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BASN MLB Previews (Part Three of Six)
By Tony McClean
Updated: March 27, 2008
NEW HAVEN, Ct.– During the off season, the gauntlet was thrown out to the defending division champs in Cleveland by their Central opponents. The Tigers added 3B Miguel Cabrera, SS Edgar Renteria, and P Dontrelle Willis. Chicago went out and got OF Nick Swisher, SS Orlando Cabrera, and P Scott Linebrink.
The Twins would let Johan Santana walk, but they added OF Delmon Young and P Livan Hernandez. Even the lowly Royals added OF Jose Guillen and a new manager in former Japanese skipper Trey Hillman.
So what does that all mean for the Tribe in the long run? This club is still smarting from blowing a 3-1 lead to Boston in the ALCS and the bulk of that squad is returning. There’s no doubt that the rest of the division has loaded up for a run at them. In fact, there are some that are looking at them as an afterthought.
Sorry, but we think that would be a huge mistake.
(Teams are listed in order of predicted finish)
1. CLEVELAND INDIANS
It’s hard to ignore a team that won 96 games during the regular season and got within a game of the World Series. Eric Wedge’s bunch comes at you with a lineup just as potent as Detroit’s. However, we give Cleveland a slight nod because of a stronger starting staff. C.C. Sabathia, Fausto Carmona, and Jake Westbrook are front end horses in the rotation. Don’t be surprised if Cliff Lee replaces Paul Byrd as the fourth starter at some point this year as well. What’s even scarier about Cleveland is that they were able to be one of the major’s best teams with DH Travis Hafner having a “sub par” season. One of the AL’s most underrated bullpens is just another reason why Cleveland is still the team to beat in the Central.
2. DETROIT TIGERS
Adding young veterans like Cabrera and Willis to this team has definitely raised the bar of expectations in Motown. On paper, this could the most explosive lineup in all of baseball. The starting staff with its mixture of youth and experience is impressive as well. But what’s gonna be keeping Jim Leyland up late at night will be the bullpen. If healthy, setup guys like Joel Zumaya and Fernando Rodney are lights out relievers which makes closer Todd Jones’ job easier. Many felt one of these two would be primed to be the closer at this time, but injuries have kept them from taking that next step. They will be fighting all year with the Tribe, but I think Detroit may have to settle for a wild card spot.
3. CHICAGO WHITE SOX
Back in 1983, the Chisox took a division crown by playing “ugly baseball”. Just a few years removed from winning a World Series, Chicago was just plain ugly last year en route to their worst record (72-90) since 1989. While they are clearly an aging bunch, this team does not appear to be as bad as they were last season. Last in the AL in hitting, look for guys like Jim Thome, Jermaine Dye, and others to bounce back strong. They have a strong bullpen and decent starting pitching so they shouldn’t run into many slumps. While they may not be the true contender status anymore, they may have a large say as to who’ll take the division.
4. MINNESOTA TWINS
Torii Hunter? Gone. Johan Santana? Outta here. Matt Garza? See ya. A recipe for last place? Not quite. All-Stars C Joe Mauer and 1B Justin Morneau are still here along with underrated OF Michael Cuddyer and the aforementioned Young from Tampa Bay. The health of budding superstar P Francisco Liriano will cause for concern on a starting staff that has innings eater Hernandez at the top. The bullpen is solid with closer Joe Nathan and others, but just how many chances will they get to close out games is the problem. While Torii, Johan, and others will be missed, we have a sneaky suspicion that the Twinkies may not fall off the face of the earth quite yet. Being in one of the toughest divisions won’t allow them to show growth, but just between you and me, I think that’s just how Minny likes it.
5. KANSAS CITY ROYALS
Fresh off a managerial stint in Japan during which he led the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters from fifth place in the Pacific League to a Japan Series Championship in four years, Trey Hillman now faces his toughest task. Trying to revive a dormant franchise that has had just one winning season in the last 13 years. There is some talent sprinkled on this very young roster with guys like DH Billy Butler, OF Joey Gathright, P Brian Bannister and closer Joakim Soria. But will it be enough for Hillman to keep them from finishing at the bottom of the Central Division for the fourth straight year? Probably not.
Tommorrow: The NL Central.