The AL Central is wide open this season and with question marks everywhere each team should be considered a contender. I'm already on record as stating that I believe the Royals will take the division, a belief that they are trying to test with the unfortunate decision to place Sidney Ponson in the rotation.
So like last year I've solicited some help from various division writers and we tackle the pressing questions facing the 2009 American League Central. I rounded up the usual suspects plus one newcomer and asked them to make some predictions ranging from the top players to who will win the title. Due to length I will once again break it into two parts.
John Meyer - Twins MVB (Twins blog that has exploded in the last year)
Ray Wachter - Royals on Radio etc (the Larry King of Royals bloggers)
Andrew Reilly - The 35th Street Review (Very funny White Sox blogger and not president of the Nick Swisher fan club)
Andy Meyer - St. Joseph News Press (A newspaper that has an underrated sports page with some talented writers)
1. Who do you think will be the Centrals top hitter?Top pitcher?
John - This division really boast some great young stars with Grady Sizemore in Cleveland, the emergence of Carlos Quentin and Alexei Ramirez in Chicago, Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau in Minnesota, Miguel Cabrera in Detroit, and I still think that Alex Gordon has a bright future in Kansas City. Mauer is the best pure hitter winning his 2nd AL batting title in 2008, but I'm expecting a monster year from Cabrera in Detroit. It took Cabrera awhile to settle into the AL but he still set career highs in homeruns and RBIs and in case you forgot is still only 25 years old.
Ray - Tough one.... Why start with a tough one ?
I'd go with pitcher Cliff Lee, I think he'll have another solid year also look for a strong year from Zack Greinke and a rebound year for Verlander. Of course we all know last year my pick was the kiss of death to one D-Train.
As for hitter look for a big year form Miguel Cabrera, I also like Morneau and Thome to put up big years like always.
Andrew - For top hitter, I'm going to cast my totally biased vote for Carlos Quentin, as he will become the first true four outcome in the history of baseball: walk, double, home run, or hit-by-pitch, making an OBP around .950 not unrealistic. Quentin will also become the division's top pitcher over the course the 8th inning of the Sunday, May 8th 14-1 drubbing of the Texas Rangers. In one inning of relief, Quentin will strike out two Rangers and, somehow, also strike out three White Sox (including Carlos Quentin).
Andy - With great talent comes great responsibility. Pardon me for altering Uncle Ben’s immortal words of wisdom, but I believe two of the best players in the majors – both 25 years of age – will live up to their immense potential this season. At the plate, no one in the division is scarier than Miguel Cabrera in the Motor City. Predictably, he struggled to adjust to American League pitching at the start of last year, but he got hot in July and finished on a tear. With his speed, Grady Sizemore might be a more complete player, but Cabrera’s going to rake against some of the awful pitching in the division this year. On the mound, Zack Greinke appears to have found his groove in KC and will be one of the best in the bigs despite his No. 2 status in the rotation. His arsenal is just so solid (200 strikeouts is a real possibility), and I don’t believe Cliff Lee can replicate the same magic he possessed year ago.
2. What team has the best rotation?
John - I think you have to give the nod to the young core of arms in Minnesota. I'm understandibly bias and questions of tiring and consistency remain for the young pitchers, but from top to bottom I think the Twins have the most complete staff with the potential to be a great staff. I like the trio of Jon Danks, Gavin Floyd, and Mark Buehrle in Chicago but I question Ken Williams dealing of Javier Vasquez.
Ray - I would say Twins but there still pretty young and may have a step back year, the Tigers look good with Verlander at the top but I'm not sold on Jackson or Bonderman (who now appears will miss the start of the season). The Sox (Not sold on Danks/Floyd/Contreras) and Indians rotations are iffy. The Royals have Meche/Greinke/Davies but the rest is yet to be known.
Bottom line most ALC teams have a good 1-2 but no one really has a rotation to blow you away.
I've got to go with the Twins.
Andrew - They're all pretty lame, but I have to go with Cleveland for overall rotation strength. The Royals may have the best 1-2 in Gil Meche and Zack Greinke, and the Sox certainly have a 1-3 to be proud of, but the Indians have the best chance to have a solid pitching effort each game out.
Andy - Minnesota and it’s not even that close. Let’s assume Scott Baker struggles a bit during his first year as the No. 1 starter and Francisco Liriano is nothing more than an above-average pitcher from here on out. Fine. The Twinkies still have Kevin Slowey and his crazy-good K/BB ratio waiting behind them. No matter which way you slice it, they’ve easily got three of the six best hurlers in the division starting for them. And the guys behind them –Nick Blackburn and Glen Perkins – aren’t too shabby either. The worst part (unless you’re a Twins fan)? The entire lot of them are 27 or younger.
3. What team has the best offense?
John - The Twins surprisingly lead the division in runs scored with 829 thanks to a ridiculous RISP batting average. Minnesota's offseason will be solid again in 2009 but will not be as lucky. Detroit's offense was supposed to score 1,000 runs last year and every player not named Miggy underachieved, so they will certainly be better in 2009. However, my vote goes to the Indians. Grady Sizemore is a stud and I think there are some very good pieces around him in Cleveland.
Ray - What team SHOULD have the best offense, the Tigers: Cabrera, Magglio, Granderson, and company.
The White Sox are a close, close, second.
Andrew - Tough call, as Detroit can score 15 with the best of them, but the Twins have the kind that actually wins the games that matter. Still, this division most likely won't hinge on fundamentals so my vote goes to the Tigers.
Andy - Detroit was shockingly awful last year. I think we can all agree on that. That doesn’t change the fact that the Tigers still wield the best bunch of bats around. Just as it was last year, the heart of their lineup is terrifying. Only this time around, there’s no pressure to win 100 games. I’ve seen some folks predicting Detroit to finish in the Central’s basement for the second year in a row. That’s ridiculous. Even with a rotation held together by duct tape, they contend for a title thanks to their hitters – most of whom go well upwards of 100 in OPS+.