With the start of the season just around the corner I figured it would be a good idea to share my thoughts on the projected standings for the 2010 season. These are not scientific, at least not based on any of my own work, but I have studied the various projection systems out there. Following up the AL East is the AL Central.
Just like in 2009, the AL Central should be baseball's most exciting division, with a divisional crown going down to the wire. Despite the loss of Joe Nathan, the Twins appear to be the consensus pick, but expect the White Sox, Indians or Tigers to have something to say about that.
1. Minnesota Twins (87-75)
The Twins return essentially the same team that won them the Central title last season, with the addition of JJ Hardy, Orlando Hudson and Jim Thome. While it may seem odd to hear, the Twins are going to win ball games by scoring by the boatload. Mauer, Morneau, Thome, Hardy, Kubel and Cuddyer all have 20 home run power, and we should see some high scoring affairs at Target Field. The real wild card is number five starter Francisco Liriano. Will he be 2006 2.16 ERA Liriano, or 2009 5.80 ERA Liriano?
2. Chicago White Sox (82-80)
A contender every year, the White Sox will be in the thick of things again in 2010. Jake Peavy will be the key to the pitching staff, and it will be interesting to see how he fares after years of pitching in pitcher friendly Petco. The offence will be relying on bounce back campaigns from Alex Rios and Carlos Quentin. The real story, however, is in the bullpen, where a closer controversy appears to be brewing between incumbent Bobby Jenks and Matt Thornton.
3. Detroit Tigers (80-82)
The Tigers could be very good or very bad. Will Johnny Damon hold up for the full year? Will Magglio Ordonez hit like he did in the second half last year? Can Dontrelle Willis regain his form? The only constants on this team are Miguel Cabrera's stick and that Brandon Inge's glove will be a black hole at third base, but unfortunately, so will his bat. Jose Valverde should be a welcome addition to the bullpen after saving 116 games over the last three seasons, and Scott Sizemore and Austin Jackson are a step in the right direction for the team's young core.
4. Cleveland Indians (79-83)
The offence should hold its own, anchored by Grady Sizemore and Shin-Soo Choo, but it is hard to take seriously a team that lists Fausto Carmona as their number two starter behind Jake Westbrook, a guy who has thrown only 34.2 innings since 2007. This team just has too many question marks, ranging from the rotation to the bullpen to former top prospect Matt LaPorta.
5. Kansas City Royals (71-91)
Unlike many of the other cellar dwellers in baseball, you can't blame the Royals for not spending money. Over the last several years they have splurged for free agents like Gil Meche, Jose Guillen, Juan Cruz, Jason Kendall and Kyle Farnsworth. While they are willing to spend money (2009 $70 million Opening Day Payroll), the free agents they attract are not the ones that will take them to the top of the AL Central. Looking through the Royals depth chart, they have a lot of household names. For most teams, this would be a good thing. Unfortunately for Kansas City, most of these players are retreads from other organizations, and it means that the Royals are not developing their own home-grown players. Only six of the teams projected regulars (including bullpen) were drafted or signed by the Royals. If they want to get back into contention, the Royals need to do a better job of developing cheap talent.