This is the fifth installment of baseball divisional previews. I’m coming in as a pinch hitter playing the platoon advantage for the AL Central, so you’ll have to forgive me if I don’t have the sharp-witted bat speed of one Mr. Tim Ryan. Obviously, what I do have is ties to the AL Central, rooting for a team that has won as many AL Central titles as the New York Yankees.
The Central Division is so top heavy that the Detroit Tigers didn’t even try to pretend that they have to worry about defense, and are moving Miguel Cabrera to third base for the first time in like fifty pounds. The intrigue, if you can call it that, is who will finish second, whether the walking wounded of Cleveland can hold off either the young Royals, the suddenly Ozzie Guillen-less and jettisoning salary White Sox, or the Twins, who had their worst season in a long time in 2011, but hope for improved health from their stars this season.
2011 Record — 95-67, 1st place
Good News — Prince Fielder in place of Victor Martinez in the lineup, along with Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander, give the Tigers three of the best at their positions. They play in the AL Central, and have plenty of margin for error in winning a division where they were the only team over .500 last year.
Bad News — Miguel Cabrera is taking his butt to third base to make room for Prince Fielder’s butt at first. It could lead to pure defensive comedy. The rotation is fairly set up top, with Scherzer, Fister and Porcello behind Verlander. The fifth spot could be a revolving door, with the first chance going to a lefty, Duane Below. Jose Valverde was the king of the heart stopping save in 2011, and will be 34. Phil Coke’s brain is still in the ‘pen, and with aging players like Valverde and Dotel, the bullpen is more of a wildcard and would be the most likely faltering point if this team slumps.
Outlook — Last year’s Tigers were a bit of a stars and scrubs team that simply had more talent at the top than the rest of the division. That shouldn’t change in 2012. Several things would have to go wrong for them not to win the Central, including a Miggy injury off a ball into his eye socket at third. While Verlander may fall back a bit from his utter brilliance, the rest of the starters should improve with seasoning. If they don’t win the division, it would be a shock.
Probable 2012 Anthem — This is Tim’s category. I don’t even know what the kids are listening to these days. We’ll go with “Hard Times in the Land of Plenty” by Omar and the Howlers, featured in the Dudley Moore/Kirk Cameron Classic “Like Father, Like Son”.
2011 Record — 80-82, 2nd place
Notable Additions — 1B Casey Kotchman, SP Derek Lowe, who is apparently not retired, RP Jairo Asencio, OF Aaron Cunningham, SP Felix Heredia Hernandez and 2 years of age
Tragic Losses — 2B Orlando Cabrera, OF Kosuke Fukudome, OF Austin Kearns, IF Luis Valbuena, SP Fausto Carmona
Good News — Shin-Soo Choo is healthy and ready to rebound to 2010 form after an injury-filled 2011. Ubaldo Jimenez is willing to throw inside, and will hopefully rebound after a rough stretch after Cleveland traded for him. Casey Kotchman has come over from Tampa and should upgrade defense at first base and provide a solid, savvy veteran who can draw walks and do a little of everything.
Bad News — Grady Sizemore cannot stay healthy, and has already had back surgery and will miss two months, so the team has to find replacements. A trade for Bobby Abreu did not materialize, and they will hope to get something out of Shelley Duncan and Aaron Cunningham. Meanwhile, Fausto Carmona was sucking anyway, but now Felix Heredia Hernandez is older and probably not part of the plans. Enter the dreaded “innings eater” in Derek Lowe, who managed an ERA above 5 last year and is older than every writer on this site. That’s right, every single one (clears throat).
Outlook — Best case scenario is that Sizemore comes back healthy and the injuries subside, Choo regains his form, Asdrubal Cabrera shows last year was not an offensive fluke, and Ubaldo Jimenez becomes a top starter again. You can see the potential for this team to be in contention in September for a wildcard with the expanded playoffs. However, the more likely outcome is that some of those things don’t happen and players who had career years or major rebound years last year regress, and they finish near .500.
Probable 2012 Anthem — Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard singing Pancho and Lefty, because with spring training ending, the desert’s quiet, Cleveland’s cold, so the story ends we’re told.
2011 Record — 63-99, 5th place
Notable Additions — LF Josh Willingham, SS Jamey Carroll, DH/C Ryan Doumit
Tragic Losses — RF Michael Cuddyer, DH Jason Kubel, RP Joe Nathan.
Good News — The good news is that it can’t possibly get any worse than last year, when Joe Mauer, Francisco Liriano, and Justin Morneau all missed times with injuries and were clearly affected even when they played and put up sub-par seasons. Lots of potential for addition by subtraction here, as they didn’t make any splashy signings, but added solid players at key spots. 1B Chris Parmalee was a bright spot in limited action, and should take over at first, moving Morneau to full time DH to try to preserve him.
Bad News — Cuddyer, the only regular player to play more than 140 games, is gone. Morneau and Mauer better be healthy to make up for his loss.
Outlook — Bounce back year after so many good ones. The question, though, is just how much? Probably more like 77 to 80 wins, instead of the 88+ they were used to before 2011.
Probable 2012 Anthem — The Minnesota State Lottery Song, of course.
Kansas City Royals
2011 Record — 71-91, 4th place
Notable Additions — SP Jonathan Sanchez, RP Johnathan Broxton, SS Yuniesky “Not Bleeping Again” Betancourt, C Humberto Quintero, CF Lorenzo Cain (yeah, he played 6 games at the end of last year, but we’ll ignore that)
Tragic Losses — CF Melky Cabrera, SP Jeff Francis, C Jason Kendall’s savvy leadership and record extra base hitless streaks.
Good News — Eric Hosmer will only be 22 and hit 19 home runs after a May call up. 30 is not out of the question this year. Alex Gordon and Billy Butler, along with Hosmer, give the Royals their first decent looking lineup in a while. Mike Moustakas, also only 22 last year and a high draft pick, struggled early, but finished 31 of 88 in September with 4 home runs, and could make a jump in 2012 as well.
Bad News — Joakim Soria is out for the year. The team signed Jonathan Broxton and he will probably get a chance to close. Broxton has way too many Google search hits with some variation of “Broxton” and “fat” combined with some form of expletive to inspire confidence. The starting pitching was a problem last year, and the only change is adding Sanchez. Chris Getz (.287 slugging percentage) has pictures of Ned Yost naked with a deer we presume to continue to get at bats, as the team sent Johnny Giovatella to the minors to start the year. Yuniesky is back. Salvador Perez had a meniscus injury and will miss the early part of the season.
Outlook — Kansas City should continue to climb in the standings, but the starting pitching will likely holding them down from being contenders in 2012, just as the young bats emerge. The best hope is that they are close enough when the All-Star game is announced (played at Kaufman Stadium) that there is genuine excitement in July, so that the locals don’t spend all day talking about Matt Cassel.
Probable 2012 Anthem — “Friends in Low Places”, which is appropriate because the Royals are always found in low places, and the song plays at every stinking home game.
Chicago White Sox
2011 Record — 79-83, 3rd place
Notable Additions — OF William M. Hayes, 3B Roger Dorn, C Jake Taylor, RP Rick Vaughn.
Tragic Losses — Manager Ozzie Guillen, SP Mark Buehrle, OF Carlos Quentin, OF Juan Pierre, RP Jason Frasor.
Good News — Adam Dunn and Alex Rios are back. Okay, that’s cruel, but they can’t be as bad as last year, can they? In the only positive news outside of the return of wearing shorts in the summer heat, Paul Konerko is still holding down first base.
Bad News — They are clearly rebuilding after the offseason that saw them lose their best pitcher, and both starting outfielders that managed to hit over .230.
Outlook — If they win more than last year, it would be a miracle. They’ve gutted the team, and I would suggest they put up a cardboard cutout of Kenny Williams and remove an article of clothing after every win. Williams might be in a tank top and cargo shorts by season’s end.
Probable 2012 Anthem — Black, by Pearl Jam.