The American League Central has had some of the best division races the last few years, and although Minnesota looked like a clear favorite in February, the Joe Nathan injury has brought them back to the pack. Detroit had to cut costs and hurt their chances in the short term and that combined with the Twins' quietly effective off-season has created some separation between the teams. Cleveland is rebuilding and Kansas City continues to make bewildering moves so neither are not expected to be factors this year. The interesting team is Chicago, who has a very good all-around staff but several serious holes in their lineup.
1. Minnesota Twins 86-76
The Twins won the division last year despite some major hurdles. Their two best players, Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau, each missed basically a month of action and only two of their starting pitchers made more than 24 starts. They picked up J.J. Hardy and Orlando Hudson, both of whom appear to upgrade their infield defense and offense. They kept the rotation completely in tact, and that could be a very good thing if Kevin Slowey and Francisco Liriano can stay healthy and productive. They do have plenty of capable backup starters, plus their pen was strong before Joe Nathan's injury, and should remain solid, even in his absence. This is the most complete Minnesota team in recent memory and should still be the favorites this year.
2. Chicago White Sox 83-79
The White Sox struggled to a disappointing 79 wins last year but should improve a bit this season. The rotation is strong, led by holdovers Jake Peavy, Mark Buehrle, John Danks and Gavin Floyd, all of whom are better than league average starters. The fifth spot is probably Freddy Garcia in the short term, but promising youngster Dan Hudson's by mid-season. While Hudson does not have ace potential he could give them five good starting pitchers, a rarity. The lineup is less impressive. They need Carlos Quentin to be healthy and produce the way he did in 2008. Behind him only Gordon Beckham is an asset with the bat, unless Alex Rios or Paul Konerko surprises us.
3. Detroit Tigers 80-82
Detroit had to dump their second best hitter and starter from last year due to budget issues. While they did alright in the trade it seriously hurt their short term chances. Young starters Rick Porcello and Max Scherzer will have to continue developing ahead of schedule or the rotation will look awfully thin behind Justin Verlander. Miguel Cabrera is a fantastic hitter, but he's the only one they have and their defense is not much better than average either. Their pen has a chance to be very good this year and they will need it to steal some games for them this season if they want to have a chance.
4. Cleveland Indians 73-89
Cleveland has a potentially potent lineup but their starting pitching is frighteningly bad. It is difficult to find anyone who looks better than a fourth starter. The lone positive on the pitching staff is their bullpen that has a chance to be really effective with hard throwers Kerry Wood and Chris Perez to go with finesse relievers Jensen Lewis, Rafael Perez and Joe Smith, forming one of the most diverse units in the sport. A healthy Grady Sizemore to go with Shin-Soo Choo and Matt LaPorta has the possibility of being one of the better outfields in baseball.
5. Kansas City Royals 62-100
I actually hope Kansas City does not have a plan because if they do, it is one of the weirdest ones I have ever seen. They continue to acquire poor defensive players with no on-base skills whatsoever, a recipe for failure at any level. They essentially have only three above average players on the whole roster, Zack Greinke, Billy Butler and Joakim Soria. While they are all young and worth building around, there is nothing else to be excited about at the major league level. They have some excellent pitching prospects but most are not close to the majors, so the Royals will probably be in the basement for awhile.