On The Mark by Mark Mayer | EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the fourth in a six-part preview of each division in the major leagues leading up to the March 30 USA season opener between the Braves and Nationals in Washington, D.C.
When the Tigers stole Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis in the latest Florida Marlins fire sale, tremors were felt as far away as New York and Boston.
Detroit was already an AL pennant contender prior to the deal. Now they are virtually tugging at Big Papi’s cape.
The Hilton projects Detroit with 93˝ wins, just shy of Boston’s league high 94 and tied with the Yankees. Now all Detroit has to do is first win the division.
The Las Vegas Hilton has the Tigers a 2-3 favorite to win the division. Cleveland is next at 8-5, followed by Chicago (8-1), Minnesota (20-1) and Kansas City (50-1).
We can see smoke signals coming from Cleveland. It would seem the Tribe have the best shot at Detroit, especially coming off an ALCS berth last year.
Cleveland beat the Yankees in the first round. Now they just need more bugs to get past the Red Sox.
Chicago has almost an entirely new outfield along with a questionable pitching staff past Mark Buehrle, Javier Vazquez and closer Bobby Jenks. The new outfield additions are Carlos Quentin from Arizona and Nick Swisher from Oakland. Quentin brings Gold Glove-type defense and Swisher has pop, which adds to an already potent power surge from Jim Thome, Paul Konerko and Jermaine Dye. The Sox are going to score runs. The
problem is they figure to give up a lot as well.
Cleveland has a similar pitching situation to Chicago – two solid starters (CC Sabathia, Fausto Carmona), a capable closer (Joe Borowski) and many questions in between. Again, like the White Sox, the Tribe can mash. Travis Hafner and Ryan Garko can reach the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and they didn’t even lead in homers. Catcher Victor Martinez (25) did and could again. CF Grady Sizemore stole 33 bases and is the catalyst. If the pitching comes through, Detroit has reason for concern.
Detroit has made Gary Sheffield the DH now that Cabrera is penciled in at 3B. And, getting Edgar Renteria from Atlanta wasn’t too shabby. Magglio Ordonez is off a fabulous year (.365 BA, 28 HR, 139 RBI) and along with Jacque Jones (Twins, Cubs) and Curtis Granderson (26 SB) make up a solid defensive outfield. Justin Verlander anchors a quality rotation, energized Willis. Todd Jones (38 SV) is dependable, but Joel Zumaya throws 102! OF Marcus Thames and 3B/C Brandon Inge are in trade talks.
Minnesota kept the M&M boys (Mauer and Morneau) and virtually cleaned house. The Twins lost 41 stolen bases in Jason Bartlett and Torri Hunter. They lost 28 wins in Johan Santana and Carlos Silva. What’s left after mourning the Santana loss is hope and prayers. Lefty Francisco Liriano returns after almost two years on the shelf. Delmon Young (Rays) and Carlos Gomez are exciting outfield prospects. Mike Lamb and Adam Everett were the left side of the Houston infield. Closer Joe Nathan needs the lead.
Kansas City is stuck in a tough division and has little in the wallet. So each season is a work in progress through its farm system. Mark Teahen, Alex Gordon and David DeJesus have great potential. Catcher John Buck (18 HR) has sock. The Royals did sign Jose Guillen (Mariners), a veteran underachiever who has self-destructed in the past due to injuries and temper. KC scored last year signing righty Gil Meche from Seattle. Zack Greinke has been their pitching hope for three years. Kyle Davies, acquired from Atlanta, could help. He certainly couldn’t hurt.
Based on the current rosters, we rank the AL Central as follows: Detroit, Cleveland, Chicago White Sox, Minnesota, Kansas City.
Infield: C AJ Pierzynski, 1B Paul Konerko, 2B Juan Uribe, 3B Joe Crede, SS Orlando Cabrera. Outfield: LF Carlos Quentin (D’backs), CF Nick Swisher (A’s), RF Jermaine Dye. DH Jim Thome (.273 BA, 35 HR, 96 RBI). Utility: Jerry Owens (32 SB). Rotation: Mark Buehrle (3.63 ERA), Javier Vazquez (15 wins, 213 K), Jose Contreras, John Danks, Gavin Floyd. Closer: Bobby Jenks (40 SV).
Infield: C Victor Martinez (25 HR, 114 RBI), 1B Ryan Garko, 2B Asdrubal Cabrera, 3B Casey Blake, SS Jhonny Peralta (.333 BA). Outfield: LF Jason Michaels, CF Grady Sizemore (33 SB), RF Franklin Gutierrez. DH Travis Hafner. Rotation: CC Sabathia (19 wins, 209 K), Fausto Carmona (3.06 ERA), Paul Byrd, Jake Westbrook, Aaron Laffey. Closer: Joe Borowski (45 SV).
Infield: C Ivan Rodriguez, 1B Carlos Guillen, 2B Placido Polanco, 3B Miguel Cabrera (Marlins), SS Edgar Renteria (Braves). Outfield: LF Jacque Jones (Cubs), CF Curtis Granderson (26 SB), RF Magglio Ordonez (.363 BA, 28 HR, 139 RBI), DH Gary Sheffield. Rotation: Justin Verlander (18 wins, 3.66 ERA, 183 K), Jeremy Bonderman, Kenny Rogers, Dontrelle Willis, Nate Robertson. Closer: Todd Jones (38 SV).
Infield: C Joe Mauer (.293 BA), 1B Justin Morneau (31 HR, 111 RBI), 2B Brendan Harris (Rays), 3B Mike Lamb (Astros), SS Adam Everett (Astros). Outfield: LF Delmon Young (Rays), CF Carlos Gomez, RF Michael Cuddyer. DH Jason Kubel. Rotation: Francisco Liriano, Boof Bonser, Livan Hernandez (Giants), Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey. Closer: Joe Nathan (37 SV, 1.88 ERA).
INF: C John Buck (18 HR), 1B Ross Glaud, 2B Mark Grudzielanek, 3B Alex Gordon (60 RBI, 14 SB), SS Tony Pena Jr. OF: LF Mark Teahen (.285 BA, 60 RBI), CF David DeJesus), RF Jose Guillen (Mariners). DH Billy Butler. P: Gil Meche (3.67 ERA, 156 K), Brian Bannister (12 wins), Zack Greinke, Kyle Davies (Braves), Jorge de la Rosa. Closer: Joakim Soria (17 SV). Hilton’s projected wins: Detroit 93˝, Cleveland 90, Chicago 79˝, Minn 75, KC 73˝.
Next week: The NL East.