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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

2011 MLB Predictions: AL Central

When I finish all the previews I'll add a post in which I predict each team's final record as well as individual award winners.

Chicago White Sox
Best Player: Tough one. I think I'd take Dunn though if Beckham plays like he did down the stretch last season he's the pick.
Best Pitcher: Jon Danks - not Buehrle -is the best pitcher on the team. It would be Peavy if he could make more than 12 starts.
Biggest off-season move:  Adam Dunn is the perfect hitter for Cellular One Field.
Biggest off-season loss: Many may disagree but losing Bobby Jenks hurts the bullpen's depth.
Biggest Questions:
1. Can Gordon Beckham rebound? Beckham hit .270/.347/.460 as a rookie but slipped to .252/.317/.378 last year with only 9 home runs. Can improve on his rookie season's performance  and become a superstar or will he just be an average second baseman?
2. The Bullpen.  Gone are Putz and Jenks.  Chris Sale is up to take one spot but can Jesse Crain and Will Ohman be consistent enough to keep Ozzie of their backs?
3. Third base. Brent Morel won the job in spring training but he's no superstar. If he slumps Ozzie will throw Teahen out there and we know how that went last season.
Expectations: This offense is good. Expect lots of base stealing attempts from Pierre, Rios, and possibly Beckham. Expect lots of home runs. Expect good starting pitching. I also expect a division title.
Opening day lineup:
1. Pierre LF
2. Beckham 2B
3. Dunn DH
4. Konerko 1B
5. Rios CF
6. Quentin RF
7. Pierzynski C
8. Ramirez SS
9. Morel 3B
SP Mark Buehrle

Detroit Tigers
Best Player: Miguel Cabrera
Best Pitcher: Justin Verlander
Biggest off-season move: The Tigers went all in to sign C/DH Victor Martinez.
Biggest off-season loss: Johnny Damon wanted to return to Detroit but the Tigers focused all their free cash on Martinez. Damon would have been a nice compliment for this team.
Biggest Concerns:
1. Has Miguel Cabrera left his problems behind him?  Cabrera's trouble with alcohol is no secret but he'll need to keep that under control if he wants to keep the fans--and Tigers brass on his good side.
2. Who will play 2B and LF?  Last season they had some of the most inconsistent production from these spots and they've done nothing to improve it.
3. Can Peralta handle SS?  Cleveland moved Peralta to 3B two seasons ago because his defense was so awful at short stop. Detroit has no other options.
Expectations: The infield defense will be awful but Detroit will be competitive. They have perhaps the best collection of power arms in baseball and with some talent in the middle of the lineup expect them to be in contention all summer.
Opening day lineup:
1. Jackson CF
2. Rhymes 2B
3. Ordonez RF
4. Cabrera 1B
5. Martinez DH
6. Raburn LF
7. Peralta SS
8. Inge 3B
9. Avila C

Minnesota Twins
Best Player: Joe Mauer is the best catcher in baseball.
Best Pitcher: Francisco Liriano returned to form after Tommy John over two years ago.
Biggest off-season move:  The Twins signed their first Japanese free agent in middle infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka. He's a good defensive player but has zero power (expect Luis Castillo production circa 2005).
Biggest off-season loss: I honestly don't remember them losing anyone except Jesse Crain.
Biggest Questions:
1. Can Carl Pavano do it again?  Pavano re-upped with the Twins after having his first successful season since before his Yankee days.  If he regresses even a little bit the Twins won't be able to compete.
2. Will the infield hit enough?  Alexi Casilla, Nishioka, and 3B Danny Valencia might combine to hit 12 home runs. Good thing this team plays on turf - wait, they don't anymore?
3. Is Justin Morneau healthy?  This is probably the #1 question on the fans' minds.  Last July Morneau was hit in the head by a pitch and didn't play again. He barely participated in spring games, so no one really knows what kind of shape he's in.
Expectations: The Twins should never be underestimated. That being said, their infield has no power and I have never been too impressed with their pitching staff. Expect anything from a first to third place finish but they'll have a winning record against the White Sox.
Opening day lineup:
1. Span CF
2. Nishioka 2B
3. Mauer C
4. Morneau 1B
5. Young LF
6. Cuddyer RF
7. Kubel DH
8. Valencia 3B
9. Casilla SS
SP Carl Pavano

Cleveland Indians
Best Player: Shin-Soo Choo was the most underrated player in the MLB prior to last season.
Best Pitcher: Justin Masterson by default.
Biggest off-season move:  Cleveland signed the seemingly unwanted Orlando Cabrera to play second base.
Biggest off-season loss: Like everyone else in this division they didn't lose anyone of consequence.
Biggest Questions:
1. Will the rotation hold up?  Justin Masterson is the best pitcher in the rotation and he struggles against lefties. Carmona gets blown up every now and then when his sinker isn't sinking and everyone else is still proving themselves.
2. Will Grady Sizemore make an impact? Sizemore is the team's best player if healthy. In 2008 he was a legitimate MVP candidate and was just starting to add serious power to his game when the knee injuries hit. It's possible his speed and gold glove defense are gone but if he can hit close to the way he was he'll be one of the top players in the American League.
3. Just how good is Carlos Santana? At the guitar he's a legend. But on the diamond he's still relatively unknown to most fans. I predict he is the game's best catcher in three years. This year he'll be better than the man he replaced Victor Martinez.
Expectations: If the pitching can come together a bit the Indians could be the surprise team of the American League. I don't think they see themselves as contenders but a .500 record is a reasonable goal especially in this division.
Opening day lineup:
1. Brantley CF
2. A. Cabrera SS
3. Choo RF
4. Santana C
5. Hafner DH
6. O. Cabrera 2B
7. Kearns LF
8. LaPorta 1B
9. Hannahan 3B
SP Fausto Carmona

Kansas City Royals
Best Player: Billy Butler
Best Pitcher: Joakim Soria. How sad is it when your best pitcher is your closer? You'd think they'd use him more than they do.
Biggest off-season move:  Trading Zack Greinke for prospects and SS Alcides Escobar was a bold move for this organization, but it should pay dividends in three years.
Biggest off-season loss: The retirement of Gil Meche really stings.
Biggest Questions:
1. When will the prospects get here? The Royals have the best minor league system I have ever seen. Even prospect gurus Kevin Goldstein and John Sickels agree.  If 50% of the guys pan out and become regulars the Royals will be a playoff contender by 2014.  That's a conservative percentage in my mind.
2. Can Alcides Escobar adjust to major league pitching? The Brewers were willing to trade him because they felt he would never be able to make the adjustments necessary to be an above average offensive player. If he can start by improving his abysmal walk rate the Royals will be pleased.
3. Is this Alex Gordon's last chance? The once face of the franchise was demoted to Omaha and moved to the oufield last season. If he doesn't hit now the Royals may just cut bait and avoid arbitration with him.
Expectations: The Royals are bad and they know it. It's likely sometime this summer 3B Mike Moustakas and 1B Eric Hosmer will join the big club and the league will take notice because these guys are good. 
Opening day lineup:
1. Aviles 3B
2. Cabrera CF
3. Gordon LF
4. Butler DH
5. Ka'aihue 1B
6. Francoeur RF
7. Escobar SS
8. Treanor C
9. Getz 2B
SP Luke Hochevar
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