BASN’s 2007 MLB Previews: Scouting The AL Central

By Tony McClean
Updated: March 29, 2007
MLBNEW HAVEN, Ct. — Over the previous two days and over the next three, BASN will take a division-by-division look at the 2007 major league baseball season. We continue our previews with a look at the AL Central.
The last two AL champs (White Sox, Tigers) have come from this division. Detroit led the division for most of the year until they were caught in September by the Twins who took the Central crown.
However, Jimmy Leyland’s bunch did hang on to take the wild card berth. They followed that with postseason series wins against the Yankees and A’s all the way to the Fall Classic.
Can the Bengals get back to the playoffs or will the Chisox, Indians, and or Twins give them a run for their money? Let’s see.
(Teams listed in predicted order of finish)
Detroit Tigers 1. DETROIT TIGERS
After the Tigers got dismissed by the Cardinals in last year’s World Series, one of Motown’s most glaring weaknesses was exposed — the lack of a big bopper. Enter Gary Sheffield to this lineup and you get the feeling that the Tigers won’t lose a big division lead this season. Even though their defense let them down at the most inopportune time, this is still one of baseball’s most solid all-round clubs. A pitching staff manned by youngsters Jeremy Bonderman, Justin Verlander, Nate Robertson, and veteran Kenny Rogers can only get better. Not to mention relievers like Joel Zumaya and Fernando Rodney who could spell closer Todd Jones on some days.
Outlook: You just know that a hard nosed guy Jim Leyland won’t let this team rest of its 2006 laurels. He’s probably still peeved that they blew the division title and he’ll let them know about it every day. Plain and simple, folks that think last year was a fluke — think again. This is a quality team that barring injuries will be contenders for quite a while.
Chicago White Sox 2. CHICAGO WHITE SOX
They say it’s the little things that matter in sports. The 2005 and 2006 versions of the Chisox are a perfect example of that age old axiom. Two years ago when Chicago won the World Series, they were a phenomenal 35-19 in one-run games. Last year, Ozzie Quillen’s bunch was 24-21 in those same contests. Yes, they won 90 games, but it’s safe to say that this team will still be in the thick of things in this division. But what the Chisox also need is a return to the dominant-like pitching staff that they had in ’05. Letting guys like Brandon McCarthy and Freddy Garcia go will hurt. They must hope that ace Mark Buehrle can bounce back from a dismal 2006 and that Jose Contreras and Jon Garland remain on top of their game.
Outlook: Even though most folks still look at Ozzie Guillen as a loose cannon, you still have to acknowledge him as one of the game’s best managers. Don’t be surprised if we hear less of Ozzie and more about the team this season. If their pitching woes can be solved, they could very easily take the division. Still they should at least be in line for a wild card berth this season.
Minnesota Twins3. MINNESOTA TWINS
Are we picking the Twins low because we think last year was a fluke? Not at all. In fact, because this is such a strong division, we really have no where else to put them. Minnesota is the essence of a solid pitching and great defensive club. What makes them a serious contender is a lineup that can beat you with either speed or power. The fact that they led the majors in hitting (.287) is an testament to that. However, the lower part of their rotation could be their undoing. We all know what a stud Johan Santana is. But I’m just not sold on guys like Ramon Ortiz (5.57 ERA) and Sir Sidney Ponson (6.25). Last year’s phenom Francisco Liriano will likely miss all of 2007 and that can’t bode well in the long run.
Outlook: They will battle you and battle you like the “piranhas” that they are. And you just know that Ron Gardenhire will find a way to keep them in the race. But I think in the long run, it may be too much to handle this season. One thing you can count on is that they will be a helluva team to watch on a daily basis
Cleveland Indians4. CLEVELAND INDIANS
Many pundits jumped on the Tribe bandwagon at the beginning of last year after they scared the living daylights out of the White Sox at the end of 2005. However, Eric Wedge’s bunch never seemed to get on track last year a limped home to a 78-84 finish. With the Central getting better, it seems Cleveland may be on the outside looking in again. However, they do have three legitimate starters in C.C. Sabathia, Cliff Lee, and Jake Westbrook. They also had plenty of bats with OF Grady Sizemore, C Victor Martinez, and DH Travis Hafner. The biggest problem Cleveland may have in that this top-heavy division may keep them from any postseason possibilities.
Outlook: They may have the best balanced lineup in the division and the most underrated starting rotation. Unfortunately, their bullpen had the fewest of any team in the majors last year. Much like the Twins, they’ll be entertaining at times and maddening at times as well. Barring major collapses in Detroit, Chicago, and Minnesota, the Tribe may be already preparing for 2008.
Kansas City Royals5. KANSAS CITY ROYALS
In deference to all things being written about the Royals this year, we must get this off our chest. GIL MECHE?? $55 MILLION?? WHAT THE HELL, MAN?? Aaaaaah, now I feel better. As for the rest of the team, loyal K.C. fans will need to get a program and yearbook to try and get a handle on this year’s squad. Needless to say, but these aren’t your dad’s Royals. And considering the fact that they lost 100 games again last year, your dad should be paroled any day now. GM Dayton Moore has been allowed to increase the payroll (i.e. the Meche signing) and begin a slow rebuilding plan. Say goodbye to guys like Angel Berroa and hello to Alex Gordon, one of the game’s most prized prospects.
Outlook: If you look carefully on the field this year, the sign “A work in progress” will be the major theme for this year’s Royals. But there is some light at the end of the tunnel for this franchise. There are many other youngsters like the aforementioned Gordon who will be given the chance to perform at a major league level. Some days will be less painful than others, but just keep in mind that management is now willing the spend a few bucks now.
Tommorrow: The NL Central.