American League Central: All-Star Break Reality Check and Predictions
Previously in the Predictions series, we covered the National League (as a whole), American League East, and American League West post-All-Star break predictions. Now we move onto the final division: the American League Central.
Just to clarify, the Predictions series was written during the All-Star Break. All information thereafter has not been taken into account.
American League Central
Overview: The three contending teams in the 2012 season are Chicago, Detroit, and Cleveland. Kansas City and Minnesota will continue to build and make a strong presence in the years to come.
Currently leading the pack are the Chicago White Sox, with a record of 47-38. Chicago has been playing well enough to keep themselves as contenders in this division. They are getting solid production from their DH, C, 1B, and OF. De Aza, Viciedo, and Rios are a playoff contending outfield. Adam Dunn is doing what he does best, and that is hitting longballs. His 28 HR and 75 BB make up for his usually poor BA of .204. The veterans Pierzynski (.286 and 16) and Konerko (.323 and 14) are putting up premier numbers. The rotation has its ups and downs, but its been able to stay in there. With anchors Chris Sale and Jake Peavy, fans can be assured of quality starts from their top two. Jose Quintana has been a pleasant surprise this year, boasting a 4-1 record and a .231 BAA. However much is needed when it comes to sealing the division. The reality is that the Wild Card spots will come from either the West or the East, so if the Sox want to make the playoffs they must push hard and fend off Detroit and Cleveland. In order for this to happen, Chicago has to bring veterans to the bullpen (Addison Reed, their 23 year-old closer, has been struggling; the rest of the pen has been as well). The pitching staff is finally getting healthy, and I foresee that a strong second half is in order. Back of the rotation starter Philip Humber has been injured but should be back soon and lower his 6.35 ERA back to Earth in the 2nd half. SP John Danks should return late August and help them make a late surge for the division crown. The IF bats have been the missing puzzle piece in terms of offense. Alexei Ramirez has been a huge disappointment this season and needs to heat up soon. Gordon Beckham’s defense is stellar, but his bat needs to improve if he wants to live up to his high draft pick and prospect rank. Recently acquired 3B Kevin Youkilis has been hitting .279 with 5 HR and appears very comfortable in Chicago. Their Keys to Victory are better IF production, a veteran presence in the pen, and a healthy rotation.
The Detroit Tigers are a very polished team in 2012.They have slyly stayed on par with Chicago throughout the season. The top 4 of their rotation has enormous talent. Cy Young winner Justin Verlander, young flamethrowers Max Scherzer and Ricky “Porky” Porcello, and budding 28 year-old Doug Fister, are formidable against any team. While they haven’t all been red hot, each has shown outings that prove their worth. SP Drew Smyly has been on the DL, but will appear back in the rotation towards the end of July. The middle relief has been good, especially when veterans Dotel and Benoit are on form. Closer Jose Valverde could not continue his fantastic streak of 51 converted saves from 2011, but he is still the go-to option in the pen. Between Cabrera, Fielder, Jackson, Young, and Boesch, runs will be flying in for Detroit. There is not much to improve upon for this team – they simply need to continue what they are doing. The IF offensive production needs to get better if they want to go all the way. In terms of pitching, they just need to find their grooves. Once the rotation has done that, all will fit into place. The run scoring, stellar defense, starting pitching, middle relief, and closer are there. Detroit will win this division.
Sitting at 44-41, the Indians are in a tight race with Detroit and Chicago for the top spot. Cleveland is a classic example of a non-star-studded team that can make a run for the playoffs. Their hardest hitting bats are SS Asdrubel Cabrera, 2B Jason Kipnis, and leadoff man Shin-Soo-Choo. The batting average is also very low for a potential division winner. Kotchman, Hafner, and Santana have been major letdowns. Without Grady Sizemore this team needs some source of power, and they are not getting it. However, Santana and Kotchman should fall out of their slumps post-break. The pitching staff’s mix of young guns and veterans allows mistakes to be made and understood. With Masterson and Jimenez rested for the second half, they hope to gain some ground right out of the gate. The rest of the rotation is average with Derek Lowe being the best of the three. 25 year-old SP Carlos Carrasco, recovering from Tommy John surgery, will most likely return for the 2013 season. Chris Perez has been phenomenal at closing out games, but the pen’s middle relief is lacking. If there is anything this team needs to trade for by the deadline, its a run-scorer, a solid SP, or a veteran middle reliever. The Indians’ Keys to Victory are to win big at the trade deadline, and turn around their slumping players.
The host of the All-Star break, the Kansas City Royals have the best young hitters in the league. While the 2012 playoffs are not within grasp, they have a lot to look forward to. Moustakas, Escobar, Hosmer, Butler, Getz, and Betancourt form a powerful IF. They also have some nice prospects to look forward to in the OF to combine with Alex Gordon. The Royals’ relievers are top notch as well. With a core of Soria, Broxton, Crow, Herrera, and Mijares, games will be held and closed if they have the lead. And therein lies the problem – the starting pitching. Danny Duffy appears to be the only legitimate option they have. Chen, Hochevar, Guthrie, Mendoza, and Smith are not even average. The offense is ready but the pitching is not. GM Ned Yost must trade for some proven starters if he wants to contend in 2013.
Minnesota will be another team to make a bigger impact in 2013 than 2012. Dealing with many injuries, they were forced to fall back to less than average replacements. There are many bright spots for them in 2013 though. Ryan Doumit has shown his usefulness when Mauer went down with a bruised right quad for much longer than expected. Between Doumit, Mauer, and Morneau, the Twins are making it much harder on right handed pitchers. Denard Span will always have minor ailments, but he is young and a very underrated OF. Plouffe, Casilla, Dozier, and Willingham round out the bats with nice defense and pop, taking off some of the pressure from Mauer and Morneau. The pitching is where it gets even more exciting. When healthy, this rotation and bullpen are filthy. Baker, Diamond, Deduno, Liriano, and Pavano are at least B+ SP. The pen contains many SP converted RP, and a good majority of them (Burton, Perkins, and Burnett in particular) can perform the roles of the setup man/middle reliever. The closer spot is reserved to Matt Capps (when healthy), but that might change in the offseason.
American League Central Division Winner Prediction: Detroit Tigers
Reason: Detroit is the most well rounded and complete team in this division. They have all of the pieces that are needed to win at least the A.L. Central. Once the starters begin to catch fire, there will not be a chance for Chicago or Cleveland to take the crown. If the SP do not find their grooves, you might find Chicago and Chris Sale swooping in to catch the prize. Cleveland will sit in third place, awaiting a healthy power hitter, hoping one day Grady Sizemore can handle a full season in the bigs.
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Posted on July 23, 2012, in 2012 Predictions, Chicago White Sox, Cleveland Indians, Detroit Tigers, Kansas City Royals, Minnesota Twins and tagged American League, baseball, Indians, Playoffs, Royals, Tigers, Twins. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.