There’s no question this is the weakest division in the AL (if not all of baseball). The fact that the White Sox finished above .500 last year was shocking, and possibly a bit questionable (see My Suspicious Mind). But, keep an eye on Cleveland and Kansas City. One or both could be this year’s version of the 2012 Orioles and A’s. Here’s how I see 2013 playing out in this division:
- Detroit Tigers (92-70)
- Kansas City Royals (81-81)
- Cleveland Indians (79-83)
- Chicago White Sox (73-89)
- Minnesota Twins (69-93)
Tigers: It took this team a little longer to put it all together last year, but the last half of the season they really dominated. And, if anything, this year’s team looks even better. Victor Martinez is back in the lineup. Anibal Sanchez is now in the rotation for the whole season. And, once they get the closer position locked down (anyone in Detroit have Brian Wilson’s phone number?), this is likely the best team in the AL. A return trip to the World Series would not surprise me at all.
Royals: Youth. It’s a confusing part of the equation when looking at a team like KC. 20 of the 25 on their active roster are under the age of 30. Several key players aren’t even 25 yet (Hosmer, Moustakas, Perez, Herrera)! And, while some of them struggled in 2012, few doubt their potential. KC was middle-of-the-pack offensively, and I think a year under their belts is going to help many of the young guys to get even better. And, when the Royals went hunting for trades or free agents this offseason, they went after the position where they needed the most help: starting pitching. They added Jeremy Guthrie in a late-season trade with Colorado last year, and he performed well in 14 starts. Then, they added Ervin Santana and James Shields to the mix. I’m not sure Shields is “ace” material, but overall, their rotation is significantly improved. They’re on the cusp . . . but, I still think they’re a year away from serious contention.
Indians: I’m not sure how many non-Indians fans noticed, but Cleveland was busy this offseason. They traded away Shin-Soo Choo to bolster their bullpen, add a couple prospects, and to bring in a potentially top-of-the-rotation guy in Trevor Bauer. They picked up Mark Reynolds and Nick Swisher to complement Asdrubal Cabrera and Carlos Santana in the middle of a lineup that was next-to-last in team OPS in 2012. And, they added Michael Bourn to the top of the lineup, as an excellent table-setter. That’s the good news. The bad news? Their “ace” and Opening Day starter had an ERA of almost 5.00 in 2012, and it doesn’t really get any prettier from there for their rotation. The bullpen is solid, and the offense will be fun to watch. But, until they get some starting pitching, it’s not looking like a playoff year in Cleveland.
White Sox: What would 2012 have looked like in Chicago if 3 aging veterans hadn’t all had career years? What would 2012 have looked like in Chicago if a rookie starter no one had heard of hadn’t won 17 games? Let’s just say I expect the White Sox to come back down to earth in 2013. Every year, there’s at least one team that performs better than it seems they should, because they beat up on the weak teams, but don’t perform well against the good ones (2011 Diamondbacks, 2010 Reds, etc.). In 2012, that was the White Sox – an impressive 52-38 record against sub-.500 teams (best in the AL), but just 33-39 against winning teams. They did nothing to improve themselves in the offseason. They lost Pierzynski, and their aging veterans got another year older. I see at least two steps back in the standings.
Twins: A healthy Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau could actually make this offense pretty nice with Willingham already having proven he can perform in the Twin Cities. But, again, it all comes down to pitching. Vance Worley was your big offseason signing?? Yes, other moves were made, but it all seems very lateral (Kevin Correia and Mike Pelfrey are #2 & #3 in the rotation, respectively). There’s a reason Worley was the #4 option in Philadelphia . . . and it wasn’t just because they have three guys that could be an ace on most staffs. But, Worley was given the ball on Opening Day nonetheless, and it looks like Twins fans are in for another long year behind a less-than-improved pitching staff that had the worst starters’ ERA in 2012 (5.40).