Home > Uncategorized > American League Central Preview: Twins Have Enough Without Nathan

American League Central Preview: Twins Have Enough Without Nathan

I am strapped in on the Francisco Liriano bandwagon for another season. Here's hoping for a less bumpy ride

I’m not sure why, but this spring training season has gotten out of the way pretty quickly. Last year, it seemed to linger forever. But we’re just three days away from the first regular-season game, four days away from “opening day” and six days away from the first 30-team schedule date. In anticipation of a new dawn for the greatest sport around — no arguments — I’ll be touching on each division with a not-so-thorough preview.

The AL Central holds three competitive teams with many questions. The biggest one resides with the team I have winning the division.

1. Minnesota Twins

Ten days ago, I said that the Minnesota Twins’ season was a lost cause with the injury to Joe Nathan. Jumping to quick conclusions is something I’ve got to limit. Among the three teams that are expected to contend in this division, the Twins are still the most complete.

Joe Mauer looks like he is in the best shape of his life

The starting staff doesn’t have a household name, but it’s extremely steady with a bunch of pitchers who pitch to contact and don’t hurt themselves with walks. Kevin Slowey and Scott Baker are two of the better relatively unknown pitchers in the American League, and Nick Blackburn and Carl Pavano are sufficient at the three and four spots. While I don’t like to take away too much from spring training stats, it’s worth noting that Slowey has felt no pain in his surgically repaired right wrist and has allowed just four runs in 21 innings of work.

I’m addicted to Francisco Liriano and I can’t help it. It looks like he is closing in on his 2006 form and may very well be the second-best pitcher in this rotation by the end of the season. If he can throw that slider with no ill effects, he’ll be fun to watch once again.

The Twins have a rotation they can live with, but they have the best lineup in the division. Denard Span is coming off a very good year and while Hudson isn’t a special player, he is definitely an upgrade at second and a cheap signing. I think J.J. Hardy will put up numbers resembling his 2007 and 2008 seasons more than his 2009 stinker. Sooner or later, Delmon Young’s sub-750 OPS will have to be moved out of the lineup so that the team can play Jason Kubel and Jim Thome together more.  Throw in Morneau and Cuddyer and a tremendous defensive catcher, you’ve got a fearful rack of bats.

Oh, and Joe Mauer.

At least the Twins aren’t putting Liriano in the bullpen. That was a smart move, but the closer-by-committee decision isn’t along those lines. Just pick one to start the season and see what happens. If he succeeds, stick with him. If he struggles, move on to plan B. But you can’t mix and match closers. The position is so mental, it makes such an experiment always turn out rough.

I like Matt Guerrier to be the most effective in the ninth, but considering that the Twins have Jon Rauch, Jose Mijares, Jesse Crain and Pat Neshek, who was impressive in 2007 and 2008 prior to Tommy John surgery, this is a very deep group with a ton of talent.

2. Chicago White Sox

The South Side is moving to smallball this year, right? So why does this team have a grip of players who can’t get on base? I like Gordon Beckham and Paul Konerko is pretty underrated, but there are many questionable commodities here. Alexei Ramirez has all the tools, but he must show better plate discipline. Alex Rios seems to have lost some desire, judging by his recently declining numbers. He was pitiful with the White Sox last year. Juan Pierre’s 2009 looks like a bit of a fluke.

Carlos Quentin must be the straw that stirs the drink on the South Side

Andruw Jones? Enough said. Sometimes, teams use the term “smallball” to cover up their deficiencies in the power department. It doesn’t mean they can manufacture runs. The team just knows that manufacturing them will be the easier route. The big key for this lineup is Carlos Quentin. If he can stay healthy and get back to his 2008 form, this lineup will be much better than I expect it to be.

The reason I have the White Sox second in this division, despite the lineup, is the pitching. Bobby Jenks is still decent, but J.J. Putz — again, if healthy — will be awesome in a setup role. Matt Thornton is solid.

Jake Peavy and the ultra-consistent Mark Buehrle will take pressure off each other. Peavy won’t be as dominant in the AL as he was with San Diego. He’ll have most of his starts in a hitter-friendly ballpark and will have to face deeper lineups, but he was lights out with the White Sox in limited action last year. John Danks as a No. 4 shows great depth. There is no doubt in my mind that this is the best pitching staff in the division.

I don’t hate the White Sox. It’s a pretty good team. But I just don’t think this team will produce enough offense to win it. Both Sox teams have that in common.

3. Detroit Tigers

The Tigers could certainly make a run for this division, but I am uneasy about their back ends. As in, the back ends of their lineup and rotation. I don’t feel like watching Magglio Ordonez hit third for another year. He’s just not a three-hole hitter any longer. The team’s projected lineup from six through nine: Brandon Inge, Gerald Laird, struggling rookie Scott Sizemore and Adam Everett. Yuck! I have faith that Austin Jackson will do fine as the team’s new lead-off hitter. Of course, Mr. Sober, Miguel Cabrera is still a beast in the middle of that lineup. But there is not much support behind him. I would love to see Ryan Raburn get more playing time.

Max Scherzer has struggled, but this is still cool

Justin Verlander rebounded from his 2008 season — which seems like an outlier — to be one of the best pitchers in the league last year. He and Rick Porcello make a nice 1-2. For a 20-year-old last season, Porcello pitched well down the stretch and under the pressure of that 163rd game

Max Scherzer has it all to become a top-30 pitcher in the majors. He owns a mid-90s fastball, a hard slider, a nice changeup, a good frame and that freaky heterochromia eye thing, which I still think is one of the neater physical abnormalities a person can be born with. But Scherzer has been injured in each of the past two seasons and there have long been concerns that his throwing motion will shorten his career. Both Porcello and Scherzer have been through one full season as a starter and both can be great. From his 2009 numbers and his recent injury history, I’m just not as confident about Max.

While it seems like they are older, Jeremy Bonderman and Dontrelle Willis are only 28, but they haven’t had anything close to success in this league since 2006 for different reasons (injury; wildness and anxiety disorder). They are expected to be the No. 4 and No. 5 starters now that Nate Robertson has been shipped out. A rebirth is possible, but extremely unlikely.

There was a time when Jose Valverde just threw hard. But in the past three seasons, he has become one of the game’s steadier closers. He is certainly an upgrade from Fernando Rodney. Joel Zumaya’s return to effectiveness would be a huge lift for this club. He is reportedly hitting triple digits on the radar gun this spring and they need him to come back strong. The rest of the bullpen is rather shaky.

4. Kansas City Royals

At least the Royals still have Zack Greinke

“Smart.” “Professional hitter.” “True baseball player.” “Plays the game the right way.” That’s what the Kansas City suits what you to hear about their 2010 edition. In other words, this is a group of guys who have nothing that make them special or unique or even above average.

Sure, you’ve got Billy Butler and maybe you can include David DeJesus. But the rest of the Royals regulars are just a bunch of bargain-bin pickups. Scott Podsednik, Rick Ankiel, Chris Getz (HOW IS HE STARTING ANYWHERE?!?!), Jason Kendall, Yuniesky Betancourt. Yes, all of those players are listed atop the team’s depth chart at some position right now. And four of them OPS’ed less than .700 last season. Podsednik came in at .780, but he recorded an under-.700 OPS in six of his eight other seasons.  It’s a pitiful lineup that still screws up with good players. An injury to Alex Gordon is what’s apparently keeping Alberto Callaspo from riding the bench, even though he was the team’s second-best hitter in ’09.

The Royals’ saving grace from being a complete laughing stock is its pitching. You’re got Zack Greinke, you’ve got Joakim Soria. That is, of course, unless the team decides to trade them.

Gil Meche can be decent, but not when he’s hurt and some shoulder tightness might force him to start the season on the DL. It’s now or never for Luke Hochevar. He has dominated AAA, but has been much more accommodating at the major league level. Kyle Farnsworth is going to be a starter, which sounds like a horror story in the making. Yes, it’s going to be another long summer in Kansas City (and the season is off to a bad start for its mascot).

You probably expected that.

5. Cleveland Indians

Why are the Indians going to be somehow worse than the Royals? It’s all about pitching. Jake Westbrook is going to be their ace and he hasn’t pitched since May 2008 due to Tommy John surgery. Yep, he’s No. 1. Walk machine Fausto Carmona is slated to be second and then you have the likes of David Huff and Mitch Talbot and Dave Burba and Paul Shuey and Eric Plunk and Vern Ruhle and Dick Tidrow and Sonny Siebert.

I guess Justin Masterson can be serviceable. That’s just about the best compliment I can pay to those arms — the ones that are actually still attached to active ballplayers.

Of course Kerry Wood is hurt,  so Chris Perez will probably close for the first two months. Rafael Perez is probably the team’s first choice to take care of the eighth inning, but the Wood injury really creates some chaos in the bullpen. As if this pitching staff needed some more uncertainty.

The hitting can be dangerous with the productive, but somewhat overrated Grady Sizemore. Conversely, not enough people know about Shin Soo Choo and how good he is. Asdrubal Cabrera and Jhonny Peralta are nice players. Matt LaPorta and Michael Brantley have a lot of potential, and mega-prospect Carlos Santana will have his time soon enough. But this team is going to lose somewhere around 100 games. I feel bad for Manny Acta. And fans who attend better come prepared. You won’t see many two-and-a-half-hour pitching duels.

How can a pitcher like Fausto Carmona, who has averaged five walks per nine innings in the past two seasons and doesn't strike anyone out, be a major league team's second starter? Such is some of the trouble for the Cleveland Indians

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  1. May 26, 2012 at 1:39 am

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