April 2, 2009

At the centre of it all

by Dan Bilicki In: Baseball

It’s a good thing that not too much news has to be reported on this week, other than Final Four build up that is. It really frees me up for these previews without being weighed down by having to comment on the NFL pre-season schedule, or debating if Matt Stafford will be taken No. 1 in the NFL draft or not. And although Jon Calipari leaving Memphis for Kentucky affectively dooms the Tigers, we all knew he’d take the money to begin with. So, let’s head east to the Central divisions.

There are two things that frustrate me every year about the AL Central: The Twins always do better than you think they should and the Indians always do the opposite. In Minnesota, they’ve put together another team of hustle players and pitchers that don’t have recognizable names, yet throw gems whenever you’re watching. They’re the most frustrating team to predict because on paper you see names like Mike Cuddyer and Nick Punto and you think they’re destined to be under .500. But, I guess you can credit manager Ron Gardenhire with this, they’ll always be right in the hunt.

As for the Indians, they always seem to disappoint or overachieve. There’s no middle ground in Cleveland. With Travis Hafner and Victor Martinez healthy, the addition of under-rated Mark DeRosa at third and Kerry Wood at closer – what an upgrade over the mess they had the past two seasons – the Indians figure to be a force in the division again, but you never know with the Tribe.

The Detroit Tigers are in a tough place this season. After loading up on contracts last year, the entire city of Detroit has been hit hard by the recession. Worse comes to worse and the Tigers are more than likely going to have be sellers at the trade deadline or risk losing a ton of money. On paper, they’re a great club and Miguel Cabrera is still one of the best young talents in the game, but I’m counting on a fire sale mid-season.

Whoever is high on the Royals this season is probably high on something else too. I just don’t see them contending for anything with an unproven lineup, a shaky rotation and a bullpen with a closer and not much else.

The White Sox will always be entertaining thanks to Ozzie Guillen. They could use an upgrade in centrefield and second base, but this is largely the team that got it done last season. Their only two significant losses were the injury-prone Joe Crede and Javier Vasquez, who Guillen openly questioned during the late stages of the pennant race. I don’t see any reason that the Sox fall off their pace from last year.

Predictions
1st: Chicago White Sox
2nd: Minnesota Twins
3rd: Cleveland Indians
4th: Detroit Tigers
5th: Kansas City Royals

Moving onto the inferior, senior circuit, if the Cubs lose this division, Albert Pujols is going to have to bat about .360 and hit 50 homers to do it – and I wouldn’t be surprised if he did. The Cubbies boast a stacked rotation that could feasibly land Jake Peavy at the deadline, giving them five guys who could be aces on other teams. Their bullpen is solid but their lineup is a bit older and weaker than last year’s version. Good thing there isn’t too much competition.

Albert Pujols is an absolute beast and might go down as one of the best hitters ever (unless he’s caught like A-Rod was). He can single-handedly lead a team to the playoffs and he just might if everyone else is St. Louis puts up their average numbers and no one dips too much. Bringing back Chris Carpenter – who is finally healthy – solidifies a rotation that was surprisingly strong last year. Winning the division isn’t out of the question but the wild card is more likely to me.

The Houston Astros are still a good arm or two away from being a true contender. They’ve always been built to hit the ball a ton, but that’s not the only thing baseball involves. Roy Oswalt is a solid ace but there’s not much depth past him on the hill. It’s nice to see Mike Hampton still trying out there, but it might be time he hangs it up.

Milwaukee’s still going to hit the ball a ton but losing your top two starters and signing an aging closer (Trevor Hoffman) isn’t going to help too much. Let’s put it this way, on their Yahoo! Depth chart, Jeff Suppan is listed as their No.1 starter. No amount of hitting can compensate for that.

If Pittsburgh breaks their record streak of losing seasons, I’ll be very surprised. The joke of major league baseball doesn’t figure to be noteworthy for at another year, if not more. At least they’ll get another good draft pick.

Predictions
1st: Chicago Cubs
2nd: St. Louis Cardinals *-wild card winner
3rd: Houston Astros
4th: Milwaukee Brewers
5th: Cincinnati Reds
6th: Pittsburgh Pirates

1 Comment

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