2013 MLB Preview: AL Central

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The American League Central is a division on the decline in recent years but in 2013 a number of teams will try to bring the division back. The last few years this division has followed a very specific pattern as there is always one dominant team. That team used to be the Minnesota Twins who would win the division almost every year. Meanwhile the other teams would fall back and far away from the postseason with little chance of making the wild card. In the last two years a new team has emerged though as the Detroit Tigers have taken over for the Minnesota Twins. As the Twins fell out of top spot the Tigers were there to pick up the slack and have been one of the more dominant teams in the last few years. The Tigers will look to continue their dominance this year and win the division for the third straight time. Meanwhile the Twins are one of the many teams in the division that will look to a rebuild in an attempt to get back to the top. The Cleveland Indians are looking to make a real impact in the division this year and begin their dominant era with a very busy offseason behind them. The Chicago White Sox are a team that always seems on the edge of greatness and are looking to make good on that thought. Then there are the Royals who are beginning their own rebuild and looking to get back to the greatness they had a long time ago. The AL Central is a division in transition and yet one that remains fairly the same. The teams in the division are all looking to improve, even the Detroit Tigers, with some taking more extreme measures than others. Although the battle for the top spot in the division will not be great the battle for the rest could be an interesting one. With two wild cards many of the Central will be looking for everything to go right and grab a spot in the postseason. Anything is possible in this division this year but another team winning the division is one of the least likely.

 

Chicago White Sox

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The White Sox would end up in second place last year only three games out of the top spot in the division. The finishing spot would not fully reflect their season though as they would come out big in the season and collapse at the end of the year. For a good amount of time the Sox were in first place of the division as the dominance of the Tigers was done before it began. Then the White Sox would begin to falter and in the end they would sit outside of the postseason ending a very inconsistent season. This year Chicago will look for some more consistency and try to show that they are no fluke and that the team is actually a contender. They have not made too many changes for the 2013 season but two players will not be with the team to provide veteran leadership. AJ Pierzynski and Kevin Youkilis will both be on new teams this year which may not be the best thing for the White Sox. With the inconsistency of 2012 the White Sox could need some veteran leadership to prevent them from falling into their old patterns. The White Sox will move on and they will try to prevent another inconsistent season to show that they are here to stay and that they deserve a spot in the postseason. The Sox will be a good team but with other teams making so many improvements they may fall behind this year.

 

Strength:
Defence
– The White Sox are pretty good in a lot of different areas but their defence is the best part of their game as they give their good rotation the chance to win games and prevent the opposition from scoring too many runs

Weakness:
The Vets are Gone
– Pierzynski and Youkilis were older players but they were the vets in the room and had plenty of say and influence on the team which is likely going to be missed when the White Sox have those difficult times that come in every season

Biggest Loss:
A.J. Pierzynski, C (Free Agency)
– Pierzynski was a leader on the team in the clubhouse and on the field and his absence will be felt especially on the field where he hit 27 HRs and 77 RBIs which will be hard to replace along with his leadership in the clubhouse

Biggest Addition:
Jeff Keppinger, 3B (Free Agency)
– With Youkilis gone the Sox needed another third baseman and they got one in one of the more sought after free agents on the market as Jeff Keppinger can do it all and even though he is a utility man will likely spend most of his time at third

Player to Watch:
Adam Dunn, DH
– The designated hitter is one of the most debated positions in the MLB as the traditional DH is thought to be going extinct but Dunn is looking to continue putting that to rest as the pure DH will attempt to continue his time as a successful Designated Hitter

 

Cleveland Indians

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The Indians are yet another team in Cleveland sports scene that continues to fall short of expectations. They did the same last year as they would finish second last in the division and needed to make some changes. If it wasn’t for the Blue Jays moves the Indians would be making the headlines for their very busy off-season. Unlike the Jays though the Indians would go out and get a number of players that many see as projects. They were big names but not for the right reasons as many of the players they signed had fallen short of expectations. Players like Daisuke Matsuzaka and Drew Stubbs were added this year in the hopes that a change of scenery will do them well. The one major positive for the club though is the fact that they could not have added a better manager to bring these players together. The signing of Terry Francona to lead this team was the best move the Indians made as there are very few managers who can bring a team like this together and he is one of them. The Indians will experience some growing pains this year and there is no doubt that there will be some roadblocks to overcome. The fact that they have a great leader to put these pieces together will only help them. The Indians are a better team this year but they are not improved enough to challenge for the top spot although they are on their way.

 

Strength:
Bench Boss
– Managing an MLB team is tough but managing a number of players looking to get back on track in the MLB makes it even tougher and with the experience of handling the attitudes in Boston Terry Francona is the perfect match

Weakness:
No sure things
– If everything goes right the Indians have put together a great team but rarely does everything work out properly and for the Indians that means trouble as if a few of these projects don’t work out they will fall too far behind

Biggest Loss:
Shin Soo Choo, OF (Trade)
– The Indians sacrificed old rebuilding fans for the free agency path and one of the sacrifices they had to make was one of their only stars on the team Choo who is one of the better hitters in the game although he does it quietly

Biggest Addition:
Nick Swisher, OF (Free Agency)
– Swisher is a good player but the signing will have more of an effect in the locker room where Swisher’s infectious smile and personality is sure to bring the team together which can only help this team full of new faces

Player to Watch:
Daisuke Matsuzaka, RHP
– Daisuke Matsuzaka was one of the most highly recruited Japanese pitchers in MLB history and made a big impact in Boston but he quickly fell off and now will try to make the big league club in Cleveland as he looks to make a comeback with his new team

 

Detroit Tigers

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The Detroit Tigers were so close last year as they would add one of the biggest free agents in the 2012 class and would march all the way to the World Series. Led by Miguel Cabrera’s Triple Crown year the Tigers would win their second division title in as many years and would walk through almost everyone on their way to the World Series. Then it all fell apart as the Tigers would be swept in the World Series by the San Francisco Giants in a very poor ending to an otherwise great year. Now the Tigers enter the 2013 season with a few new additions that make this talented team even stronger. They will look back to Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera to have repeat seasons while they hope that their new additions can add that extra they need to win a World Series. The Tigers are a good team and made even better by their offseason additions and so it seemed to be their division once again. The division title is not the biggest concern for the Tigers though as teams are still trying to build behind them giving them the opportunity to look ahead. With so many teams in the Central looking for an identity the Tigers are looking ahead to the playoffs and a way into the World Series to finally raise that trophy. Detroit will win this division as the most stable team in the division and a run at another World Series appearance is not out of the question.

 

Strength:
The Talent
– Prince Fielder, Miguel Cabrera, Justin Verlander, and now Torii Hunter make this team one of the most talented in the MLB which should work only in their favour as the talent seems to get along and produce a powerful team

Weakness:
The Hangover
– The Tigers were so close to winning a World Series last year and that good lead to a hangover especially when they got so close and looked so promising only to be swept in the World Series will definitely have an effect on the 2013 version of the team

Biggest Loss:
Jose Valverde, RHP (Free Agency)
– He did not have the best season in 2012 especially in the playoffs but the problem is that the Tigers do not have anyone else to fill his role and the hope that he could return to his 2011 form may have been better than not having anyone to fill the role

Biggest Addition:
Torii Hunter, OF (Free Agency)
– The Tigers have a number of power hitters and hitters who can make contact but they do not have too many that can do the job of Hunter who will create havoc on the base paths with his speed and will add another aspect to a very good offence

Player to Watch:
Miguel Cabrera, 3B
– The Triple Crown is one of the toughest achievements to earn in sports but Cabrera joined the few last year with 44 HRs, 139 RBIS, and a batting average of .330 now the challenge will be how he can live up to his accomplishments this year

 

Kansas City Royals

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The Royals are a team that once met great expectations and recently have fallen very far away from those expectations. Last year the Royals finished third in the division although that wouldn’t tell the whole story. The Royals would be a better team but still not even close to being good enough to challenge for a playoff sport. This year the Royals are looking for a change of pace as they make a new commitment to winning by adding some key pieces to the team. The Royals are looking to get out of the basement with a new commitment from the management in order to do so. The Royals would constantly have one of the worst pitching rotations in the league but that changed rather quickly in the offseason. Adding James Shields, Wade Davis, and Ervin Santana to the rotation immediately changed the Royals chances this year. There are still some holes in this team but the new commitment to winning is a welcomed change in Kansas City. The Royals are team with a new lease on life but there are plenty of questions along with this new commitment. The Royals are not a repaired team yet but they are better than they were before. The rebuild has started and Kansas City is hoping that the moves they made this offseason are only the beginning of a new era. The Royals are better this year but they are still not good enough to challenge for the division or a playoff spot this year.

 

Strength:
New Commitment
– The management made a commitment in the offseason making moves to improve their team immediately rather than waiting to develop and for the players already on the team that sends  message that the entire team is behind the

Weakness:
Their History
– The Royals have made plenty of moves in the past that have yet to work out and that means they have a history of falling short which is something that will need to end this year because if it doesn’t there is a lot of wasted money on this team

Biggest Loss:
Wil Myers, OF (Trade)
– To get the players they needed the Royals had to pay a price and that price was their top prospect in Wil Myers who is sure to make a big impact in the league as the Royals sacrifice their future for the presence

Biggest Addition:
James Shields, RHP (Trade)
– The deal that sent their best prospect away brought in the best pitcher they have had in many years as James Shields will be the #1 on the team and his ability to eat up innings will only help the entire pitching staff

Player to Watch:
Eric Hosmer, 1B
– With Wil Myers gone the offence will rely on the players that are already there and the development of Hosmer who had a breakout year last year and is hoping he can improve on it this year

 

Minnesota Twins

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The Minnesota Twins are a far ways off from their great days when they ruled this division much like the Tigers do right now. The Twins would go from consistently finishing in first to finishing in last place in both of the last two years. The Twins are hoping that they can finally turn things around this year and get back to their winning ways. Like a lot of the teams in the division they will look to do this by reworking their roster. The offseason was not as dramatic as some teams with only a few changes but that may be the better strategy. When adding a lot of new players the team chemistry can be in rough shape especially with more stars. The Twins did not go out and get these stars and will not have to deal with too many egos in a locker room. The Twins would start their rebuild with the pitching staff as they would sign a number of new pitchers that should help lessen the load on Scott Diamond. The Twins are on the right path but they are walking a fine line between adding too many egos and not enough talent. They will hope that the players they added are good enough to help them move out of the basement. The Twins have added good pieces but the moves made by other teams put them behind as they will sit at the bottom of the division once again.

 

Strength:
There is some Talent
– Justin Morneau has yet to fully recover from a concussion and be the MVP that he used to be but he is still a very good player and is getting closer to that old player as he will join Joe Mauer as two of the best in the league who are still with the Twins

Weakness:
The beginning of a rebuild
– As with any teams rebuilding there is a big unknown and a lot of holes to fill which means problems for the Twins who did not fill every need and did not add any big name talent to the team as their new additions might fall short

Biggest Loss:
Denard Span, OF (Trade)
– The offence of the Twins took a back seat in the offseason as the Twins focused on the pitching rotation and would give away one of their best hitters in Span who had a .283 average last year

Biggest Addition:
Kevin Correia, RHP (Free Agency)
– He was the prize of the offseason for the Twins this year as he is not an especially powerful pitcher but he eats innings and has yet to post a losing record in the majors not to mention his veteran presence that will no doubt help Scott Diamond

Player to Watch:
Scott Diamond, LHP
– He was the breakout star last year for the Twins and with Carl Pavano now gone he will sit at the top of the rotation leading the Twins in only his second full season in the majors as everyone will watch to see if he falters or embraces the role

 

Prediction:
1. Detroit Tigers
2. Kansas City Royals
3. Cleveland Indians
4. Chicago White Sox
5. Minnesota Twins

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