Success in the AL Central could depend upon health. Can Minnesota’s Justin Morneau (concussion), Joe Nathan (elbow surgery) and Joe Mauer (knee) stay on the field? Is Chicago’s Jake Peavy (shoulder/back) all the way back from a scary injury? Will Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera hold back his alcohol-related demons?
Of every team in the Central, the Tigers have more sure things (and yes, we’re including the troubled Cabrera, last year’s MVP runner-up, in that category). Their winter was all about the sure things — from the signings of DH-catcher Victor Martinez and setup man Joaquin Benoit, to the extensions for Jhonny Peralta and Magglio Ordonez.
With a rotation headed by perennial Cy Young candidate Justin Verlander, flame-thrower Max Scherzer and 22-year-old “veteran” Rick Porcello, plus a lineup stacked with power, the Tigers, it says here, will prevail in a three-team race with the Twins and White Sox.
The Twins managed to thrive a year ago with no contribution from Nathan and nothing from Morneau after July 7. And even though both should be back this year, we still have concerns, mostly surrounding a pitching staff that looks light after the departures of four key relievers and the re-signing of Carl Pavano, whom we doubt can repeat last year’s 18-11, 3.75 juggernaut.
For years, the Twins’ problem has been getting past the first round of the playoffs. This year, they may wish they had such problems.
The White Sox have no glaring weaknesses — other than perhaps the age of their lineup. Their strength is in their depth: a rotation that is five-deep in potent arms, a lineup that (especially with the addition of DH Adam Dunn) has a nice blend of speed and power, and a loaded bullpen. It just doesn’t look like enough to get it done.
Judging by the quality of their farm system, which informed folks are calling one of the best collections of young talent in history, the Royals could be juggernauts in a few years. For now, though, they still stink — especially after trading away their biggest asset, ace Zack Greinke. They’ve averaged 97 losses the last seven years, and will probably lose 90-something again this year.
The problem for Manny Acta’s Indians is the fact that his highest-paid veterans, such as Grady Sizemore and Travis Hafner, can’t stay healthy, and his best younger players, such as Carlos Santana and Asdrubal Cabrera, can’t stay healthy either. Let’s see how quickly they trade opening day starter Fausto Carmona after they get off to a terrible start.