2011 American League Central Preview
Kansas City Royals
Strengths: Having an all-star closer like Joakim Soria is a great luxury, but getting the ball to him with a lead will be tough for the Royals. OF Jeff Francoeur is a nice addition in the outfield, and 2B Mike Aviles is a solid all-around player.
Weaknesses: The loss of SP Zack Greinke just adds to the woes of a very depleted pitching staff, and the outfield lacks a slugger after losing Jose Guillen last season. Pick a position, and the Royals have many questions to answer about it.
Analysis: It’s been 26 years since the Royals have made the postseason, and 2011 does not look to be the year that the streak ends. Second-year manager Ned Yost is going to have his hands full with this bunch.
Prediction: 5th in AL Central
Strengths: OF Shin-Soo Choo showed that he can put together back-to-back successful seasons and lead the team far and away in all-around offense with 22 HR, 90 RBIs, and 22 SB. Closer Chris Perez returns after posting a sub 2.00 ERA and 23 saves in 2010.
Weaknesses: OF Grady Sizemore needs to stay healthy if the Tribe wants to have any chance of contending in the AL Central. The pitching staff, which wasn’t very good in 2010, returns many familiar faces, but they have another year of experience. They aren’t going to look much better in 2011 unless the young guys in the field like 1B Matt LaPorta can hit better than the .221 AVG he put up last season.
Analysis: The Indians are in a rebuilding phase and will need to add some veterans. They did not do much in the off-season, so the pickings could be slim when they realize what they have isn’t worth very much.
Prediction: 4th in AL Central
Strengths: A healthy Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer have been a great combination for the Twins over the years. 3B Danny Valencia joins the mix for his first full season in 2011 and hopes to improve on his .311 AVG from last year. SP Francisco Liriano is a wild card and needs to show that he belongs among the AL pitching elite if the Twins hope to contend. Adding closer Matt Capps was also a great addition to the bullpen.
Weaknesses: The Twins went all-in at second base by signing Japanese sensation Tsuyoshi Nishioka, who is thought to be the next Ichiro, in some circles. However, the stream of stars from Japan have not all met major league baseball with success. We will have to see how he performs. SP Carl Pavano’s 17-win season in 2010 will be hard to duplicate, since he is getting up there in age. SP Scott Baker will need to post a better ERA than 4.49 if he wants the number-three starter position.
Analysis: Closer Joe Nathan is back after missing all of 2010 with an injury. The Twins will need to ease him back into the closer role and hope he can return to form quickly. Manager Ron Gardenhire knows how to get a team to the playoffs but has only won one postseason series in seven tries. It is shaping up to be another battle for AL Central supremacy.
Prediction: 3rd in AL Central
Strengths: OF Magglio Ordonez decided to stay in Detroit for another season and will be a big key on offense if he can stay healthy. 1B Miguel Cabrera looks to continue his triple crown abilities during 2011. The Tigers can expect big things from youngsters like OF Austin Jackson and OF Ryan Raburn, both of whom showed that they can hang. Brad Penny could prove to be a nice addition to the starting rotation led by the always dangerous Justin Verlander.
Weaknesses: It’s hard to poke holes in a team with this much talent. The back end of the starting rotation could falter with unproven guys like Phil Coke and Rick Porcello. Look for some shake-ups in their rotation as the season progresses.
Analysis: Detroit is going to go full throttle on their way to the top of the AL Central. Manager Jim Leyland knows how to win and has the guys to do it. If the pitching staff can turn it up a notch, the offense should have no problem supporting them.
Prediction: 2nd in AL Central
Chicago White Sox
Strengths: Adam Dunn joins a potent White Sox lineup in a very homer-friendly ballpark. The Sox shelled out the big bucks this off-season re-signing 1B Paul Konerko and C A.J. Pierzynski. They are joined by OF Alex Rios, who had a career year in 2010, hitting 21 HRs, driving in 88 runs, and swiping 34 bases. The pitching staff was joined by Edwin Jackson last season, and he hopes to continue the stellar pitching he showed in limited action.
Weaknesses: Jake Peavy was once a dominant pitcher but has since been plagued by what seems like constant injuries. The Sox will be hoping that he can return to form and help out the staff for a full season. 2B Gorden Beckham has yet to live up to the hype with two sub-par seasons. If he can’t pull off a good start to the season, he may be blown right out of the Windy City. The hot corner is another concern for the White Sox, who will be testing out rookie Brent Morel.
Analysis: The Manny experiment failed last year, and he was sent out the door. The White Sox will “try” to move on with a good core of power-hitting players all throughout the lineup. Dunn is a great signing, but his low average can hurt the White Sox if they need him in the clutch. Manager Ozzie Guillen always has a trick up his sleeve, so look for the Sox to push the envelope and compete, once again, for the AL Central title.
Prediction: 1st in AL Central