This is the second one of my 2009 baseball previews. You can check out the AL East here. Just a note, it was written before A-Rod needed surgery.
The AL Central is going to be one of the toughest divisions in baseball. Last year, the Twins and White Sox needed a one game playoff to settle the score. I feel like anyone but the Royals could easily win the crown. Speaking of those Royals, they’ll be showing off their new improvements to Kauffman Stadium this year…and that’s about it. This team finished 75-87 last year, above only the Tigers. The biggest addition they made was Coco Crisp, the career .280 hitter. That pretty much sums up their offseason.
Third baseman Alex Gordon will look to improve on his disappointing 2008 season that was cut short by a hamstring injury. Their pitching staff will feature Gil Meche, Zack Greinke, and Luke Hochevar. The latter two will be 25 years old and are the hope of the future for the Royals franchise. It will also be interesting to watch the development of one of the game’s most exciting young closers, Joakim Soria.
The Chicago White Sox won that one game playoff last year on the strength of a Jim Thome blast and a John Danks 2-hitter. Both players will return for the Sox, but there will be many new faces at US Cellular in 2009. Nick Swisher, Orlando Cabrera, and Joe Crede have all moved on. Shortstop will be taken over by Alexei Ramirez, center by Brian Anderson, which leaves a hole at third. The team has Josh Fields ready to take over but they signed 19-year old Cuban defector Dayan Viciedo to a 4-year contract. Fields should get the job, but Viciedo could be breathing down his neck soon.
The Sox also tinkered with their rotation when they sent Javier Vazquez to the Atlanta Braves for Tyler Flowers and Brent Lillibridge, among others. Bartolo Colon, Lance Broadway, or Clayton Richard will step into his spot in the rotation.
The 2009 Minnesota Twins will look very similar to the 2008 version. They added Joe Crede to play third and that was about it. All-Stars Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau will anchor the offense and their young rotation will have another year of experience.
Young sensation Francisco Liriano will be fully healthy after he had a tough time recovering from Tommy John surgery in 2008. When I look at this team on paper, I’m just amazed at how young they are. If Twins management can keep these kids together, they could be dangerous for many years to come.
The Cleveland Indians wound up in 3rd last year with an even 81-81 record. They will start this year without CC Sabathia, who signed with the New York Yankees this offseason. They will count on CY Young Award winner Cliff Lee to put up impressive numbers once again, while hoping Fausto Carmona regains his 2007 form, when he won 19 games. Another player who will be looking to bounce back is Travis Hafner, who has been hampered by hand injuries last year. Victor Martinez will also be in this boat after playing in only 73 games last season.
The bullpen got a boost with the acquisition of closer Kerry Wood. Grady Sizemore will again be making a case for being the best center fielder in baseball. Last year, he hit .268 with 33 homers and 90 RBIs along with stellar defense. I’m sure he’ll be looking to reverse his trend of declining batting averages in the last three years as well.
Finally, we have the biggest underachievers of the 2008 season: the Detroit Tigers. They made the biggest splash of last year’s offseason by acquiring Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis. Cabrera had a terrific season, while Willis was demoted all the way to A ball. This team should tear the cover off the ball with a lineup that includes Magglio Ordonez, Curtis Granderson, Carlos Guillen, Gary Sheffield, and Cabrera. Instead, they finished 74-88. Behind the Royals. Ouch.
The rotation had some major issues last year. Ace Justin Verlander went 11-17 with an ERA near 5. That won’t get it done. Only Armando Galarraga pitched well for the Tigers. All in all, the Tigers should not be nearly as bad as they were last year. Look for them to bounce back at least a little bit.
I’m going to go with these standings:
1. Minnesota Twins
2. Chicago White Sox
3. Detroit Tigers
4. Cleveland Indians
5. Kansas City Royals
Filed under: MLB | Tagged: 2009 Baseball, AL Central, Baseball, Baseball Previews, Chicago White Sox, Cleveland, Cleveland Indians, Detroit Tigers, Kansas City Royals, Meaningless Predictions, Minnesota Twins, MLB |