2012 Predictions: American League Central

The Opening Day salvo has long since fired, and it’s time to turn a somewhat tardy eye towards the sides that make up the American League Central. Formed in 1994, the AL Central has the distinction of being the only division in the Majors completely made up of past World Series winners, but recent times have been tough, with the 2005 White Sox registering the only World Series triumph for the division since its inception.

The loss of Victor Martinez was an early blow for reigning AL Central champions Detroit, although ultimately the injury acted as the catalyst in bringing Prince Fielder back to his childhood stomping ground of Detroit.

Fielder may sport the kind of physique that is usually associated with ‘The Biggest Loser’, but his newly forged heavyweight partnership with top drawer slugger Miguel Cabrera has ensured a healthy appetite for winning in and around Comerica. Whether Fielder’s hefty 9 year deal turns out to be a good investment in the long term remains to be seen, but for now his acquisition has quite literally tipped the scales in Detroit’s favor.

Miguel Cabrera has shifted across the diamond in order to accommodate Fielder, and it’s suggested that the move has compromised Detroit defensively. Cabrera is not a complete stranger to the hot corner, but Jim Leyland did switch him over to first base in 2008 for a reason, and his catching of an admittedly venomous hop in the kisser during the spring offered a slightly unkind reminder of his possible frailties at the position.

There is early indication that Justin Verlander will once more be the epitome of quality and consistency, and his efforts on the mound should be adequately backed by Porcello and Scherzer, however it is the power in the Detroit bats, and the potential of Fielder and Cabrera to pump out the hits like a young Benny Gordy, that will ensure the Tigers have a successful 2012.

When the dust settles on the 2012 season, it’s almost guaranteed that any positive reference to Kansas City will be reserved for the praising of this year’s All Star Game. With only one .500 season in the last 17 years, it appears that the Royals are actually the hoi polloi of the American League Central.

Image by twm1340

Photo by twm1340

Both Alex Gordon and Jeff Francour posted sound numbers in 2011, and the inclusion of the talented young pairing of Moustakas and Hosmer offers the Royals an opportunity to field a semi-decent lineup, it is however the lack of a legitimate Ace in the post-Greinke era that is blatantly apparent. The acquisition of the inconsistent Jonathan Sanchez from San Francisco has done little to enhance a rotation that all too often leaves the Royals unable to compete over the course of a season.

Everything points to another sub .500 year for the Royals, and it would be no surprise if there were a few players on the roster wishing they were not in Kansas anymore.

The Cleveland Indians have won the AL Central division a record seven times, with the most recent success coming in 2007. A strong start to last year’s campaign had the Tribe contemplating the possibility of Postseason Baseball once again, but a lackluster second half conspired with a Detroit side on the rampage to ensure that only Chief Wahoo was smiling in October.

Justin Masterson has developed into a solid starter since leaving the confines of the Boston bullpen, and Manny Acta recognized the righty’s efforts by handing him the ball on Opening Day. Unfortunately last year’s midseason move for Ubaldo Jimenez has yielded little in return so far, and the flakey ex Colorado Ace needs to buckle down and accept his new surroundings if he is to reach the dizzy heights of his Rockies days.

There is a lot to like about the Cleveland lineup, and the recent rousing of Johnny Damon from the comfort of his Floridian chaise lounge will offer some additional value, however Grady Sizemore will need to prove that he is something other than a suspected Munchausen case before opposing pitchers start to babble in their sleep.

The Indians are a reasonable outfit, but a little more staying power is required over the course this year, or the Tribe will find their season once again assuming a trajectory similar to that of a Derek Lowe Sinker.

The word ‘Curse’ is often heard when discussing the state of Baseball in Chicago, although no mention of a Billy Goat is necessary if referencing the team on the Southside, where the word was more commonly used to politely describe the detail of an Ozzie Guillen outburst. With Ozzie making friends and influencing people down in Miami these days, the White Sox have appointed rookie skipper Robin Ventura to take over the reins.

Billy Goat

Photo by DEMOSH

The White Sox sport a rotation that includes John Danks, Jake Peavy and Gavin Floyd, however the departure of free agent Mark Buerle to the Marlins offers some confusion as to which one of the trio will emerge as Ventura’s Ace.

In spite of having legitimate power in the form of Paul Konerko and Adam Dunn, the White Sox have been a team in decline for the last couple of years, and in all probability they are liable to give fans the Blues a lot more than Jake and Elwood ever could.

Despite waging successful AL Central campaigns an admirable six times under the guidance of skipper Ron Gardenhire, the Minnesota Twins have never quite managed to extend their divisional success as far as the postseason, with the New York Yankees assuming the role of ALDS spoilers more often than not.

An unfortunate spate of crippling injuries destroyed any chance that the Twins may have had of securing a third straight AL Central title in 2011. Slugger Justin Morneau spent the lion’s share of the season on the DL with concussion and nerve issues, while Joe Mauer experienced a lack of physical stability more often associated with one of Josh Hamilton’s offseason National Enquirer photo-shoots. Ultimately the unavailability of both players ensured that the Twins finished in the unfamiliar position of last in the division.

The return of a fit and healthy Mauer and Morneau will obviously boost the chances of the side experiencing a ‘bounce back’ season in 2012, although the departure of Cuddyer and Kubel has had the effect of weakening the Twins lineup somewhat, and it may prove rather tough to compensate for this loss of power with the likes of Clete Thomas.

Even with a fairly respectable starting rotation in 2012, it’s obvious that the health of Mauer and Morneau is integral to any limited success that the Twins may achieve.