This could very well end up being the most lop-sided division in all of baseball. I don’t think anyone’s going to be anywhere close to the Tigers. There’s a chance Detroit could even be the only team above .500 in the division! Essentially, Detroit took a step forward (presumably) offensively with the signing of Fielder, and everyone else in the division pretty much stayed the same, or got worse. So, here’s my initial thoughts on the division:
1. Detroit Tigers (98-64)
2. Kansas City Royals (84-78)
3. Cleveland Indians (80-82)
4. Minnesota Twins (77-85)
5. Chicago White Sox (69-93)
Everyone knows about the big addition of Prince Fielder to an offense that was already pretty good. Now they’re flat out dangerous, so long as the move to 3B doesn’t mess with Miguel Cabrera’s head. But, don’t forget about the pitching. Verlander at the top is fantastic, but remember Doug Fister. He came to Detroit late last season, and went 8-1 with a 1.79 ERA in 10 starts! Plus Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello make a nice #3 & #4 starter, respectively. The #5 spot is up for grabs right now, but they already have a solid rotation, regardless of who steps into that role. The Tigers could end up with the #1 seed in the playoffs because of how easy it’s going to be for them to win this division.
The Royals are my “surprise” team of 2012, though I don’t think most people would be shocked if they posted a slightly above .500 record. They have some excellent young talent, that has been coming along the last couple years. Their biggest challenge is their starting rotation. It’s essentially going to have to over-achieve in order for them to end up above .500. Their bullpen is actually decent, and could help overcome some lapses by the starters, since their offense could end up being very good. These early predictions are more about gut feelings, and this is really not much more than that. Before this team is ready to seriously compete, though, they’ll need to sign some legit starting pitching next offseason.
I expect the Indians to be right about where they were in 2011. Why? Because they’re essentially the exact same team. No real improvements made to the offense – and if anything, they just got a year older. They have a lot of new faces, but they don’t look to be guys that will make major contributions. The pitching staff has a couple new names, and they get Ubaldo Jiminez for an entire season. But, seriously, does anyone think Derek Lowe and Kevin Slowey are really going to give this team the boost it needs? I would like to see this team improve, but I think the offseason moves that were made were simply keeping the status quo, rather than pushing forward.
The Twins offense could be the second-best of the division . . . IF everyone stays healthy the whole season. I already have them slated for an 8-game improvement, but that could double if they were to stay healthy, and perform at the level it appears they could. Mauer, Morneau, and Willingham in the middle makes for a very tough series of outs. But, the reason I don’t have them doing any better than this – starting pitching. If Carl Pavano is actually your opening day starter – get ready for a long, disappointing year. The bullpen isn’t bad, but this rotation could end up being one of the worst in the league.
I love how teams try to put a positive spin on things before the beginning of a terrible season. Headline: “White Sox Reject Rebuilding Talk As Camp Nears.” Seriously? Your manager wasn’t exactly putting up a fight when he was canned, and essentially hired 5 minutes later by the Marlins. Your #1 starter was more than willing to follow him to Miami. And, your closer took the closing job in Toronto. And since management didn’t feel the need to fill any of those spots with quality replacements, what would you call this, if not a “rebuilding” year? The only power threat in the whole lineup is 34-year-old Konerko. In fact, other than Konerko and leadoff man Alejandro De Aza (who only played in 54 games last year), no one on the entire team had an OPS over .730 (the AL average)!! Add to that the fact that not a single starter in their current rotation had a winning record last year, and their new closer was only 3 for 7 in save attempts last year, and this might be the worst team in the American League.