Hello, baseball fans, and welcome to the second installment of College Sports Town’s 2013 MLB preview! I hope you enjoyed the first divisional breakdown because today, we’re on to the second- the unexpectedly competitive AL Central. Since 2005, when the Chicago White Sox won the World Series, the division has performed inconsistently, with several one-game playoffs to determine the division winners. Although that probably won’t be necessary this year, 2013 brings with it a similar sense of competition between these rivals.
1. Detroit Tigers
2. Cleveland Indians
3. Chicago White Sox
4. Kansas City Royals
5. Minnesota Twins
Last year, the Tigers had a great season, finishing 88-74 to win the Central for the second consecutive time. They reached the World Series, in large part due to contributions by Justin Verlander, who performed nearly as well as he did in his outstanding 2011 season, and Miguel Cabrera, who won the MVP and the first Triple Crown since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967. The Tigers will come roaring back this year, helped by the additions they made to their already impressive roster. They added Tori Hunter to help with defensive issues and replaced inconsistent closer Jose Valverde with young stub Bruce Rondon (and his legendary fastball– it’s been clocked at 103 MPH). Add Victor Martinez back to an already potent lineup, and the Tigers seemed poised to return to the ALCS, if not the World Series.
Best Case- This is the year of the Tiger- Verlander wins another Cy Young, Miguel Cabrera wins his second straight MVP, Prince Fielder hits like it’s 2007 again, and the Tigers win the World Series for the first time since 1984.
Worst Case- Verlander is distracted by Kate Upton, Cabrera does not play to a high level, Prince underperforms, and the Tigers win the division but flame out in the first round.
God hates Cleveland: We’ve all heard it before, and it rang true last year when the Indians went 68-94 and finished fourth in the division. This year, the Indians set out to change that tune. They hired former Red Sox manger Terry Francona out of the ESPN broadcast box to manage a new bunch of idiots, including (*deep breath*) Nick Swisher, Mark Reynolds, Brett Myers, Trevor Bauer, Mike Aviles, Drew Stubbs, and Michael Bourn. Bourn, Stubbs, and Swisher form a very nice outfield, and will be added to a lineup with promising Carlos Santana and Asdrubal Cabrera to create an influx of offense. The rotation is less solid- long-tosser Trevor Bauer has lots of potential but has yet to achieve much success on the big-league stage, and Ubaldo Jimenez and Justin Masterson are inconsistent (and those 3 are the best arms in the rotation!). Still, the Indians should have enough firepower to power through, and Terry Francona will lead another down-on-its-luck franchise to the playoffs.
Best Case- The Indians have a solid year as their offseason acquisitions pay off: Swisher hits 30 homers, Bourn steals 60 bases, and Bauer wins 15 games. They also receive consistent performances from Cabrera, Santana, and Jimenez on their way to their first playoff appearance since 2007.
Worst Case- Injuries affect the play of Swisher and Bourn, A strikeout-heavy lineup fails to produce as expected, the rotation is disappointing, and Cabrera does not play at an All-Star level. The Indians fall to third or fourth in the division as Cleveland fans’ revived optimism dies once again.
Chicago White Sox
Last season came as a pleasant suprise for White Sox fans, who watched their team go 85-77 and finish second in the division under a rookie manager, Robin Ventura. The White Sox performed well due to bounce back performances by Jake Peavy (11-12) and Adam Dunn (41 home runs), and breakout performances by Chris Sale (17-8, 6th in AL Cy Young voting) and Dayan Viciedo (25 home runs). They’ll need similar performances this year in order to gain the same result. In a less competitive year, I could see the South Siders sneaking into a playoff spot and even perhaps winning the division, but I can’t envision that happening this year. The White Sox are likely to miss the playoffs for a fifth straight year.
Best Case- Dunn and Peavy repeat their performances from last year, Chris Sale wins the AL Cy Young Award, and Ventura manages to get his team into the last wild-card spot.
Worst Case- Dunn and Peavy fall off track, Sale regresses, and the lineup doesn’t produce enough runs to overcome the shortcomings of the rotation. The White Sox miss the playoffs again.
Kansas City Royals
The bright spot of the Royals fans’ year was probably the All-Star Game played at Kauffman Stadium, as they have grown tired of the losing records brought to them by this franchise (which went 72-90 yet still finished in 3rd place last year). Still, there is hope around the corner. Although that has been said time and time again about this team, it may ring true this year. The Royals have acquired an influx of good starting pitching including James Shields, Wade Davis, and Ervin Santana. Even though they had to give up prized prospect Wil Meyers for Davis and Shields, they were able to make the pitching staff fairly strong. Add that to the established players Billy Butler and Alex Gordon, as well as young core players such as Eric Hosmer, Salvador Perez, and Mike Moustakas, and the Royals will be able to contend… in a few years. For now, the fans will have to wait.
Best Case- The established players set a strong tone for the young guns to follow, Davis and Shields are worth the valuable prospects they were traded for, and while the Royals miss the playoffs, they finish at .500 and inspire hope- real hope- for next year.
Worst Case- The young players don’t progress, Wil Meyers wins AL Rookie of the Year honors while Davis and Shields struggle, and hope is nowhere to be found in the vicinity of Kauffman Stadium.
The Twins dominated the AL Central in the 2000’s, winning 6 out of the 10 crowns in that decade. The past couple of years, however, they have finished last in the division, winning only 66 games last year. That already bad team has only gotten worse this offseason with the loss of Ben Revere to the Phillies and Denard Span to the Nationals. The only additions to the team of note were Vance Worley, Kevin Correia, and Mike Pelfrey. The only players on the team of real significance are former AL MVP’s Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau. The Twins only got worse and are in the midst of a major rebuilding process. The only reason anyone is going to a Twins game this year is to see relatively new Target Field. Otherwise, it’s another sad year in the fall from success for them.
Best Case– Manager Ron Gardenhire, who’s been with the team since 2002, coaxes some respectable play out of the team, and Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau play like the former MVP’s that they are. The Twins provide some entertainment.
Worst Case- Gardenhire gets fired, Morneau has concussion troubles, Mauer cannot perform up to his gigantic contract extension, and the Twins play worse than the Astros.
There you have it! The AL Central is going to the Detroit Tigers and the Cleveland Indians are earning a wild card spot. Watch out for tomorrow, when the AL West will be analyzed. One of the most competitive divisions of them all will be in the spotlight tomorrow!