AL Central Evaluations
The first week of the season is past and I thought I’d trot out some predictions for the Central. A lot of people seem to think it will be a race between the Sox, Twins, and Tigers. But I think it’s ridiculous to ever expect anything from the Tigers beyond 70 wins.
Now it normally is very foolish to be high on the Royals in any legitimate way. Especially this early in the season. But, and I will emphasize that I place no emphasis on their 6-3 start to the season, this team doesn’t even look that bad. The most impressive thing about them is their bullpen. Joakim Soria at the back is always a wonderful thing. But then look at the supporting cast: Robinson Tejeda, someone with a big arm and great K numbers wherever he’s pitched, now healthy and in the bullpen. I’m bullish on guys who have what is considered to be good stuff, have had spotty but sometimes legitimate success as a starter, and who are put into bullpen roles. He could have a big year. Then you have Tim Collins the 5’7″ lefty, who has had a brilliant minor league career, especially K wise, and who is getting a shot in the bullpen. So far he’s pitched 4+ innings with 7 K’s and hasn’t given up a run. I wouldn’t doubt he’ll take his lumps, but given his minor league track record (329 K’s in 223 innings, 2.26 ERA) I’d say he has a good shot to be a force. Jeremy Jeffress is considered to be the dark horse centerpiece of the Greinke trade. Which means he’s been hurt a lot, but when healthy has put up big K numbers as well. He’s been given a shot in the pen to start out the year and I wouldn’t doubt he succeeds in the low leverage situations he gets put in. Then you have Sean O’Sullivan, a former Angels starting prospect turned mop up KC reliever. Never bet against someone who an organization was formerly high on as a starter, having success as a reliever.
In other words, their pen isn’t relying on Dusty Hughes’ in high leverage situations.
Starting-wise, the tale is a little more grim. Jeff Francis has looked good so far, and he had an underrated 2010, but he’s an average #2/good #3 at best. Luke Hochevar is the ‘ace.’ No comment. Bruce Chen was pretty good last year, KC brought him back, and I wouldn’t doubt he could be a decent fourth starter. He could also remember that he’s Bruce Chen. And then there’s Kyle Davies. Poor, unfortunate Kyle Davies. But at least this year KC has a decent, young bridge to Soria even if the starter only goes 5. A lot will ride on the offense, however.
As for the offense, we have Billy Butler and a bunch of questions. Butler himself has to answer the question of whether he’s gonna be Lyle Overbay or Edgar Martinez. Alex Gordan has looked real good so far, which is encouraging, and there is still a ton of potential in his bat if he can keep his success going. Kila Ka’aihue could be a poor man’s Adam Dunn. The offseason additions of Melky and Frenchie could conceivably be league average, though that is a bit of a stretch. Alcides Escobar is great with the glove, but is he Rey Ordonez or Jose Reyes with the bat? He’s at least better than Tony Pena Jr.
Chris Getz has a little on base ability, Mike Aviles has shown he can actually be a 4-5 win player if everything goes right, and Wilson Betemit could be the second or third best hitter on the team if given a shot.
Then there’s Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer waiting in the wings at triple A.
A flawed team, but a lot of potential for improvement, and an incredible farm system to back it up.
Prediction: Third place. 82-80
Like KC, the Indians have gotten off to a hot start. As of this writing, they have won seven games in a row. But where is this production coming from? Not where you want it to. Orlando Cabrera has started out hot, Asdrubal Cabrera somehow has 3 home runs, fill in Jack Hannahan has an .891 OPS, and Travis Hafner is being his usual tease self. Eventually, this team will realize it’s starting pitching is pretty bad, and that unless Matt LaPorta busts out no one on this team will hit more than 20 home runs. I like the bullpen, however, and almost want to pick Cleveland over Detroit, but no matter how much you want something to be true, sometimes you have to face that it can’t happen.
Prediction: Fifth place. 75-87
I really dislike the Tigers. Because you can usually take it to the bank that no one on their team will ever build off a good year. That’s why guys like Ryan Raburn and Brandon Inge and even Justin Verlander tend to fluctuate between serviceable, good and awesome and non tender material. Brennan Boesch is not the answer. Austin Jackson is DEFINITELY not the answer (I’ve never seen a position player succeed with his MAGNITUDE of terrible peripherals). Magglio is already hurt, Jhonny Peralta is just like Raburn and Inge, you don’t know if he’ll OPS .650 or .850. Will Rhymes, Alex Avila? Please. Oh, and Brad Thomas makes this team AGAIN? Yeah it’s cute that he throws left handed, but at some point, don’t you have to accept that there is no better definition of batting practice pitcher in the GAME?
Rick Porcello can’t strike guys out, Brad Penny might have a good first half, but don’t bet on him finishing with an ERA under 4.50. Not away from the NL. Scherzer and Verlander I like at the top, and Valverde and Benoit are a good tandem at the back. And Cabrera and Martinez will dutifully carry most of the offense. But this team is built to underachieve; they always do.
Prediction: 4th place. 77-85
I am the optimist among optimists. But I also tend to believe in narratives. Anything besides logic for me. In Minnesota, if our team has a good year, dominant year, first place in our conference type year, the next year will be disappointing. Look at the 99 and 2010 Vikings, the 04-05 Wolves, the 07 Twins.
The 2011 Twins. On paper, this is still a good team. Joe Mauer can have as bad an April as he wants, when it’s said and done you’ve got an .860 OPS from your catcher. And if he gets hot for an extended period of time, like during the summers of ’06 and ’09, that might rise to .960. I think Morneau will hit, even if it takes him a minute to get into the groove. Young and Kubel are not without their flaws, but they both hit the ball hard enough that at least one figures to have a good year offensively. Cuddyer probably won’t be as bad as last year. Thome can hopefully hit a few home runs, though I’ll take the under on him getting to 600 this year. Casilla, Tolbert, Hughes, Nishioka when he gets back are all unfortunate options. And then I think about how WE TRADED J.J HARDY FOR UNPROVEN ‘POWER’ BULLPEN ARMS AND THEN TRADED BILLY BULLOCK FOR A 5TH STARTER WE ALREADY HAD UNDER TEAM CONTROL*.
*I would advise Bill Smith to stick to trading with organizations that don’t make intelligent decisions. Which means no Rays, no Braves, no Red Sox, no A’s, and not even the Orioles anymore (Apparently). Just stick to exploiting Seattle, Kansas City, Philadelphia (Oh yes that team is so fucked in 3-5 years), Florida, Houston, the Cubs and the L.A teams.
But if Liriano continues to struggle with his control, Pavano takes a step back, Baker loses that one grain of velocity that determines whether hitters will be late on his fastball or crush it, and Duensing falls into what his FIP and xFIP said he would always do, then we have problems. Because we have Dusty Hughes in our bullpen.
In summary, good offense, questionable starting pitching, average at best bullpen. I would say it’s an 85 win team at this point. And who knows who is going to get hurt.
Prediction: 2nd place. 86-76
You know I hate to do this, but where is there a weakness on this team? Their offense will be good. It might be great. Their starting pitching is deep. It might be really really deep. Their bullpen is great. It might really start to piss me off in about 5 months.
Carlos Quentin looks good, Konerko can’t fall too far, Dunn is Dunn and definitely not done (If there wasn’t this misguided notion that since Dunn is sarcastic and goofy => he hates baseball, could he see some hall of fame support with 4-5 more good seasons?), Rios is the sort of player I think plays better when his team is contending, Beckham has nowhere to go but up, Danks and Floyd are like poor people’s Smoltz and Glavine, Peavy will come back presumably, Buehrle will likely remain solid, Sale Santos and Thornton are a really good bullpen trio who also serve to keep Jesse Crain in the 6th and 7th innings, where he belongs (As Twins fans know. Nothing worse than an 8th inning Crain-wreck). There are simply too many good players on this team. It would take a rash of injuries for them to not win 90 games, in my estimation.
Prediction: 1st place. 94-68
I feel good about these predictions. My particular biases may have taken 4-5 wins from the Tigers and added them to the Twins and Royals, I will admit.
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