2009 AL Central Preview: Twin Killing

. Tuesday, March 31, 2009
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Compared to the Yankees' and Red Sox' of the world, the Twins are the MLB equivalent of the hairy, dirty homeless guy that begs for change in front of the liquor store. You don't know who they are, where they came from, or why they're here, but they are. Except unlike the homeless guy, who will probably remain homeless, hairy and dirty forever, the Twins seem to keep winning. Or, to keep the homeless guy theme going, they keep picking themselves back up, shaving, cleaning up and finding a job. Try to get that disturbing imagery out of your head as we venture into what should once again be one of the tightest division races in baseball, the AL Central...

1. Minnesota Twins

Figures: 88-75, second place.
2008 Headline: Did you just call me a Punto?
2009 Motto: "Why do they call it the twin cities, anyway? Nobody here looks alike!" - Shaquille O'Neal.

Key Additions: 3B Joe Crede, RP Luis Ayala, RP Jason Johnson
Key Losses: SS Adam Everett (to DET), RP Eddie Guardado (to TEX), RP Dennys Reyes (to STL)

Lineup: B-
Justin Morneau's power numbers took a step back in 2008, hitting only 23 home runs after seasons of 34 and 31 the prior two years. He still remains one of the best hitters and run producers in the game. Jason Kubel was the only other Twins hitter to get 20 homers and will be looked upon along with Michael Cuddyer, who missed more than half of last season with an injury, to protect Morneau in the lineup. The key will be at the top of the lineup, where youngsters Denard Span (.294, 6 HR's, 47 RBIs, 18 SB's in 93 games in 2008) and Alexi Casilla (.281, 7 HRs, 50 RBIs in 98 games in '08) will be asked to set the table for Morneau. 
Pitching rotation: B-
Minnesota has one of the better young pitching staffs in the league. Despite having one of the most boring names in baseball, Scott Baker came out of nowhere to have a big season for the Twins last year and will now be looked upon to be the ace of the staff. Kevin Slowey was effective in his first full season as a starter (13-11, 3.99 ERA, 123 K's). After a rough start to the season following Tommy John surgery, Francisco Liriano rejoined the Twins in August and posted a 6-1 record while looking more like his old self. If Liriano can return to something close to his 2006 form, the Twins will be that much more dangerous.
Bullpen: B-
Joe Nathan is still one of the best closers in the game and had perhaps the best season of his career in 2008. He is as much of a sure thing as any closer in the league. The Twins hope that helping get the ball to him in the 9th inning will be Jose Mijares, who was called up to make his major league debut in September and gave up only one earned run on three hits in 10 appearances.

  • Waiting for Joe Mauer to finally show that power you've been waiting to see from him? With Mauer struggling with back injuries in the spring and possibly missing the first two weeks of the season, don't expect this to be the year it happens.
  • Carlos Gomez has the potential to steal 40+ bases every season, but he has plate discipline that makes Ryan Howard raise his eyebrows and say "WTF?", which prevents him from being what he should be - an excellent leadoff hitter.
  • Speaking of plate discpline, Da Mini Meat Hook Delmon Young, who whiffed 105 times last year with just 35 walks (which was actually an improvement from 2007) is just as swing happy as ever. He's hitting .295 with three homers this spring, but he also has 10 strikeouts without a walk.
2. Chicago White Sox

Figures: 89-74, first place, lost in ALDS to Tampa Bay.
2008 Headline: Of course we knew Carlos Quentin would be this good.
2009 Motto: Age is only a number.

Key Additions: SP Bartolo Colon, IF Wilson Betemit, IF Brett Lillibridge, OF Corky Miller, RP Jeff Marquez.
Key Losses: SS Orlando Cabrera (to OAK), SP Javier Vazquez (to ATL), 3B Joe Crede (to MIN), CF Ken Griffey Jr. (to SEA), OF Nick Swisher (to NYY), IF Juan Uribe (to SF), RP Boone Logan (to ATL).

Lineup: B+
Jim Thome is 38. Jermaine Dye is 35. Paul Konerko is 33. A.J. Pierzynski is a douchebag. OK, the last one didn't have anything to do with anything, but it had to be said. The fact is, at some point, age has to start catching up with these guys.  All are still producing as well as they ever have, but it's not out hard to imagine their numbers will start dropping soon, at least in the cases of Thome and Dye. Konerko's already took a dip last year. Chief among the young talent hoping to pick up the slack, if there is any, would be Carlos Quentin, who surprised probably even himself last year by hitting 36 home runs and Alexei Ramirez, one of the more talented and versatile young players in the game.
Pitching rotation: C
Mark Buehrle is no ace, but he is, however, a good, solid, dependable starter that any team would be happy to have. He'll eat innings and keep the game competitive. Gavin Floyd and John Danks are both young and only getting better. Jose Contrares is older than dirt and only getting worse. The fragments of skin that make up what's left of Bartolo Colon's arm gripped the pen long enough to sign a contract with the White Sox, where he will be paid to spend half a season on the DL. 
Bullpen: B-
Bobby Jenks is not the kind of guy you want to challenge to a drinking game OR step into the batters box against. Scott Linebrink has never been able to match his brilliant 2005 season, but he's still a very good setup man. Matt Thornton is pretty good too. Octavio Dotel is.. excited.

  • A.J. Pierzynski is a douchebag.
  • How many years does a World Series victory buy you? I've got a feeling Ozzie Guillen is going to find out the answer to that very soon.
  • The White Sox signed outfielder Corky Miller in the offseason, apparently ignoring the rule in the MLB rule book that states any team with a player named Corky is not allowed to win the World Series.
3. Cleveland Indians

Figures: 81-81, third place.
2008 Headline: Claim to fame: drafting CC Sabathia.
2009 Motto: Sizemore does matter.

Key Additions: RP Kerry Wood, SP Carl Pavano, 3B Mark DeRosa
Key Losses: OF Franklin Gutierrez (to SEA)

Lineup: B-
Grady Sizemore is the very definition of a 5-tool player. If only Cleveland had something around him. Travis Hafner experienced a career freefall last year that made even Andruw Jones say "Damn". This team could go places if Hafner and Victor Martinez have bounce back seasons. After a breakout 2008 and a strong showing in the World Baseball Classic, Shin-Soo Choo (say that three times fast) could go for 20 homers and 80-90 RBIs this year for the Tribe.
Pitching rotation: C-
If you're gullible enough to believe that Cliff Lee will match last year's totals (22-3, 2.54 ERA) then I have some ocean front property that I'd like to sell you. Lee is a decent pitcher, but last year won't happen again. Fausto Carmona looked more like Daniel Cabrera last year than the future ace he seemed to be in 2007. The Tribe is banking on some sort of career resurrection from Carl Pavano, whose balls should hopefully unshrivel now that he has left New York.
Bullpen: B-
Kerry Wood has finally found his calling as a closer and a pretty damn good one at that. Rafael Betancourt followed up a brilliant 2007 with a brutal 2008. If his struggles continue, Rafael Perez will be the one trying to get the ball to Wood in the 8th inning.

  • This might be manager Eric Wedge's last shot to make something of what was considered the best young team in baseball a couple of years ago.
  • At some point Cleveland will call up Matt LaPorta and when they do, he's going to remind people of Ryan Braun.
4. Detroit Tigers

Figures: 74-88, fifth place.
2008 Headline: What do we do with all this champagne we bought?
2009 Motto: Wanted: Someone to pitch the 9th inning every couple of days.

Key Additions: SS Adam Everett, C Gerald Laird, SP Edwin Jackson, RP Brandon Lyon, C Matt Treanor.
Key Losses: SP Kenny Rogers (FA), SS Edgar Renteria (to SF), RP Kyle Farnsworth (to KC), RP Todd Jones (RET)

Lineup: A-
When healthy, this is one of the better lineups in baseball. The problem is there are a lot of injury prone players in the lineup and key guys who are getting up there in age (I'm looking at you Magglio Ordonez). Miguel Cabrera settled into a groove in the second half and should be a strong contender for AL MVP if he can carry the Tigers to a decent record. The success of this offense will hinge on how much gas veterans like Ordonez, Placido Polanco and Carlos Guillen have left in the tank.
Pitching rotation: C-
Of the five pitchers expected to make up Detroit's rotation, only one (Armando Galarraga) finished with an ERA under 4 last year. Justin Verlander, Nate Robertson and Jeremy Bonderman have never proven to be anything more than middle-of-the-rotation starters and last year did nothing to disprove that. New addition Edwin Jackson will probably never live up to the Doc Gooden comparisons he received early in his career, but he seems to be finally coming into his own.
Bullpen: F
If Brandon Lyon's shaky spring is any indication, then Detroit's 9th inning woes didn't leave along with Todd Jones' retirement. Lyon has been awful this spring, giving up four consecutive home runs during a game last week against the Red Sox. Joel Zumaya will start the season on the DL and. Fernando Rodney has good "stuff", but is far too inconsistent to be trusted with any sort of important role or he would have been the closer by now. This group is going to cause a lot of headaches for Tigers fans this season.

  • Everyone thought it would be Dontrelle Willis' awkward delivery that would be his downfall. Apparently, it's not going to be his delivery but instead.. anxiety?.
  • It's a big if, but if Gary Sheffield had stayed healthy this year, he would have given the Tigers better production than they'll get from Marcus Thames or whoever takes his spot in the lineup.
5. Kansas City Royals

Figures: 75-87, fourth place.
2008 Headline: Don't mess with De Jesus
2009 Motto: Don't mess with De Jesus (this is the motto every year for any team that employs David DeJesus)

Key Additions: 1B  Mike Jacobs, OF Coco Crisp, RP Kyle Farnsworth 
Key Losses: 2B Mark Grudzielanek (FA), OF Joey Gathright (to CHC), RP Leo Nunez to FLA.

Lineup: C-
David DeJesus - what more needs to be said? Aside from the DeJesus, this is a solid lineup. If Alex Gordon starts living up to his hype and smacks around 30 homers, it could be a great lineup. The Royals picked up Mike Jacobs, who is Ryan Howard minus about 20 home runs and 50 RBIs. He's all-or-nothing. With a Jacobs at bat, you're likely either getting a home run or he's heading back to the bench and looking for his fielding glove. Mike Aviles had a solid rookie year at shortshop and should be expected to improve on those numbers.
Pitching rotation: B-
The good thing for the Royals in 2008 was that almost all of their starters had very good/solid seasons. The bad thing about that is that it was a career year for almost all of them. Not to be a Debbie Downer, but one has to wonder if they can all keep that up and do it while staying as injury free as they did last year. Gil Meche has gone from being a guy who had seemingly never ending arm problems to a workhorse. Zack Greinke may not like a day older than 16, but he pitched like a wily veteran last season and may finally be starting to live up to the lofty expectations he arrived in Kansas City with as the sixth overall pick in 2002.
Bullpen: B-
Joakim Soria came out of nowhere to become one of the best closers in baseball last season. I'm not sure if anyone in the world, Soria and his immediate family included, expected him to have a season like he did. Kansas City made a great move in acquiring Juan Cruz to be the 8th inning man. The Royals also made a not so great move in getting Kyle Farnsworth. Ron Mahay and Robinson Tejada are solid arms to have in the 'pen.

  • Ever seen the Curb Your Enthusiasm episode "Porno Gil"? - It is hilarious, but it has had a weird effect on me. Everytime I see Gil Meche's name, I think of porn and everytime I think about porn, I also think about Gil Meche. Ahem, moving on...
  • If Kila Ka'aihue, appropriately nicknamed the "Hawaiian Punch", doesn't make the Royals 25-man roster this season, I'm protesting.
  • It has to suck to be ex-Royal Joey Gathright. He's the fastest guy in the league, but can't hold down a job because of this pesky little problem he has about being able to get on base. New leadoff man Coco Crisp is everything Gathright should have been.