The past couple of seasons in the American League Central have been quite exciting.
Back-to-back seasons of one-game playoffs to determine the champion.
The division has certainly been competitive.
Unfortunately, the teams just are not very good.
I think the Twins did enough this off-season to separate themselves from the rest of this division:
And like last year, I expect the other four teams to be quite competitive with one another. Too bad that will mean a lot of hovering right around .500.
The Twins will defend their division championship. They came on strong late last year without Justin Morneau. This year they'll have Morneau and Orlando Hudson to complement Joe Mauer and Michael Cuddyer. They'll be fine. I know they don't really have a shut-down pitcher, but I think their pitching will be good enough to get them past the other very mediocre teams in the division.
The White Sox are probably the second-best team, but they have the opposite problem - their pitching is great, but they don't really have an offense. They got Juan Pierre to set the table, and they could be good, if Carlos Quentin rebounds, and Alex Rios fulfills his potential, and Andrum Jones rediscovers himself, and Paul Konerko plays better than he did in the second half of last season....but aren't those an awful lot of questions marks? I guess I wouldn't be shocked to see the White Sox win the division...but it would mean they're getting excellent production from a lot of people you might not expect.
This is the year the Royals put it all together...at least to the extent where they don't finish in (or tied for) last place. They have done a nice job of putting a team together...and remember, last year their pitching staff was pretty ravaged by injuries. They have a decent rotation, and I would think the presence of a veteran catcher like Jason Kendall will help that staff. This is a winnable division - for the Royals, a positive 2010 could lead to a contending 2011.
I think the Tigers will suffer a huge step back this year. They had a terrible September, and I feel like the players that are still around from that collapse won't rebound well from it. I know the Mets came back from their 2007 collapse to play well enough to collapse again in 2008...but I don't think the Tigers will be in a position to collapse this year. I think they'll just pick up where they left off last year.
The good news for the Indians? Fans will get to see plenty of the players the team acquired by trading almost all of the players who helped them get to within a game of the 2007 World Series. The bad news - those players are a few years removed (if anything) from leading Cleveland anywhere close to a World Series. A rough April schedule (7 home games, 15 road games) does nothing to help the Indians get off on the right foot, either.
AL CENTRAL NOTES
-You're going to hear about the April, September, and October weather in Minnesota way more than you'll care to as the Twins begin play in outdoor Target Field this season. The talk is how they'll lose a step when it comes to home-field advantage because the Metrodome was such a difficult place for visiting teams to play. I'm looking forward to one less turfed field.
-Another Mets connection in the managing business - Manny Acta is now managing in Cleveland. Too bad for him the Nationals are on the upswing, and will be better this year than the Indians he will be managing.
Next Week: NL Central