2012 Previews: A.L. Central
It will be one of those freaks of baseball nature, not unlike the year the St. Louis Browns won the pennant because all their players were just physically bad enough to not be drafted for World War 2, or the year the Reds won the most games in the National League yet did not make the playoffs. The Detroit Tigers, with probably the worst defensive starting line-up in the majors today – and one of the worst of all-time among serious contenders – will likely blow through the American League Central and could easily start the playoffs as the odds-on favorite to win the ALCS and even The Series.
Consider them, and leave your images of them at bat, back in your mental dugout:
— Prince Fielder at first base: Decent forward motion for a man of his size, and unexpected ups, too. But going after a liner to either side should be accompanied by a public address system announcement of “timber.”
— Ryan Rayburn at second: You need to see the video again of him doing the Jai-Alai bit in left field to send Miguel Olivo’s fly ball over the fence? Here’s the link.
— Jhonny Peralta at short: This is an ex-shortstop turned third baseman and reconverted to short. And he’s the infield stalwart.
— Miguel Cabrera at third: No.
— Delmon Young in left: This will make you hanker for Raburn.
— Brennan Boesch in right: Immobile.
— Alex Avila catching: He’s a gifted receiver but, without Victor Martinez to help him out, the temptation for Jim Leyland to play him 133 more times behind the plate will be huge. His exhaustion down the stretch last year was ultimately disastrous.
You’ll notice I left out Austin Jackson. Obviously he is one of the best centerfielders in the game, not just fast but instinctive on balls off the bat, and in his throwing. But between Young and Boesch (or any of the alternatives) in that of all ballparks, they are asking him to cover a lot of ground.
But of course this is academic. When Salvador Perez and Joakim Soria went down, they postponed any chance of a KANSAS CITY uprising until next season. The Royals needed everything to break their way to offer a serious challenge, and we already know it won’t. They can live without Soria but pulling either Greg Holland or Jonathan Broxton out of their set-up pool will wind up overburdening the rotation. I still think the Royals could manage a second-place finish, but it’ll be distant behind a Tiger offense and pitching staff that are each 50% better than anything else in the division.
CLEVELAND is beginning to understand that if Ubaldo Jimenez did not hit his high water mark at the 2010 All-Star Game, he did so in the “Zander?” commercial with Jorge De La Ros about the bicycle license plates. How they could not see that he had lost command and speed suggests the Indians need to sign up for cable or a dish. That he cost them Drew Pomeranz and Alex White may come to haunt the Indians the way the Mike Napoli deal haunts the Angels. Manny Acta will get everything out of this team, but exactly who is going to make the decision to pull Jimenez out of the rotation?
Sometimes rebuilds can be fun. Consider the rookies and sophomores in CHICAGO: closer-in-waiting Addison Reed, relievers Hector Santiago and Nate Jones, third baseamn Brent Morel, rightfielder (well, hitter in right field) Dayan Viciedo, and, the most intriguing prospect of them all, Manager Robin Ventura. The White Sox will struggle to see .500 but Ventura’s extraordinary equanimity, devious humor, and quiet command will set a tone for quick recovery. Whether the White Sox have enough coming up through the pipeline to make them contenders in the near term is another thing all together.
Before you cast stones at MINNESOTA – be honest. Did you cry “no” when they gave then-recent-MVP Justin Morneau the big money? Did you say it was ludicrous when they gave Joe Mauer his $184,000,000 or did you extol the virtues of the small market team that could somehow afford to keep its hometown hero? You didn’t warn, I didn’t, the fans didn’t, and Twins ownership didn’t. And now we’re all on a possibly-irreversible trip to an AL Central version of the current events in Houston or Pittsburgh: exquisite new ballpark, faithful fans, and a team that can’t even afford to retain a Delmon Young during a season or a rehabbed Joe Nathan following it. It’s grim and it’s a reminder that Cincinnati is one blown-out kneecap away from having to give 51% of the franchise ownership to a suddenly-retired Joey Votto in lieu of paying a suddenly-retired Joey Votto.
AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL FORECAST:
Tigers, with or without a Statuary Defense, should win this division by double digits. The Royals and Indians will fight for second (and fight to stay over .500) and the White Sox will likely come in a few notches under. The Twins may be bad enough for the team to have to put up twelve-foot high fences to keep their most loyal fans from throwing themselves into the Fire Pits at Target Field.