2014 Predictions: AL Central

The AL Central was a tough one to decide. A lot of teams are on the upswing right now and truthfully I think between the Tigers and Indians, it’s anybody’s race with the Royals playing an excellent spoiler. Give it a few years and I think we could see them at the top of the list here too. Here’s what I have going into 2014:

1. Detroit 95-67
The Tigers went through a major facelift this offseason, removing some of their major power in Prince Fielder and acquiring more speed in Rajai Davis (45 steals in 108 games in 2013), a balanced attack in 3-time All-Star Ian Kinsler (.277, 15 steals, 13 home runs, 72 RBI’s in 136 games). The bullpen, consistently the Tigers’ worry for the past few years, was also revamped, signing closing stud Joe Nathan to two years as well as Joba Chamberlain to bolster the back end of the bullpen. Expect Bruce Rondon to pick up more innings as he hones his offspeed pitches in Florida. Jose Iglesias will be the every day human-highlight reel, locking down the middle infield with the sure-handed (sometimes) Kinsler. Under new management, April will be slow (when isn’t it for the Tigers), especially with highly touted rookie Nick Castellanos starting at third, but Ausmus will right the ship and the league’s best rotation will right the wrongs. 

2. Cleveland 93-69
Opposite of the Tigers, the Tribe will have their classic hot start, but they won’t be as inconsistent as last year (2 5-game losing streaks, ending the season with a 10-game winning streak). Ubaldo Jimenez has gone to Baltimore, so that will put more weight on youngster Danny Salazar to perform well in his number two position. I can see him having a great year, between 15-20 wins and a 3.30 or so ERA. Chris Perez is also gone, which is honestly a blessing. Last season, he pitched in 54 games but only completed 25 saves. In addition, the bullpen lost submariner Joe Smith and Vinnie Pestano, but did pick up veteran hurler John Axford, who has been shaky as a closer to say the least. Pitching aside, the Indians can just plain hit. Last year they finished 4th in the AL in runs scored and that should only go up this year. Bourn is a demon on the base paths, and Kipnis/Cabrera both had down years (hard to believe .284 is down for Kip). Rumor has it Santana may move to third to give slugging Brazilian backstop Yan Gomes a shot at the everyday catching position. With the addition of David Murphy, Michael Brantley’s extension, and Raburn holding down the right field corner, the Indians outfield crew is legit. With the veteran (and incredibly bro-tastic) leadership of Nick Swisher, Jason Giambi, and Tito, expect to see the Tribe in October. I would not be surprised with them win the division, but their rotation is an area of concern.

3. Kansas City 86-76
Another great young team that I think has an outside shot at the wild card, if not the division. Once the Royals hired George Brett as their hitting coach, they went on a tear and did not look back. With James Shields, Jeremy Guthrie and newly acquired Justin Vargas heading the rotation, their team ERA will be very good and bullpen will not have to do a lot of work, even if they do have All-Star Greg Holland waiting. Bruce Chen also always is a respectable spot starter, going 9-4 last year, and Danny Duffy will get the ball more often as well. On the other side of the ball, the Royals have one of the youngest lineups in the league. Eric Hosmer, Billy Butler, Mike Moustakas (coolest name in the league if you ask me) and Salvador Perez all are still under the age of 28, and Alex Gordon is reaching his prime and just turned 30 earlier this month. Omar Infante is the elder statesmen (hard to believe) of Kauffman Stadium, entering his age 32 season and coming off of an incredible .318/.345/.450 campaign in division-rival Detroit. The Royals are still very young and need a few more pieces to the puzzle, like an everyday right fielder. If their tablesetters do their job, then Hosmer and Butler will have a blast. 

4. Chicago 71-91
There is not a whole lot to be excited about on the South Side this year other than Abreu and Chris Sale. Adam Eaton is a great pick up from Arizona, finally securing an everyday center fielder who can get on base consistently, but they had to give up Addison Reed, leaving the back end of the bullpen exposed. Avisail Garcia will be the everyday right fielder, supplying a healthy balance of power and speed to the lineup. He still has a lot of maturing to do, but when he’s grown into his absurdly athletic frame, he’ll be fun to watch. Last year, the only pitcher that had a winning record was Jake Peavy, who is now in Boston wearing a big old championship. Sale went 11-14 still with nasty stuff, and a lot of that is in part of the lack of offense. Hopefully Abreu can help with that but with the infield essentially as a revolving door and Alexei Ramirez as the defensively worst shortstop in the league, the Sox won’t be much of a threat.

5. Minnesota 69-93
Even less of a threat will be the Twins up north. If the snow ever goes away, they’ll finally get to playing up in the beautiful Target Field. With Justin Morneau gone to Pittsburgh, Mauer will have a lot of pressure on his head and shoulders (please tell me you got the joke), but adding veteran Kurt Suzuki will help foster the rotation. Byron Buxton, one of the most talked about prospects in modern years, will probably make his debut, and let’s be honest, the Twins don’t have a lot to lose in the outfield so he might as well start every day. The rotation picked up Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes, both solid guys that won’t be in the Cy Young conversation but will get 10-12 wins each. Legend Paul Molitor joined the coaching staff as well, so they have a recipe for success, but there still a few AAAA (players too good for minors but not good enough for majors) plugging the remaining holes such as Oswaldo Arcia, Chris Parmelee, and Aaron Hicks. Also, I will go on record that Glen Perkins is one of the best closers in the league, but he so rarely gets save opportunities so he can never really shine. I had him on my fantasy team last year and he was an absolute stud – 2-0, 2.30 ERA, 36 saves, and only blew 4. Gardenhire knows what he’s doing and the Twins won’t be in the cellar much longer, but this won’t be the Twins year. 

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