fans are excited about Brian Dozier and Oswaldo Arcia. Arcia is a guy you may want to pay attention to in 2014.

mike pelfreyOn the mound, most New York fans may take note because this rotation features not one, but two “rushed” or “failed” prospects from NY in Mike Pelfrey and Phil Hughes. Ricky Nolasco might actually have a solid year in Minnesota quietly, but I’m not sure he’ll stay in Minnesota all year – buyer beware!

Overall, I’m not too impressed with Minnesota either, I just think they might have slightly more to look forward to than Chicago.

3rd Place: Kansas City Royals

This team is one I’d love to see return to the playoff scene, but I just cannot see it in 2014.

I’ve never been a big James Shields fan, and last year to be honest, Shields shocked me last year. I don’t think he’ll do it again in 2014.

Last year, the Royals won 86 games and in my view, they didn’t get better in 2014 and honestly, they probably got a little worse.

On offense, I’m not sure the addition of Norichika Aoki is really going to make that big of a difference. So the Royals are in a situation where their offensive improvement is really about whether or not guys like Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas can take their game to the next level at 24 years old.

With the rotation, you’ve basically replaced Ervin Santana with Jason Vargas and I don’t know many who would suggest that makes your team better.

So while, I do think guys like Hosmer might improve, I don’t think it will be enough for the Royals in 2014. I see them closer to .500.

2nd Place: Cleveland Indians

I kind of thought I’d go into this picking Cleveland as kind of an “upset” pick to win the division. However, the more I look at things – I just can’t do it.

On offense, they have a great sleeper candidate in catcher Yan Gomes. Gomes will take over the full time catcher duties in Cleveland, and I think everybody should pay close attention to him.

Nick Swisher is the veteran that hopes to yet again lead this team to contention, but I have to think at some point he starts to decline, and I think we’ll see that in 2014.

When you take an honest look at their lineup, unless becoming a full time DH helps Carlos Santana become a 30+ HR hitter, you can’t really find a power threat in this lineup.

The rotation is still lead by Justin Masterson. Ubaldo Jiminez left a void in the rotation, and it was filled by – well I don’t know. I guess maybe Carlos Carrasco? Carrasco was once a highly touted prospect involved in the Cliff Lee trade with Philadelphia, but he just has not lived up to it.

I’m not the kind of guy who minimizes a great manager. Terry Francona is a great manager and he’ll get every ounce of talent out of his team just like he did in 2013. I just don’t think it’s enough to take over the division.

1st Place: Detroit Tigers

I’m starting to feel like the guy who takes all #1 seeds in his NCAA bracket.

But, in reality – unless you can predict catastrophic injuries, I’m not sure why you’d predict them to not win this division.

On offense, you know the usual suspects. Miguel Cabrera (the $300 million man), Austin Jackson, Alex Avila, Victor Martinez and Torii Hunter. Now, you can add in Ian Kinsler…an angry Ian Kinsler.

The offense is loaded, and is far and away better than any other team in the division.

Justin_Verlander

If that wasn’t enough, you have Max Scherzer, last year’s Cy Young winner who isn’t even the best pitcher on this team.

Justin Verlander enters 2014 looking to prove his critics wrong. There was some that thought perhaps last year was a sign that Verlander was hitting a wall. I don’t think that is the case.

I mean, look at Verlander’s strikeout totals last year. In a “bad” year he struck out 217 batters. That’s ridiculous.

Verlander is going to bounce back, and that is how Detroit will replace the loss of Doug Fister. They will have a two headed cy young monster.

The addition of Joe Nathan gives them a regular season closer they can trust – I just don’t trust him in the playoffs (at least DET is used to that).

Overall, I can’t see how this team would be considered a 2nd place team (or worse) in this division.

AL Central MVPMiguel Cabrera – When in doubt, go with the guy who can win the triple crown.

AL Central CY: Justin Verlander – Motivated by his critics and Scherzer winning the award, Verlander returns to dominance.

AL Central SleeperYan Gomes – A full time catcher in Cleveland, if he stays healthy, I think he could be an all-star this year.

XtreemIcon’s Picks

This division is definitely more wide open than my colleague thinks, in my opinion, but gun to my head, the Tigers win again. I have KC second and Cleveland third, but agree on the Twins finishing fourth and Chicago last. There’s really not much of a future in Chicago, but the Twins have something to look forward to. Aside from Arcia, Byron Buxton is omnipresent and there’s a good crop of kids a little further away. None of that helps now, however. I just like the Twins offense much more than the Sox.

I’m not on the Indians bandwagon at all. They won 92 games last year, turning around a miserable 2012, but I give them almost a zero chance to repeat. Granted, I gave them the same chance of being a contender last season, and that blew up in my face, but I stand firm. They had great pitching last season, helped by Scott Kazmir and Ubaldo Jimenez, both of whom have moved on. Their four and five starters are now their two and three starters, and although I liked the progression of Corey Kluber and think he’ll continue to improve, I feel they lost too much. Danny Salazar has a lot of potential, but will need a real come-out-of-nowhere season to replace either Jimenez or Kazmir. But he can’t replace both.

The Royals will finish second and I’d bet they finish closer to the Tigers than they do the Indians. Aside from the best bullpen in the AL, and maybe all of baseball, Hosmer and Moustakas are primed for a break out. They have a stud catcher in Salvador Perez, a center fielder that has all the tools and ability you could ask for in Lorenzo Cain and Yordano Ventura could be this season’s Jose Fernandez is he harnesses his secondary pitches.

The Tigers need to win the World Series this year, because the Cabrera contract has basically ensured they won’t have any more chances past this season. He’s already started breaking down and is about as nonathletic as a professional athlete can be, which does not bode well for the Tigers as he ages. But that’s about their doomed future.

This season, they probably still have enough to win the division, but not easily. Consider this: despite being the most talented team in the division by a wide margin recently, they only won the division by three games in 2012 and one game last year. And this year, the margin isn’t as wide. Cabrera is breaking down and Scherzer will decline (no knock on him, but he can’t actually get better). Verlander declined significantly in 2013, and for the Tigers’ sake, I hope it’s a down year and not the start of a decline. He has about a million innings on that arm. The infield defense is atrocious and the bullpen is a strong breeze away from the first ever group Tommy John surgery.

If Cabrera and Verlander really are in the beginning of their decline, and with Scherzer leaving via free agency after this season, the Tigers absolutely have to win this season. This is their swan song.

AL Central MVP: Eric Hosmer. It’s his time.

AL Central CY: Chris Sale. Won’t do them any good, though.

AL Central Sleeper: The Royals. 90 wins wouldn’t shock me at all.

mmo

About the Author ()

Michael Branda grew up a Mets fan watching the mid 1980's teams and his favorite Met of all-time is (and was) Wally Backman. When it comes to sabermetrics versus old school thinking, he's in the middle and believes adopting new ways to get answers is helpful, especially when the old way has not produced results.

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