Taylor's Twins Talk

Focusing on the Twins, with a few ramblings on other things that catch my attention

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Pre-Pre-Season Predictions: AL Central

This is the final post providing my very early predictions for the 2007 season. I've already posted on the AL West, AL East, NL West, NL East, and NL Central.

AL Central

Cleveland Indians

Projected Rotation

1.) C.C. Sabathia
2.) Jake Westbrook
3.) Cliff Lee
4.) Paul Byrd
5.) Jeremy Sowers

Top 5 Bullpen
Closer - Keith Foulke
2.) Joe Borowski
3.) Roberto Hernandez
4.) Rafael Betancourt
5.) Aaron Fultz

Position Players
C - Victor Martinez
1B - Casey Blake
2B - Josh Barfield
3B - Andy Marte
SS - Jhonny Peralta
LF - David Dellucci
CF - Grady Sizemore
RF - Trot Nixon
DH - Travis Hafner

The Indian rotation has the potential to be one of the most solid (if unspectacular) in baseball. C.C. Sabathia regularly puts up solid numbers, and last year (3.22 ERA) was no exception, despite his having started off his season with an injury. Jake Westbrook and Cliff Lee are both capable of putting up ERA's in the low 4.00's, which any team would take. Paul Byrd, meanwhile, is consistently good - and while he's past his prime, he will still put up a number of wins. Lefty Jeremy Sowers was impressive last season in 14 starts, putting up an ERA of 3.57. Barring injury, there probably won't be many holes in the rotation this season.

The bullpen has almost completely been rebuilt. Keith Foulke (Boston) and Joe Borowski (Florida) were brought in, and will compete for the closer role. Roberto Hernandez (New York Mets/Pittsburgh) and Aaron Fultz (Philadelphia) also join Rafael Betancourt in the 'pen. While Hernandez and Foulke could fall apart at any time, the additions should help the Indians hold onto leads better than they did last year.

The lineup could be one of the best in baseball. Anchored by Travis Hafner (.308/1098/42HR/111 RBI in just 129 games) and Grady Sizemore (.290/908/28HR/76RBI), the Indians have added Josh Barfield, David Dellucci, and Trot Nixon to the attack, and will get a full year out of uber-prospect Andy Marte, who struggled in 50 games last season. Victor Martinez (.316/856/16HR/93RBI) is also no slouch behind the plate (whether the experiment to move him over to 1B continues this season remains to be seen). I doubt that any team's pitchers will be excited when they realize they have to face this lineup.

Kansas City Royals

Projected Rotation

1.) Gil Meche
2.) Odalis Perez
3.) Luke Hudson
4.) Scott Elarton
5.) Zack Greinke

Top 5 Bullpen
Closer - Octavio Dotel
2.) Todd Wellemeyer
3.) Jimmy Gobble
4.) Joel Peralta
5.) David Riske

Position Players
C - John Buck / Jason LaRue
1B - Ryan Shealy / Ross Gload
2B - Mark Grudzielanek
3B - Mark Teahen
SS - Angel Berroa
LF - Emil Brown
CF - David DeJesus
RF - Reggie Sanders
DH - Mike Sweeney

The rotation should be better this year with the addition of Gil Meche and a full season out of Odalis Perez. It was a stretch to sign Meche as an ace - he was 11-8 with a 4.48 ERA last season with Seattle - but there's no question that he's an established Major League starter who will solidify what has been a very shaky rotation. Zack Greinke also makes his full-time return to the team after missing most of last year, and by all accounts is much more comfortable with the idea of being a Major League ballplayer than he has been in the past. The Royals starters are going to lose a lot of games - but they should be in more games late than they were last year, and this is a start towards rebuilding a solid rotation.

The bullpen is not particularly good, but it too should be better. Octavio Dotel missed most of last season, pitching just 14 games with the Yankees, and if he can return to his form of 2003 and 2004 (his last full season), he should be a significant addition. The problem is that there isn't a lot behind him. Todd Wellemeyer and David Riske are solid, and Joel Peralta has potential. Jimmy Gobble put up another season with an ERA over 5.00 - so the question is whether or not he'll ever establish himself in the big leagues.

Mark Teahen started to establish himself last season before he was injured, but he returns this season as one of the premier players in the Royals lineup. Mike Sweeney is still a Royal, but the question is for how long - he's a free agent at the end of the year, and is very unlikely to sign an extension. Unfortunately for the Royals, his value has dropped along with his production, so what will they be able to get for him at the deadline? It certainly depends on how he plays this season early on, so both he and the Royals will be hoping for an offensive resurgence. David DeJesus will continue to be a major piece of the Royals lineup - but for all the hype, he's yet to hit over .300 at the Major League level.

Detroit Tigers
Projected Rotation

1.) Kenny Rogers
2.) Jeremy Bonderman
3.) Justin Verlander
4.) Nate Robertson
5.) Mike Maroth

Top 5 Bullpen
Closer - Todd Jones
2.) Fernando Rodney
3.) Joel Zumaya
4.) Jose Mesa
5.) Wilfredo Ledezma

Position Players
C - Ivan Rodriguez
1B - Sean Casey
2B - Placido Polanco
3B - Brandon Inge
SS - Carlos Guillen
LF - Craig Monroe
CF - Curtis Granderson
RF - Magglio Ordonez
DH - Gary Sheffield

There is no denying that the Tiger rotation is very good, but there are some possible concerns. Kenny Rogers is 42, and has been putting up some of the best seasons of his career over the last couple of years. But at some point, Rogers is going to fall apart - and as writers more knowledgeable than myself have pointed out, when control/finesse pitchers like Rogers lose it, they get hammered hard. Does he have another full season of dominance in him? Justin Verlander had a great season last year, but will things be more difficult for him the second time around, now that hitters are more prepared and know what to look for? And how will Mike Maroth pitch after missing most of last season? Despite the questions, the likelihood is that the rotation will still be a major strength this season for the defending AL Champs.

I admit - I'm not a fan of Todd Jones. Despite seemingly having nothing left in his arm, he continues to get batters out. At some point, as with Kenny Rogers, Jones will stop getting guys out and will get hammered. If it happens this year, the Tigers won't be without viable options to close out games. Joel Zumaya put up a 1.94 ERA in his first season, striking out 97 hitters in 83.1 innings. Fernandy Rodney and Wilfredo Ledezma both put up ERA's in the 3.50 range, which is solid if unspectacular. And then there's Jose Mesa, who pitched in 79 games and put up a 3.86 ERA for the Rockies last year. He, too, is at the end-stage of his career, but if he can continue to put up those kinds of numbers, he'll be useful for the Tigers.

The Tigers didn't have anybody in their lineup putting up amazing numbers last year - but they had really good numbers all around, and that resulted in a lot of wins. Magglio Ordonez returns in right field after hitting .298/827 and driving in 104 runs. Criag Monroe hit just .255 in left field, but hit 28 homers and drove in 92 runs. Ivan Rodriguez hit .300 and drove in 69 runs. The same thing can be found all over the field. The significant addition of Gary Sheffield as the DH should give the team yet another guy who can hit .300 and hit 30 homers, and that just makes the lineup that much more dangerous.

Minnesota Twins
Projected Rotation

1.) Johan Santana
2.) Boof Bonser
3.) Carlos Silva
4.) Ramon Ortiz
5.) Sidney Ponson / Matt Garza / Glen Perkins

Top 5 Bullpen
Closer - Joe Nathan
2.) Juan Rincon
3.) Dennys Reyes
4.) Pat Neshek
5.) Jesse Crain

Position Players
C - Joe Mauer
1B - Justin Morneau
2B - Luis Castillo
3B - Nick Punto
SS - Jason Bartlett
LF - Rondell White
CF - Torii Hunter
RF - Michael Cuddyer
DH - Jason Kubel

The rotation that has been a strength for the Twins over the past several seasons is suddenly the major weakness, following Francisco Liriano's injury and Brad Radke's retirement. Reigning AL Cy Young winner Johan Santana is arguably the best pitcher in baseball, and will provide the Twins with a great chance to win every time he's on the mound. Boof Bonser struggled in his first couple of call-ups with the Twins last season before piecing things together and pitching extremely well down the stretch. But can Bonser continue to perform at such a high level? Carlos Silva also struggled last season, and unlike Bonser never really found his stride with any consistency, posting a 5.94 ERA for the season. Both he and free agent addition Ramon Ortiz (5.57 in 33 starts with the Nationals) will need to figure out how to not give up homeruns with regularity, and how to lower their respective ERA's below 5.00, if the Twins are going to have success this year. Non-roster invitee Sidney Ponson will likely be given every chance to prove that he's in baseball shape and capable of succeeding during Spring Training, but he'll also be competing against Matt Garza, Glen Perkins, Scott Baker, and the out-of-options former phenom J.D. Durbin for the fifth and final spot in the rotation.

The bullpen remains a strength for the Twins, with Joe Nathan returning as the closer for the fourth year in a row. Nathan arguably had his best season last year, posting an ERA of just 1.58 and picking up 36 saves despite the Twins woeful early start (when he seemed to get hardly any save opportunities). Juan Rincon returns as Nathan's setup man and probable emergency closer. Dennys Reyes is fresh off a brilliant season (0.89 ERA) as the team's left-handed specialist, and will return in that role this year, possibly with help from non-roster invitees Mike Venafro and/or Randy Choate. Pat Neshek tries to build off of a successful debut season with the Twins, and Jesse Crain tries to return to his form of 2005 (when he posted an ERA of 2.71 and went 12-5) after struggling early and finishing with a 3.52 ERA. When a 3.52 ERA is the worst amongst the regular members of the bullpen, you know you have a good crew.

The Twins are also strong at the plate, with the reigning AL Batting Champion (Joe Mauer) and AL MVP (Justin Morneau). Whether Morneau can continue to mash pitching this season remains to be seen, but few doubt Mauer's ability to continue to hit for a high average. Torii Hunter and Michael Cuddyer add power, while Luis Castillo, Nick Punto, Jason Bartlett, and backup outfielder Jason Tyner will continue to slap the ball around and make defenses work. Rondell White was brought back this season as the left-fielder, after playing well late last season. The DH spot is Jason Kubel's to grab - but if he struggles, non-roster invitees Ken Harvey and Matt LeCroy will have a chance to earn a place on the roster.

Chicago White Sox
Projected Rotation

1.) Mark Buehrle
2.) Jose Contreras
3.) Jon Garland
4.) Javier Vazquez
5.) Gavin Floyd

Top 5 Bullpen
Closer - Bobby Jenks
2.) Matt Thornton
3.) Mike MacDougal
4.) David Aardsma
5.) Andrew Sisco

Position Players
C - A.J. Pierzynski
1B - Paul Konerko
2B - Tad Iguchi
3B - Joe Crede
SS - Juan Uribe / Alex Cintron
LF - Scott Podsednik
CF - Brian Anderson
RF - Jermaine Dye
DH - Jim Thome

The starting rotation remains largely intact last season, with the return of Buehrle (4.99), Contreras (4.27), Garland (4.51), and Vazquez (4.84). Buehrle had some horrible outings last year, getting pounded when he couldn't keep the ball down. Contreras had the best season of any White Sox starter, but he's at least 35, and probably older. Wear and tear could start to affect him. Jon Garland, meanwhile, put up a second straight season with 18 wins, but his ERA jumped by 1.01 points, indicating that run support and luck were largely responsible for a lot of his wins in 2006. His history indicates that an ERA of 4.50 is probably more likely than of 3.50 - so he'll once again need to rely on run support. Javier Vazquez, meanwhile, struggled in his first season with the White Sox. The sub-4.00 ERA's that he put up with Montreal from 2001-2003 appear to be a thing of the past. The Sox starting depth was thinned out when they traded away Freddy Garcia and Brandon McCarthy - as a result, Gavin Floyd (7.29 ERA in 11 starts with the Phillies last year) takes over in the fifth spot. Hard to see how this helped the team for this season.

The White Sox bullpen is merely adequate. Bobby Jenks has some fire out of the closer's role, but his 4.00 ERA is too high to consider him an elite closer. Matt Thornton (3.33) and David Aardsma (4.08) had solid 2006 seasons, and will need to continue to produce this season to get the ball to Jenks in the 9th. Mike MacDougal may have been one of the biggest surprises of the season for the White Sox, after he put up a 1.80 ERA in 25 games following his acquisition from the Royals. Unfortunately, nothing in his Major League history indicates that he's likely to continue to perform at that level. Andy Sisco is another former Royal, who in two major league seasons of nearly early length (67 & 65 games) has posted ERA's of 3.11 and 7.10. Which is the real Sisco? The 6'9" Sisco is worth a shot, but will what will the Sox really get out of him?

The lineup gives pitchers nightmares. Paul Konerko (.313/932/35 HR /113 RBI), Jermaine Dye (.315/1007/44 HR /120 RBI), and Jim Thome (.288/1014/42 HR /109 RBI) may be the best three middle-of-the-order hitters in baseball. Joe Crede and Tad Iguchi add some nice depth from the infield, and guys like A.J. Pierzynski and Scott Podsednik are pesky hitters who are tough outs. More production out of Center Field and Shortstop would be nice - but honestly, when you're lineup is as stacked as the White Sox, anything else would just be icing on the cake.

1.) Chicago White Sox - 101-61
2.) Minnesota Twins - 93-69
3.) Detroit Tigers - 91-71
4.) Cleveland Indians - 88-74
5.) Kansas City Royals - 63-99

Would you believe me if I said that I honestly believe any of the top 4 teams in this division could win it? This division should be that good this year - and for 4 teams to rack up that many wins, they would have to beat up on the Royals, the East & West, and the National League. I think that's going to happen. In the end, I can't get past the White Sox incredible lineup and solid pitching. The Twins have a good enough bullpen and should score enough runs to make up for what will probably be sub-par starting pitching, allowing them to finish second. The Tigers will be very good again this year, but I think the pitching and the hitting will come back to the pack again. And the Indians just aren't quite there yet, but they'll be very dangerous and very good. The Royals are improving - but they have to play in a very, very tough division, and so will lose a lot of games. This should be the most exciting race in baseball this season.



  • At Tue Feb 13, 06:03:00 PM , Blogger Bob Harp said...

    The Royals started 2006 with three starting pictures either out or on the DL. If this does not happen again I look for them to improve by more than one game.

  • At Tue Feb 13, 06:29:00 PM , Blogger JST said...

    The reason I suspect you're wrong is that I think the rest of the division got better. Last year, the Royals went 27-47 against the AL Central. While I expect they will play better against the East & West, not to mention the National League, I don't think they're going to win 27 games in the Central division this year. We shall see.

  • At Wed Mar 07, 12:36:00 AM , Anonymous Nick Kinney said...

    I think you under-estimate how much improved the Royals are. First off, Gordon will likely be playing 3B, and Teahen (where he made a HR-robbing grab today) will be in RF, not Reggie. On top of that, Shealy will get a shot at his first full year with a couple hundred AB's unders his belt. Put this on top of the Meche and Bannister pickups, and Greinke rejoining the team, and I don't think 27 wins in the AL Central is out of the question. In fact, I think 30 or 33 may happen.

    I'm not saying the Royals will contend, I'm just saying 70-75 wins is not realistic.



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