The AL Central went down to the final day three times in the
four-year span from 2006-09.
Twice, 2008 and 2009, a 163rd game was needed to decide the
division winner. So when three squads
were packed within 3.5 games of each other at the 2010 All-Star break, it was
only natural to think, "Here we go again."
A fight to the finish wasn't in the cards, however. Though the Minnesota Twins still had to fend
off the Chicago White Sox in September, the last-game drama from the previous
seasons never really materialized. Minnesota would cruise
to the division title by six games over Chicago, the Detroit Tigers a distant
Sportsbooks see a return to form for the AL Central in 2011,
BookMaker currently casting the Twins, White Sox and Tigers as
tri-favorites with +150 future MLB odds to win the crown. Will 162 games be enough to decide it?
Minnesota Twins (+150 to win AL Central; 85½ wins OVER -110)
One thing you will read over and over this spring is how Minnesota won 94 games
without Joe Nathan the entire season and Justin Morneau for only half. It was indeed a fairly remarkable achievement
for manager Ron Gardenhire and the Twins; take away any team's all-star closer
in spring training plus its MVP first baseman midseason, and it's a recipe for
Truth is, Nathan and Morneau were fairly easy pieces for Minnesota to
replace. Jon Rauch filled in very well
for Nathan out of the 'pen until the club traded for Nationals closer Matt
Capps, and Michael Cuddyer was able to slide smoothly into Morneau's first base
spot. MLB futures bettors who lay money
down on the Twins to win the AL Central based solely on the returns of Nathan
and Morneau are concocting their own recipes for failure.
As crucial as Nathan and Morneau are to Minnesota repeating for a third consecutive
division flag, and seventh in 10 seasons, keeping Joe Mauer healthy and
rebuilding the bullpen around Nathan will be far more important.
The Twins are bringing Morneau along slowly to anchor an infield
that includes Japanese import Tsuyoshi Nishioka at second and the duo of Alexi
Casilla and Danny Valencia on the left side of the diamond. The versatile Cuddyer and Matt Tolbert
provide ample backup at the corners, Luke Hughes another possibility, but
there's not much to fall back on in the middle.
Cuddyer should spend most of his time in right with Denard
Span and Delmon Young in center and left.
Jason Repko and Jason Kubel are the primary reserves, with Kubel also
sharing DH duties with veteran Jim Thome who enters the season 11 homers shy of
All reports this spring are Nathan should be ready to close,
meaning Capps gives the Twins a solid setup arm. How the rest of the bullpen shakes out
remains to be seen with Jeff Manship, Pat Neshek and Jose Mijares the leading
candidates for middle relief work.
The Twins have depth in the rotation and rumors are floating
they could be looking to deal either Kevin Slowey or Scott Baker to acquire
another reliever. Those two are battling
for the last spot in the order behind Carl Pavano, Francisco Liriano, Nick
Blackburn and Brian Duensing.
Preseason odds had the Twins favored to finish second in the division, and they couldn't have been more wrong. The Twins hold the lowest position in the AL Central, while first place Cleveland has twice as many wins as they do.
This is a team that ranks 29th in Runs, On Base percentage, Slugging percentage, and 26th in the Batting Average. Remember guys, this is out of 30 teams.
The Face is that the Twins lack any form of offense, as they have gone under in 17 of their last 25 games. They head into May with 6 straight losses and hope to turn things around as they take to the road to face the White Sox and then the Red Sox.
The Twins are one of, if not the most the streakiest teams in baseball. The sad thing is that most of these streaks are losing streaks. The Twins are 35-46 and have a 6-18 record in their division, and this is still good enough for 4th place (speaking volumes about how poor the Kansas City Royals are). We had picked the twins to end the season second in the AL Central, and that now looks like a long shot.
A week ago this team had won 7 games straight and were took 14 of 16 games, only to around and fell five times in a row. The recent injuries for Justin Morneau and Delmon Young might put the nail in the coffin for Minnesota as well, with all hope slowly fading for this club.
Chicago White Sox (+150 to win AL Central; 85½ wins OVER
Just as wrong as it would be for futures bettors to base
their decisions about the Twins strictly on Nathan and Morneau, it will be a
mistake to put all of your White Sox eggs in one basket because of the addition
of slugger Adam Dunn. No doubt that
Dunn's big stick can go a long way to providing a little extra in a batting
order that finished seventh in the AL in scoring last season, but he's not
going to lift this offense by himself.
The lineup is all but set for Ozzie Guillen who only needs
to decide on his third baseman. Mark
Teahen is a possibility there as is Brent Morel who has a huge leg up on Teahen
defensively. Paul Konerko will be across
the diamond at first with Gordon Beckham and Alexei Ramirez in the middle of
the infield. A bounce-back for Beckham
after a disappointing 2010 could go a long way to making this one of the elite
lineups in the Junior Circuit.
Juan Pierre, Alex Rios and Carlos Quentin fill out the
outfield from left to right. Quentin
will need to remain healthy after various injuries have kept him out of the
lineup about 80 games combined the past two years. Lastings Milledge is in camp vying for a
There's a lot to like about the starting rotation where Jake
Peavy holds the key. The righthander has
made just 33 starts total the past two seasons, and having him for 25-30 this
year would complete a very strong quintet that includes lefties John Danks and
Mark Buehrle plus righthanders Edwin Jackson and Gavin Floyd.
Matt Thornton is expected to assume the closer's job after
Bobby Jenks' departure for Boston. As good as Thornton has proven in a setup role, how he
handles being the 9th-inning arm full-time remains to be seen. Young fireballer Chris Sale could step into
the role but figures to emerge from camp as a setup arm along with middle
relievers Jesse Crain, Sergio Santos and Tony Pena.
The Chicago White Sox aren't looking much better than the Twins, as they ony have one more victory giving them a 10-17 record.
Was it a rough start? Nope, these guys have continued to fall apart, and have gone 3-13 in their last 16 games! This is a true sign of a team that needs to make some serrious changes.
There is, however, a glimmer of hope on the horizion, and that hope comes in the form of the Minnesota Twins. They face eachother in a 2 game series in just a few days, and this game might give them the momentum to start putting their season back together again. If they loose, they will fall to the bottom of this division.
The Chicago White Sox are just one of "those" teams. After being ranked 4th in the league in the first week of the series, the Sox have fallen off the map and have floated aroung the 20's since. Their position in the American League Central rankings suits them well, as they sit in the dead middle. This team is neither horrible nor exciting.
After their first week of the season, many thought that this was going to be a batting powerhouse (scoring 15 in the first game of the season), but since then they have only scored more than ten runs once.
Paul Konerko led the team in 2010, and many thought that he had slowly faded out of the picture this season. Not the case. Konerko has returned to form as of late, and once again leads his teams batting brigade, and it looks like he is out to top last years performance as well.
Could Konerko's recent surge be the kick that this team need to get back into the race? Lets wait and see.
Detroit Tigers (+150 to win AL Central; 84 wins OVER -115)
For a club that is a favorite to win its division, Detroit sure has a lot of
questions remaining with Opening Day just a few weeks away. At least two spots in the regular batting
order remain mysteries and the bullpen arms that will be bridging from the
starters to closer Jose Valverde are up in the air.
The rotation does appear set, however, and it holds
promise. Justin Verlander leads the
starters and will be followed by Rick Porcello, Max Scherzer, Phil Coke and
Brad Penny. Coke is the only lefty in
the group. Young Jacob Turner, who won't
be 20 until late-May, has turned heads this spring and could be in the mix
before the season is over.
Valverde continues to be an enigma among enigmatic
closers. He can go for stretches
pitching like a world beater only to fall apart for stretches. Once healthy, Joel Zumaya will be a big lift
as a setup arm along with free agent acquisition Joaquin Benoit. Ryan Perry provides middle relief with Daniel
Schlereth the lefty specialist.
The infield corners are set with Miguel Cabrera at first and
Brandon Inge at third. Keeping Cabrera
out of further trouble with the law is paramount. Jhonny Peralta will be at short and Carlos
Guillen the second baseman once he comes off the DL. That should be fairly soon, with Scott
Sizemore and Will Rhymes covering the bag until then
Victor Martinez was also inked this winter with designs on
him being the regular DH and part-time catcher where Alex Avila should spend
most of the time. The idea that Martinez
will DH depends a lot on whether Magglio Ordonez can play right field or
not. If Ordonez DH's, it adds a little
wear and tear on Martinez
behind the plate, not to mention decreases the backstop defense.
Austin Jackson is the centerfielder with some combination of
Ryan Raburn and Brennan Boesch in left.
Boesch could also take right depending on Ordonez's situation.
The Detroit Tigers sit in the middle of the division with a 12-16 record after falling in two straight series against the Indians and the Mariners, a team they had beaten twice just over a week ago.
They now go on to host the New York Yankees in a four game home series. They have had sucess at the plate against the Yankees this season, scoring 19 runs in 3 games. All of this, and they still only managed to grab one victory.
As they sit 6 games behind the AL Central leader, a good outting in this next series could help restore their confidence and put them back in the race.
This team has been up and down all season long, and just as the middle part of June saw things improving, they have started to fall once again. The Tigers have been relying on their batters all season long, and for good reason. Miguel Cabrera and the Tigers are third in the league with a .268 batting average, and 6th overall in runs scored. Victor Martinez, who holds the teams best batting average at .335, will be sidelined for the early part of July with an injury, but is expected to make a quick return.
The Tigers have leaped up in the rankings, having been in 6th place overall at the end of June, and now sit at 9th. This puts them two positions over the AL Central leading Indians.
If the Indians continue to slide, look for Detroit to rebound as they have done all season long and take control of the American League Central division.
Cleveland Indians (+3300 to win AL Central; 71 wins OVER -125)
From three division contenders to two AL bottom-feeders we go, starting with the
Tribe. It's hard to even think this team
went to Game 7 of the ALCS in 2007 considering how far Cleveland has fallen since then.
The starting rotation will once again be anchored by Fausto
Carmona, and that right there should tell you all you really need to know about
this team's chances in 2011. Not to take
away from Carmona, an all-star last season when he recorded a 3.77 ERA with the
club winning 15 of his 33 starts. Still,
when he's your staff ace, it's going to be a long campaign.
Justin Masterson and Carlos Carrasco should have rotation
jobs once camp brakes, with Mitch Talbot, Josh Tomlin and David Huff are also
in the mix.
Chris Perez will close, and the bullpen has potential with
Tony Sipp, Rafael Perez, Joe Smith and Chad Durbin the top setup/middle relief
There's also a potentially strong core in the batting order,
at least once everyone is healthy.
Centerfielder Grady Sizemore probably won't be ready to go Opening Day
following reconstructive knee surgery. Shin-Soo
Choo is in right, Travis Hafner is a power threat at DH and catcher Carlos
Santana is one of the game's brightest young stars.
However, Santana is also coming off knee surgery and the
club is already working him some at first base in an attempt to save his young
knees. That means catching chores could
once again be handled by Lou Marson or whoever beats him out for the No. 2 job
Michael Brantley and Austin Kearns are in a battle for the
left field job. The infield depth chart
currently lists Matt LaPorta at first, veteran free agent Orlando Cabrera at
second, Asdrubal Cabrera at short and Jason Donald at third. None of those are set in stone.
At the start of the season we called the Indians bottom feeders, and look at them now. The lead the AL Central division with a record of 19-8, 5 wins above the second place contender. This is also the second time ever that the Indians have won 12 of their first 14 home games.
What has been the secret to their success, and how did we fail to see it? Coming off of 6 straight wins, the Indians will head into May with high expectations. With so much success coming at home, how will they fare as they begin a 6 game road trip?
At the begining of the season everyone had brushed the Indians to the side. Now this team is proving that their early success was not just a fluke, but that this team actually has the potential to be a threat in this years title contention.
They hold a 12-10 recore agains teams in their division (best in the AL Central) and have also had success in Inter-League play as well, with an 11-6 record.
June wasnt the friendliest of months for this club, as they went 10-17, giving up ground to the second place Tigers. At the end of May, the Indians sported the best record in the league, earning them the first position in the Power Rankings.
Having started the year off ranked 30th, the Indians made it to 9th by the begining of the second week of the season. They have not fallen out of the top 10 all season long until this past week. They were in the top 3 for 6 weeks in a row, and have now slipped to 11th. This team needs to return to it's early season form if they have hopes of holding onto this division, as division rivals Detroit now are ranked 9th.
Kansas City Royals (+3300 to win AL Central; 69 wins OVER
The Pittsburgh Pirates of the AL,
it's yet another season of the Kansas
City front office telling its fan base to be patient
and just wait for the arrival of a deep pool of prospects in the near
future. It's been the same message now
for two decades.
Coming off their fifth AL Central cellar finish in seven
seasons, the Royals only wish they had a Fausto Carmona at the top of the
rotation. Luke Hochevar might be the
name that winds up with the Opening Day start.
Manager Ned Yost's other options include Jeff Francis, Kyle Davies,
Bruce Chen, Sean O'Sullivan and Vin Mazzaro.
One bright spot on the pitching staff is closer Joakim Soria
who saved 43 in 46 tries while posting stellar 1.78 ERA and 1.05 WHIP lines in
2010. Robinson Tejeda is back to help
set things up for Soria with Jesse Chavez and Kanekoa Texeira also in the
There actually are some good-looking prospects both on the
mound and with the bat coming up. One
problem among is two of the bigger names among the position players, Eric
Hosmer and Clint Robinson, both project at 1B/DH. Kansas City
already has those slots filled entering this season with Billy Butler at first and Kila
Ka'aihue at DH.
Alcides Escobar, part of the return from Milwaukee for Zack Greinke and Yuniesky
Betancourt, is at short with Mike Aviles and Chris Getz at second. Aviles
could begin the season at third while Wilson Betemit recovers from an elbow
Outfield corners are set for the Royals with Jeff Francoeur
in right and Alex Gordon in left. This
could be Gordon's last chance to finally begin realizing the potential that
made him the second overall pick in 2005.
A spring battle in center is being waged between Melky Cabrera, Lorenzo
Cain and Jarrod Dyson with Cabrera the favorite to be there Opening Day. Both Dyson and Cain appear headed for
Triple-A to get a little more seasoning.
Mitch Maier figures to be a reserve outfielder.
Jason Kendall and Brayan Pena are your catchers with Kendall's status for Opening Day still iffy.
Yes, I know it. Our "two bottom feeders of the division" hold the top two postions. The Royals are what we would call a slightly above average team at this point. However their "average" season was scarred in the end of April as they went on a 2 out of 10 run. They did respond with a sweep of the Twins, but their real test will come in the middle of May as they face the Indians and Rangers again (two of the teams who handed them a 6 game loosing streak)
To be at the bottom of the AL Central says alot about a team, and after starting out 10-4 on the season, they have gone 23-41 earning them the worst record in the American League. According to the Power Rankings, only the Chicago Cubs and the Houston Astros are lower than the Royals, with the Cubs being the only two victories in the Royals last 13 games.
We did pick them to end the season at .419, and they have even failed to meet these low expectations, as they currently hold a .397.
Central Projected Order of Finish:
5. Kansas City