Major League Baseball

Inside The Wheelhouse: 2010 AL Central Preview

Johnny DamonIt’s that time of year again where we look at the upcoming 2010 Major League Baseball season. Throughout the next couple of days I will preview every division in Major League Baseball then ending my blog series previewing the 2010 MLB Season by looking at the teams I see entering the playoffs this year and who will be World Champions when it’s all said & done. In this edition of my blog I will preview the AL Central division.

AL Central:

1. Detroit Tigers

Yep I really like the Detroit Tigers in the Central this season. This team saw a lot of key departures (Curtis Granderson, Placido Polanco & Edwin Jackson) from last season’s team that competed for the AL Central crown on the 163rd game of the season last season. But what this team did do was make younger additions that will pan out in the future (i.e. Austin Jackson & Max Scherzer) and added a great veteran in Johnny Damon. These additions to this already playoff contending ballclub can make this team the best team in the Central at the end of the year.

The AL Central is just as much as a crap shoot right now then it is in the AL West and NL West divisions. Literally anyone of the five teams could come out as the AL Central Division Champions come October. The Tigers I feel are better rounded then the five other teams in the AL Central right now. With the main reason being that the Tigers have one of the best manager in Baseball with Jim Leyland at the helm. If anyone can take a team and make them contenders it’s Jim Leyland.

The lineup can be deadly this season solely based on the shoulders of potential AL MVP Miguel Cabrera. If Cabrera has a big year the rest of the lineup will follow, with many Tiger fans hoping that bounce back year comes from the bat of Magglio Ordonez. A simple veteran presence in that lineup like Johnny Damon can make that lineup actually be better then last season. Damon has played on Championship teams in the past and this is a guy that can bring that experience to a young team.

The biggest question mark for the Tigers is their starting rotation. Will they get the Justin Verlander from 2009 or the Justin Verlander from 2008? After Justin Verlander who is the next pitcher in line to put fear in the opposing team’s eyes? Rick Porcello? You may get a good year out of the young Max Schrezer but don’t expect Verlander numbers. The starting rotation is a big question mark in Detroit and I would put this team down as well for making a big push at an arm come the trade deadline.

2. Minnesota Twins

The defending 2009 AL Central Champions. A great team in a new ballpark that season after season always makes a run at a playoff push no matter how many experts write them off. The Minnesota Twins are good no doubt about it. But they made the playoffs last season after the Tigers collapsed and the Twins had a couple big breaks. Magic usually doesn’t strike twice (except if you’re the ’07 & ’08 New York Mets) and a team like the Tigers will learn from the mistakes they made during the end of the season stretch.

The Minnesota Twins will no doubt compete for the AL Central crown this season. This is not a team that will fall 10 games behind the Tigers letting Detroit walk into the postseason. I actually feel that (once again) this AL Central crown will be decided in the 163rd game of the season. That is how competitive this division is.

When you have great hitters like Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau in your lineup you’re going to do great. Jason Kubel came into his own last season as a good hitter for this team and I look for him to continue to improve this year as he continues to mold into a decent player for Minnesota. The Twins did add veteran Jim Thome to the lineup that will no doubt provide protection & power for Mauer and Morneau this season. Thome is no stranger to the AL Central as he has now played for 3 of the 5 teams (Indians, White Sox & Twins). That kind of veteran presence will provide big for this lineup.

Similar to that of the Detroit Tigers; the Twins lack depth in their starting rotation. There is no real “ace” in this rotation which proved to be an issue for the Twins last season when it came playoff time. Scott Baker and Nick Blackburn are #3 and #4 starters for big time American League ball clubs while in Minnesota they are possibly #1 and #2 starters. The Twins continue to hold out hope that Francisco Liriano will develop into an ace someday but that hope may run its course if he has a bad season.

The Twins won’t make a run at a starter in any trade deals because of the payroll they have, what you see is what you will get for Twins pitching this year. The Twins will also miss having Joe Nathan close games this season. The Twins will be competitive but will fall out in late September or in a 163rd game of the season.

3. Chicago White Sox

Remember how I discussed how off-field problems would affect the Los Angeles Dodgers this season? The Chicago White Sox will not shy away from off-field problems either this year which could provide as the final nail in this current run of Chicago White Sox teams. This is a make or break year for Ozzie Guillen and the Chicago White Sox brass.

No matter what manager Ozzie Guillen does in Chicago he seems to always attract some sort of spotlight. This season is a pivotal one for Guillen as I feel this will be the final season before the camel’s back has finally broke in Chicago. Despite bringing a Championship to Chicago in 2005 you have to get the feeling that the Chicago White Sox front office is running out of patience with their charismatic and flamboyant manager. My bold prediction is that Guillen will last the season as manager and will probably be fired shortly after the season is over.

This team is quite possibly the most talented ballclub in the entire AL Central when you look at them. They are quick, they are young, they can hit and they have decent pitching whether it is in their bullpen or starting rotation. Despite the talent this team possesses I feel that Ozzie Guillen will find away to blow up all that is good in Chicago.

Besides manager Ozzie Guillen being their biggest flaw you have to look at how effective Jake Peavy will be this season. Peavy came off of injuries to start a couple games for the White Sox last season and he enters this season appearing ready to go for a 2010 campaign. He looks like he will be penciled in as the #2 starter behind Mark Buehrle and if they get Peavy in Cy Young for they will have a very underrated 1-2 punch in their rotation.

4. Kansas City Royals

A lot of people loved this team in ’09 to be that season’s version of the Tampa Bay Rays. They were young; they were talented, had an underrated manager in Trey Hillman and were poised to be the sleeper pick in the entire American League. Sadly that was not the case as the Kansas City Royals did not live up to the “sleeper pick expectations” that many people, including yours truly, panned out for them in 2009.

The Kansas City Royals team is talented, the lineup will surprise many as being a lineup that top to bottom is good and they made deals (i.e. Rick Ankiel, Scott Podsednik) for them to be poised to actually be competitive this year. But despite these moves this team may just need time to continue to improve and be a force in the AL Central when 2011 or 2012 rolls around. It’s just the life of a small market ballclub, time and patience.

The Royals have the “best player you’ve never heard of but will by the end of the season” when it comes to Billy Butler. Billy Butler finally is becoming the great hitter many scouts thought he would be when he finally got the call up to the big leagues a couple seasons ago. He is a .300, 30 homeruns, 100 RBIs, type of player that will be the franchise player in Kansas City until his contract runs out and he wants more money. He may be considering as a “dark horse” pre-season candidate for AL MVP depending on how well the Royals do this year.

It seems to be a common trend in the AL Central but the Royals have no pitching. After Zack Greinke who is next in line to take the ball? Then after Greinke gives you 7 solid innings in how many pitches will it take for the bullpen to blow the lead? Like I said before it’s the life of a small market ballclub. The Royals definitely have the pitching prospects to one day back up Zack Greinke but for now they don’t. It will be a long season for KC but will be definitely an improvement from last season. This team has potential to be a good ballclub this decade.

5. Cleveland Indians

Talk about a rebuilding year. This team went from being a team that people thought would be the best ballclub in the AL Central for years to come, to being a team that once again is in the rebuilding stages of their franchise. The young players that made this team a playoff contender in 2007 (Grady Sizemore, Travis Hafner & Fausto Carmona) haven’t really paid off in the last couple of seasons. Granted, Sizemore was injured in 2009 but “Pronk” and Carmona just couldn’t make this team a 70 win team last year.

If told me back in 2007 that this Indians team would be back into a rebuilding mode in 2010 I would not believe you. This team was poised to be contenders in the Central every year and at some point be crowned American League Champions. Travis Hafner has never been the same player and this may be the year that Cleveland cuts its ties with this once poised power hitter. Likewise Fausto Carmona has never settled into the role of ace in their starting rotation that they once thought he would be.

The two bright spots for the Indians this season will be that Grady Sizemore is back and is healthy in centerfield for Cleveland. He is considered as one of the most talented young ball players in all of Baseball and depending whether or not how Indians brass feels about him, he may be on the trade block come midseason. The other bright spot that could back up trading away Grady Sizemore for prospects would be Matt LaPorta.

Matt LaPorta was traded from Milwaukee back in 2008 for former Cleveland pitcher CC Sabathia. He was considered by many as one of the top prospects in all of Baseball and had a very bright future. This will be his first full season in the big leagues and the Indians are they are hoping he can be the prospect scouts penciled him in to be.

The Indians will not be competitive at all this season. This team is in a rebuilding stage and I can see them trading away franchise player Grady Sizemore before the season is done to continue the rebirth process in Cleveland. The young players that made this team a playoff team in 2007 (Sizemore, Hafner and Carmona) have never really lived up to expectation and two of the three may see themselves exit this season from Cleveland in hopes of bring prospects to the Indians. This is a 65 win team at best.

Jeff Peck is the producer for the “Wheelhouse Radio” program that airs every Sunday – Thursday @ 8pm ET/5pm PT at www.blogtalkradio.com/thewheelhouse and at www.errorfm.com @ 2am ET/11pm PT

Jeff also co-hosts “The Still Real to us show” with Eric Gargiulo which can be available at www.wheelhouseradio.com and can be downloaded in the “Real Guy Radio” section of the site. There you can also download many different shows including “The Wheelhouse”, “24 on 24” and “Lost: Smoke Monsters and You.”

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Eric G.

Eric is the owner and editor-in-chief of the Camel Clutch Blog. Eric has worked in the pro wrestling industry since 1995 as a ring announcer in ECW and a commentator/host on television, PPV, and home video. Eric also hosted Pro Wrestling Radio on terrestrial radio from 1998-2009. Check out some of Eric's work on his IMDB bio and Wikipedia. Eric has an MBA from Temple University's Fox School of Business.

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