Thursday, March 22, 2007

2007 Predictions, Part 2 of 8, AL Central

This is a hard division to pick. Except for last place that is. Wow, the Royals are terrible. However, I can see reasonable arguments for any alignment of the other four teams in this division. None of the teams have the balanced lineups of the AL East.

This could be a 4-way race down to the end of the season. I'll do my best to differentiate though:

1st Place: Minnesota Twins
Can a bullpen win a division? I guess that's what I'm counting on with this pick. The Twins have the only closer in the AL Central who had an ERA under 3.75 last year. Joe Nathan, along with Rincon, Crain, Reyes, Neshek, and Guerrier make up a terrific bullpen.

This makes Johan Santana, by far, the most important part of the Twins puzzle. Not only is he going to have to pitch to his usual greatness, but he's going to have to throw 8 innings often, as it's going to be up to him to give the bullpen days off.

The Twins are in desperate need of Liriano, who they won't have at all this season. Boof Bonser (wasn't Boof the name of Michael J. Fox's girlfriend in Teen Wolf?) is sadly their #2 starter. 3, 4, & 5, Ortiz, Silva, and Garza all had ERA's over 5.50 last season. As I'm writing this I'm wondering why I'm putting them first.

The Twins lineup of course is led by Mauer and Morneau. The biggest problem of the Twins lineup is that they have very little power. 6 of their 9 hitters can't get the ball out even in their homer friendly ballpark. I expect Mauer's power to increase some this year while his average drops (just because it has to). They are going to need Castillo to get his on base percentage back up.

If Nick Punto's average drops from last season, as it probably will, he becomes almost useless. Rondell White's no great shakes out in left, and Jason Kubel doesn't intimidate from the DH spot.

To get the division crown this season, they will need at least one of those bottom 3 starters to step up and perform well.

2nd Place - Chicago White Sox
The White Sox have some definite holes in their offense. Their shortstop last season, Juan Uribe, had a .257 OBP, and he remains their shortstop at least until he has to stand trial in the Domincan for shooting a farmer. Their leftfield/centerfield combination of Erstad, Podsednik, and Mackowiak, may pull off not combining to hit 10 home runs. Erstad hit zero last season (in 40 games) and hasn't hit more than 10 since 2000. Podsednik has combined to hit 3 over the past 2 seasons, and Mackowiak is the big slugger of the group having hit 5 home runs last season.

However, Iguchi and Pierzynski both hit fine for their positions, and Crede is fine at 3rd. Paul Konerko, Jermaine Dye, and Jim Thome remain a formidable middle of the lineup.

The White Sox top 4 starters of Contreras, Buehrle, Garland, and Vazquez are hardly spectacular. However any of them can go out and throw a strong game at any point, or get shelled. The one thing all four of them do is throw innings. It's very possible all four could pitch 200 innings in the season. This is important because they have an average bullpen with their top 4 relief pitchers (although Jenks had an ERA of 4 last season), and the back end of their bullpen is very weak. With starters who go many innings, that should not hurt them too much.

3rd Place - Detriot Tigers
I don't know how this team won the AL Pennant. It's a good thing they got Gary Sheffield, because their offense is in pretty bad shape. Ivan Rodriguez is going to need to hit .300 to be anywhere near the hitter he used to be. If I had to guess I'd say he does hit around .300, but with his power numbers droping, and his lack of walks, he needs to keep a high batting average. They have a first baseman who may hit less home runs than the Yankee starting first baseman, in Sean Casey.

Polanco, Guillen, and Inge make up a pretty good rest of the infield, although not much power. Granderson, Monroe and Ordonez make up for an okay outfield, but not intimidating, and then Sheffield at DH. They will be relying a lot on those young arms of theirs.

Kenny Rogers should have a drop-off as he'll be closely watched this season. Bonderman, Verlander, Maroth, and Robertson are going to have to pitch well to make up for a lineup that won't produce much, and to keep the innings away from the bullpen. Todd Jones is the closer, that's never a good sign. However, on the whole, as long as they don't have to pitch too many innings, this could be an above average bullpen, that should be led by Joel Zumaya, who I'm surprised that he doesn't already have the closer job (but my guess is he will by May). Who here trusts Jose Mesa? That's why they need to limit the bullpen innings.

4th Place - Cleveland Indians
I originally had them in first place, but kept dropping them. The only thing that would surprise me in this division is if the Royals don't finish last. The Indians advantage lies in their starting rotation. They could have 5 guys, with Sabathia, Lee, Westrbook, Sowers, and Byrd with ERA's under 5, and maybe all under 4.50. However, Lee looks like he may miss the beginning of the season, and if any of these 5 guys miss any time, they don't even have replacement level players to fill in. It could get ugly quick and this rotation is not know for health.

They also have a weak closer in Borowski, and after a few average guys, their bullpen isn't that strong. The lineup will need a big bounce back year from Peralta. Barfield doesn't walk at all. They'll also need a decent year from Marte. They have three dangerous hitters in their lineup with Hafner, Sizemore, and Victor Martinez. I think Martinez will be their downfall. As amazing as it is having a catcher hit the way Martinez hits, and as valuable as that is, he threw out only 16 of 116 baserunners last season, and I'm assuming the 16 who got got all were running with a limp.

I remember a game last season where the Yankees were walking to second base against him. They quickly put him at first base the next day. They are going to have to take him out of games where they have a 1-run lead or a tie game, as it's too easy to play for one run against the Indians with him behind the plate. But if the game goes on, Kelly Shoppach is now batting in the heart of the lineup.

It's going to be really hard on the pitching staff, giving up all those extra bases from behind the plate. It's not like this is a team getting a great deal of production out of first base. The prospect Ryan Garko that they want to put there, might not get the job as he has a problem catching the ball. Victor Martinez is actually an above average first baseman. Kelly Shoppach's defensive skills behind the plate and Martinez's at first base, would probably make up for more than enough of the lost offense going from Garko to Shoppach in the lineup.

5th Place - Kansas City Royals
If they finish any higher than last place, I'm assuming Alex Gordon will have been the first rookie since Fred Lynn to have won the MVP award. This team is putrid. Two of their starters had 6+ ERA's last season. Gil Meche is their overwhelming ace. The bullpen is horrible. They can't hit. Gordon is their only hope for any excitement, and if he starts out well, he's going to get pitched around, which could be frustrating for a rookie.

His best hope is that they're losing by 4 runs early so there is no need to pitch around him. I would unquestionably take the Scranton starting rotation of that of the Royals.

There we have it. I'm picking Joe Nathan and company to win the AL Central.

1 comment:

Sully said...

I'm not quite sure how I'd rank the top four, but I think you give the Twins too much credit, and you give the White Sox WAY too much credit.

And, surprisingly, I think you don't give the Royals enough credit. I don't think they'll finish anywhere other than fifth, but they're not historically awful, as you make them out to be (that would be the Nationals).