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American League Central

Kansas City Royals  |  Minnesota Twins
Chicago White Sox  |  Cleveland Indians  |  Detroit Tigers

The Washington Post
Friday, April 2, 2004; Page D5

Team Capsules

National League

American League

1. Kansas City Royals
2003 Finish: 83-79, 3rd.
Manager: Tony Peña (third season, 132-156).
Ace: Starting pitching is not the strength of this club, as reflected in the 75-69 career record of its nominal leader, Brian Anderson. However, the veteran went a nifty 5-1 (3.99 ERA) for the Royals after arriving in a late-season deal last year.
Best Young Arm: The princess had her pea, the ointment its fly and as for Jeremy Affeldt -- blisters. If the lefty can get past this recurring problem, watch out, world.
Closer: As a rookie in 2003, Mike MacDougal burst out of the gates, starting 10 for 10 in save chances and making the all-star team, but fell into a horrendous second-half slump amid questions of overuse. A more complete season from MacDougal is key to the Royals' hopes; all the more pity that he'll begin the season on the disabled list with a stomach ailment.
Key Acquisition: Juan Gonzalez can be moody and injury-prone, missing 172 games the past two seasons with the Rangers. But when healthy, the two-time MVP is an offensive machine, averaging an RBI every 4.6 at-bats, and he appears to have bought into Peña's enthusiastic clubhouse vibe.
Core Question: Can this team cobble together a respectable rotation?
Projected Finish: First. The combination of a powerhouse lineup, an upgraded bullpen and a weak division should give the Royals their first title since 1985.

2. Minnesota Twins
2003 Finish: 90-72, 1st.
Manager: Ron Gardenhire (third season, 184-139).
Ace: Not the Cy Young contender one would ideally want atop the rotation, Brad Radke is nonetheless a stabilizing force who routinely appears among the league's top 10 in starts, complete games and shutouts.
Best Young Arm: Johan Santana, 25, started last season in the bullpen but was moved into the rotation to take full advantage of his ace-in-training stuff (169 strikeouts in 1581/3 innings). He brings a mid-nineties fastball and has learned to keep hitters off-balance with a change-up.
Closer: Minnesota is hoping that hard-throwing Joe Nathan can fill the bill, but he is unaccustomed to ninth-inning pressure. The bullpen was gutted in the offseason, so some combination of Nathan, J.C. Romero and Ricardo Rincon will be relied upon to finish games.
Key Acquisition: The Twins thought enough of Nathan to trade all-star catcher A.J. Pierzynski for him (it helped that they had can't-miss prospect Joe Mauer ready to step in).
Core Question: Do they have enough left on hand to produce a third straight division title?
Projected finish: Second. This a cohesive, playoff-hardened team that won't give anything away to its competitors, but ultimately a tight budget dooms its chances.

3. Chicago White Sox
2003 Finish: 86-76, 2nd.
Manager: Ozzie Guillen (first season).
Ace: Mark Buehrle. Esteban Loaiza had a near-miraculous season in 2003, going from non-roster invitee to second in AL Cy Young Award voting, but nothing about his previous eight years (career ERA: 4.48) suggests that will happen again. Buehrle started last year 2-10, but ended on a 12-4 tear that put his career back on track for stardom.
Best Young Arm: Buehrle is 53-35 and barely 25, with the talent and competitive temperament to front the White Sox rotation for years.
Closer: Billy Koch. Unfortunately, the righty looked more like Ed Koch last season, ballooning to a 5.77 ERA and watching as since-departed Tom Gordon took over the closer role in the last month.
Key Acquisition: Shingo Takatsu, nicknamed "Mr. Zero" for his postseason success, arrives from Japan as the all-time saves leader in that league. Penciled in for a set-up role, Takatsu, 35, could take the closer's job if Koch stumbles.
Core Question: Will the supposedly big-market White Sox spring for a major midseason acquisition to put them in position to win this mediocre division?
Projected Finish: Third. Chicago is counting on former Sox star Guillen to improve team energy and chemistry, but this club's offseason ledger saw a pronounced net loss in talent.

4. Cleveland Indians
2003 Finish: 68-94, 4th.
Manager: Eric Wedge (second season, 68-94).
Ace: C.C. Sabathia. Last year he led Indians starters in innings, wins, ERA, strikeouts and complete games (as well as hits allowed and walks) -- all at age 23. • Best Young Arm: Sabathia. Did we mention he's only 23? Oh yeah, we did. But did we mention he's a lefty? Aha!
Best Young Arm: Sabathia. Did we mention he's only 23? Oh yeah, we did. But did we mention he's a lefty? Aha!
Closer: It was to have been Bob Wickman, but he's out until at least the all-star break with an injury to the same surgically repaired elbow that caused him to miss 2003. However, replacement David Riske looked good in the closer's role late last season.
Key Acquisition: Second baseman of the future Brandon Phillips proved not ready for prime time last season, so in comes veteran Ron Belliard to hold the fort and provide defensive stability.
Core Question: The future looks bright for this team, but can the youngsters grow up in time to have an impact this year?
Projected Finish: Fourth. But this could be the Indians' last so-so season for a while.

5. Detroit Tigers
2003 Finish: 43-119, 5th.
Manager: Alan Trammell (second season, 43-119).
Ace: Hmmm. Well, Detroit seems to think it's Mike Maroth, naming him its Opening Day starter. All Maroth did last year was lose 21 games, and was only the second pitcher in 110 years to lose 10 before June 1. In fairness, however, it must be noted that Maroth was pitching for the Tigers.
Best Young Arm: Speaking of fairness, Jeremy Bonderman had grounds for a lawsuit last year, being plucked from Class A ball and thrown to the major league wolves because of a system-wide talent drought. Assuming Bonderman, 21, survived the ordeal, he should have absorbed a fair amount of pitching wisdom to complement his power.
Closer: Ugueth Urbina must really love pitching to Ivan Rodriguez, because he actually took a pay cut to follow his batterymate here from the champion Marlins.
Key Acquisition: The addition of I-Rod probably means more to this team than A-Rod does to the Yankees. To be sure, Detroit overpaid for Rodriguez, but they were buying not only his skills on the field but also his inspirational leadership.
Core Question: Who alienated more fans in Detroit last year, the Tigers or "I'm a Little Bit Country" Kid Rock?
Projected Finish: Fifth. With improved pitching and several veterans on board, the Tigers should go from a complete embarrassment to, say, a major faux pas.

-- Desmond Bieler

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