Posts Tagged ‘Kansas City Royals’

The MLB awards season continues here today, but where the games usually ended this past summer. It’s time to recognize the top relief pitchers in each league, one that is fairly familiar to these parts, and another that may very well be on his way to digging in the same fashion…

 

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2014 National League Goose Gossage Winner—Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta Braves

It is becoming old hat at this point for this nod to go the Braves fireballer. Well actually, the hat probably looks about as worn out as Kimbrel’s does by September, because since he took ahold of the Braves’ reins in the ninth innings four years ago, he has set the curve for all relievers in the game.

For the fourth consecutive year, he landed at least a share of the NL saves title, this time notching 47 in 51 opportunities. It is the third straight season he converted at least 92% of his save chances, and by reaching at least 40 saves this past year, he became the third player to ever reach that mark in four consecutive seasons.

To be only 26 years old, his performances are becoming regularly aligned with history at quite an early rate. He is already the all-time saves leader in Atlanta, as well as becoming the only player to begin his career with four saves titles. Via his combo of power fastball, which he varies between 95-to-100 mph at will, and spiking curveball that scrapes 90 mph itself, he has become a strikeout factory. He became the fastest pitcher to ever reach 400 K’s this year, needing just over 230 innings to reach the mark (a rate of 14.8 k’s per nine innings). For his career, he has rang up strikeouts against 42% of his opponents, and he allowed six less baserunners than innings pitched this year.

The numbers are regularly impressive, but what he represented in Atlanta has continued to increase in value yearly. He is the lynch pin of the Brave pitching staff, the truest example of what it means to make playing a team an “8 inning affair”. In a year where the Braves bullpen had to confront more injuries than in many others, his presence assured that the end result remained the same.

And has long as he continues to man the ninth with that signature glare into home plate, beating the Braves stands to be task done much easier earlier than later.

Runner Up 1: Aroldis Chapman, Reds

Runner Up 2: Mark Melanco, Pirates

 

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2014 American League Goose Gossage Relief Pitcher of the Year—Greg Holland, Kansas City Royals

The American League’s answer to Kimbrel is another compact, fireballer that keeps the opportunities to an absolute minimum. In fact, Holland was even more proficient in slamming the door shut, closing out 46 of the 48 opportunities he was presented with. It was a continuation of the reputation he put into the atmosphere last year: Greg Holland is the best in the biz in the junior circuit.

His 5’10 and barely 200 pound structure belies the fact that he possesses some of the most overpowering raw stuff in the game. Holland’s 46 saves were good for second in the AL, while he converted at least 96% of his chances, the top mark in the league. The top gun in the three-headed KC monster pen of Wade Davis and Kelvin Herrera continued his dominant fashion in how he goes about his business, striking out 90 batters in just over 60 innings and allowing only 57 baserunners on the year—of which only 10 runs were credit against him, for an ERA of 1.44.

One of the Royals great strengths as they made their first run to the postseason in 29 years was the reliability of its bullpen. With Holland—who made his second All-Star appearance in as many years—leading the way, the KC bullpen tied for the AL lead in saves, led in save percentage and yielded the third fewest bases of any AL unit. For Holland, it continued a two year streak where he has posted an unworldly

line of converting 93-of-99 save opportunities, while posting a 1.32 ERA over his last 129.1 innings and striking out 193 batters against only 38 walks and a .170 average against him.

The question of who would be the next standard bearer in the ninth inning after Mariano Rivera walked away seemed to be simply answered by saying Kimbrel. But Holland is making quite the push to make that a “not so fast” conclusion.

Runner Up 1: Fernando Rodney, Mariners

Runner Up 2: Jake McGee, Rays

 

Past Winners:

2013: Craig Kimbrel (Braves), Koji Uehara (Red Sox)

2012: Craig Kimbrel (Braves), Fernando Rodney (Rays)

 

For more commentary on the awards year, the free agent bonanza to boom and the game just being the game, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan

 

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Cabrera_

Nothing was the same in the middle ground point of the American League last year….well sort of. The Tigers did win the division for the third consecutive year, but they were not pushed by their usual rivals in the Chicago White Sox. Instead, it was a mixture of a coming of age revival in Kansas City, as well as a rebuilt and recharged Indians club that made the division quite interesting for the first time in a while.

2013 Finish

1. Detroit Tigers (93-69)

2. Cleveland Indians (92-70)

3. Kansas City Royals (86-76)

4. Minnesota Twins (66-96)

5. Chicago White Sox (63-99)

Looking ahead at this year, and there is perhaps no division with more clubs in “win now” mode than the Central. The Royals are at a boiling point coming off of their progressive 2013 campaign, with their young studs at a complete maturity point and their rotation anchor, that they traded the farm for just last season, likely in his last year in town. Likewise, the Indians have taken a few losses from last year’s surprise Wild Card-winning club, but are still laden with young talent and a manager in Terry Francona that proved he still has the innate ability to get production out of players they failed to see in themselves. Even the bottom feeders in the division have made strides to get back into the mix. The Twins moved their all-universe catcher in Joe Mauer to first base to get more from him more often, while the White Sox had an understated, but clear overhaul on their roster to attempt to reverse the free fall they spun into last summer.

Even the champs have refused to stay pat. While the Central has been the Tigers’ lair, they saw fit to make some stunning changes, shipping out a franchise cornerstone in Prince Fielder after only two years, and moving on All-Star pitcher Doug Fister, all in the name finding some sort of edge that is more than just being a regular division champion, but fizzling out before becoming much more. Will the winter of change be enough to shake things up in the AL Central? Or will it be more of the same when the summer dust settles?

All-Division Team

1. Austin Jackson—Tigers, Center Field

2. Torii Hunter—Tigers, Right Field

3. Jason Kipnis—Indians, Second Base

4. Miguel Cabrera—Tigers, First Base

5. Victor Martinez—Tigers, Designated Hitter

6. Alex Gordon—Royals, Left Field

7. Salvador Perez—Royals, Catcher

8. Trevor Plouffe—Twins, Third Base

9. Astrubal Cabrera—Indians, Shortstop

Mauer's move from behind the plate is the only thing that keeps him from his division's dream team. He has only hit beneath .315 once in the past six years, including finishing 2nd in the AL batting race a year ago.

Mauer’s move from behind the plate is the only thing that keeps him from the division dream team. He has only hit beneath .315 once in the past six years, including finishing 2nd in the AL batting race a year ago.

Starting Pitcher: Justin Verlander—Tigers

Starting Pitcher: Max Scherzer—Tigers

Starting Pitcher: James Shields—Royals

Starting Pitcher: Chris Sale—White Sox

Right Handed Reliever: Aaron Crow—Royals

Lefty Handed Reliever: Tim Collins—Royals

Closer: Greg Holland—Royals

Cleveland's decision to build around the multi-talented Kipnis was a good one. The fourth-year second baseman leads sneaky balanced team with a pennant chase under its belt now.

Cleveland’s decision to build around the multi-talented Kipnis was a good one. The fourth-year second baseman leads sneaky balanced team with a pennant chase under its belt now.

Lineup

1. Tigers

2. Royals

3. Indians

4. White Sox

5. Twins

Just taking a look back up at the all-division lineup tells you all you need to know about the potency of the Tigers lineup. Even without Fielder, their 1-6 of Ian Kinsler, Hunter, Cabrera, Martinez, Jackson and Alex Avila is just a gauntlet. However the Royals have a relentless balance of speed and line drive hitters, built around the ability to score in bunches. Likewise, the Indians have a lineup that could be more potent this year than last, as their core continues to develop.

Heart of the Lineup

1. Tigers

2. Royals

3. Indians

4. White Sox

5. Twins

Cabrera is the best hitter alive, and has won the previous three AL batting titles and previous two MVPs. Simply put, he’s better than the heart of a few teams lineups himself. However, KC could see an upswing in production from the heart of its lineup with the decision to move Gordon back into it, just as the White Sox should be more potent with the addition of Cuban first baseman Jose Dariel Abreu.

Table Setters

1. Tigers

2. Royals

3. Indians

4. White Sox

5. Twins

The place that the Tigers get most noticeably better is at the top of their lineup, by adding a bonafide speed/contact/power threat in Kinsler to join the ageless Hunter. But the addition of Norichika Aoki (.356 on-base %) in Kansas City, along with former Tiger Omar Infante (.345 OBP) gives the Royals a hellacious duo to lead off games as well.

Depth

1. Indians

2. White Sox

3. Tigers

4. Royals

5. Twins

Cleveland won with an everyman approach last season, and they return a team that is capable of pulling out all stops for contributions. With Mike Aviles and Ryan Rayburn as versatile weapons at his disposal, Francona can compete even at less than 100% roster availability. An increase in MLB-ready youth as made the White Sox deeper, with players such as Dayan Viciedo and Matt Davidson waiting in the wings, and experienced utility man Jeff Keppinger back in a more suiting support role.

The trio of Verlander, Scherzer and Sanchez give Detroit three All-Star starters that passed 200 strikeouts last summer.

The trio of Verlander, Scherzer and Sanchez give Detroit three All-Star starters that passed 200 strikeouts last summer, all before reaching the promise of Rick Porcello and Drew Smyly.

Rotation

1. Tigers

2. Royals

3. Indians

4. White Sox

5. Twins

Detroit boasts the AL’s best rotation, with Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander (winners of the 2 of the last 3 AL Cy Youngs) headlining, and the underrated Anibal Sanchez (the 2013 AL ERA champ) coming out behind them. The Twins still have a ways to go, but added a headliner in Ricky Nolasco and solid rebuild project in Phil Hughes to help resurrect the Majors worst starting five from a year ago.

1-2 Punch

1. Tigers

2. Royals

3. White Sox

4. Indians

5. Twins

There is no better 1-2 combo in the game than Scherzer and Verlander, who have combined to win 67 games over the past two seasons. James Shields is perhaps the most indispensable member of any rotation that is slated to be in the pennant race this year, as his presence likely guarantees the Royals stay in the division and/or wild card race or if he is shipped out to help another contenders chances. In Chicago, it is tough (if not impossible) to name a better under 25-or-younger hurler than Chris Sale.

Holland ascended to the ninth inning elite a year ago, closing out 47 games while holding batters to a .170 clip against him.

Holland ascended to the ninth inning elite a year ago, closing out 47 games while holding batters to a .170 clip against him.

Bullpen

1. Royals

2. Tigers

3. Twins

4. Indians

5. White Sox

Spearheaded by Greg Holland, Aaron Crow, Tim Collins and Kelvin Herrera, the Royal pen led the AL in relief ERA by nearly half a run at 2.55 and had the lowest average against at .217. It is one of the premier units in all of the game, even with Luke Hochevar lost for the year. The Tigers’ Achilles heel has been locking down games late, but they spent top dollar on Joe Nathan (43 saves, 1.39 ERA) to end those concerns. Glen Perkins is one of the more underrated closers in the game, closing out 52 of the Twins tough earned wins over the past two years.

Defense

1. Royals

2. Indians

3. White Sox

4. Tigers

5. Twins

By a team defense measuring metric, the superb Royals defense saved 93 total runs last year. With Gold Glovers in Eric Hosmer and Salvador Perez leading the way, the Royals cover their spacious home in Kaufmann Field exceptionally well. The addition of Adam Eaton to Alejandro De Aza in Chicago gives the Sox two very athletic outfielders to accompany an equally capable middle infield of Gordon Beckham and Alexei Ramirez.

Manager

1. Terry Francona—Indians

2. Ron Gardenhire—Twins

3. Robin Ventura—White Sox

4. Brad Ausmus—Tigers

5. Ned Yost—Royals

Francona proved his worth as one of the game’s best game managers and motivators last year, pulling the Indians into the postseason in his first year in Rock City and becoming the AL Manager of the Year in the process. Ventura and Gardenhire are held in high regard, despite the lacks of talent they have at their command. Ausmus will be asked to fill in some sizable shoes in replacing the retired Jim Leyland.

Finances

1. Tigers

2. White Sox

3. Indians

4. Royals

5. Twins

The Tigers have shown the willingness to spend the extra dollar to add what is needed to win, and they may have to do so sooner than later to address their suddenly empty shortstop position. Conversely, the Royals and Indians are a pair of franchises that are all in financially entering the season, and finding that extra piece late in the year would take some maneuvering.

Abreu is a major part of both the immediate and impending scene with on the South Side. He has plus power and the chance to be built around in the cleanup spot.

Abreu is a major part of both the immediate and impending scene with on the South Side. He has plus power and the chance to be built around in the cleanup spot.

Impact Additions

1. Joe Nathan (Tigers via free agency)

2. Jose Dariel Abreu (White Sox via free agency)

3. Ian Kinsler (Tigers via trade)

4. Omar Infante (Royals via free agency)

5. Norichika Aoki (Royals via trade)

The Royals made a series of moves in the offseason to add quality depth, at reasonable costs. The outcome was Infante, Aoki, Jason Vargas and Danny Valencia. Going in the completely different direction, the White Sox made a leap of faith in giving $60+ million to Abreu to add some needed life to a shiftless lineup.

Leap Forward

1. Danny Salazar—Indians

2. Drew Smyly—Tigers

3. Jose Quintana—White Sox

4. Adam Eaton—White Sox

5. Kyle Gibson—Twins

Salazar played so well down the stretch he was chosen to pitch the AL Wild Card game after only 10 games. The club believes in him enough that it was comfortable with letting Scott Kazmir and Ubaldo Jimenez leave this winter. A similar belief in Smyly allowed the Tigers to move on from Doug Fister and his impending contract negotiations.

Rookies/Propects To Watch

1. Jose Dariel Abreu—White Sox

2. Nick Castellanos—Tigers

3. Yordano Ventura—Royals

4. Matt Davidson—White Sox

5. Erik Johnson—White Sox

No longer is Castellanos log jammed behind an out of position Cabrera at third base, and he will enter the season as a favorite to push for AL Rookie of the Year. The White Sox youth movement is based around acquiring a handful of quick to play rookies such as Abreu and Davidson, who they will put into the mix immediately this year.

PREDICTIONS

1. Detroit Tigers

2. Kansas City Royals

3. Cleveland Indians

4. Chicago White Sox

5. Minnesota Twins

The AL Central has long been a class struggle of a mix: the bourgeoisie, the proletariat and the impoverished all very clearly separated. But if things play out the way they could this year, it could be a mostly competitive division. The White Sox are better, as are the Royals. It doesn’t seem like it, but the Twins are slowly pulling it together and have one of the game’s best managers to oversee it. The Indians have more fight than any other team, and while some pieces are gone, they are far from has beens.

Then there are the Tigers, and they are….well different than they have been before. But that is a good thing, because what was in place, while good enough to win the division every year, had peaked and needed to be adjusted. They made some stunning moves, but stayed strong where they already were and got more versatile in the process—all while keeping the game’s best hitter and two of its premiere pitchers in two.

But the Royals should not be underestimated. In many ways, they resemble the Pirates of last year in they got a taste of the race, return an improved mix of vets and matured talents and have talent on par with both of the teams that finished ahead of them the previous year. In the end, the Tigers are still the class of the division and will push for the league’s best record as they always do, but the Royals will push them all summer and break into the postseason for the first time in a generation.

For more on the year as it approaches in the Central, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan.

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In the second entry of this series, the spotlight turns to Carlos Beltran, who has had quite the diverse career. In his 16-year career, he’s had five stops along the road, starting with the Kansas City Royals, before a brief (yet impactful…more on this later) stop in Houston. Then he had the longest stop of his career with the New York Mets, before another brief stop in San Francisco, before arriving at his current home with the St. Louis Cardinals. All along, his career has been defined by the rare run of constant potential: the chance to be a big time player, then the opportunity to showcase it, due to a mixture of struggling clubs and injury woes. However, when all things are considered, he’s put together a solid resume of work and has been one of the better outfielders of the past decade. But is that enough for him to be considered on a historic level? Let’s see where Beltran stands on the big picture.

The Numbers (pre-2013)

–          16 years (age 36): .282 avg, 334 home runs, 1243 RBI, 2064 hits, 416 doubles, 74 triples, 306 stolen bases, .360 on-base percentage, .496 slugging percentage

1. The Case For: When he was one of the most consistent hitters in baseball for the better part of his first ten seasons. He played his first full season at age 22, and also had his first 100 RBI season. He followed that with eight of the next ten seasons, averaging 98 RBI per season. Across that same time span, he hit better than 25 home runs six different times, with a career-high of 41 in 2006. It is arguable what was his greatest skill during that time span as well, his power or his speed. From 2001-04, he averaged 37 stolen bases a season, and his 38 homer/42 stolen base 2004 season made him a strong member of the 30-30 club. He is also one of the most accomplished switch hitters of all-time, hitting the sixth most homers ever for a split duty guy. He’s also the only switch hitter in MLB history to hit 300 homers and steal 300 bases.

However, his two very strong assets that set him apart from a glut of other dually capable players is ability in the field and his high pressure ability. At his best, he was one of the best defensive center fielders in baseball. He won three Gold Gloves from 2006-08 when his game was at its best, and twice won the Fielding Bible’s honors for best center fielder in baseball as well. He has a strong and accurate arm as well, and has eight seasons of at least 10 outfield assists.

In postseason play, he is one of the greatest hitters of all-time. He has a .363 batting average in 37 career playoff games, along with 14 home runs, including a record eight in one postseason in a 2004 October with the Astros that only consisted of 12 games. His five consecutive postseason games with a homer that season are also a record.

2. The Case Against: While Beltran’s production has been impressive; he did lose some significant years to injury in his mid-prime seasons. Over a three-year stretch from 2009-2011, he played in a total of 287 games, and only played in over half a season once. During this time he battled multiple knee injuries, which robbed him of much of his speed. From 2009-2012, he averaged only eight stolen bases a season, and had to move to right field due to both loss of range and preservation. He’s never been a particularly prolific hitter from an average sense either, only hitting over .290 three times in his career. Also, despite a long and steady career, he’s been an All-Star in less than half his seasons, and has never finished in the Top 3 in any Most Valuable Player vote.

3. Similiar Players (through age 35)

Andre Dawson (.283 avg, 346 home runs, 1231 RBI, 2201 hits, 396 doubles, 300 steals)

Dave Winfield (.285 avg, 332 home runs, 1331 RBI, 2241 hits, 375 doubles, 200 steals)

Bernie Williams (.301 avg, 263 home runs, 1132 RBI, 2097 hits, 401 doubles, 144 steals)

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Diversity is Beltran’s ally, but being able to see the peak of his abilities completely could be his undoing when it comes time for the vote.

4. Cooperstown Likelihood (what’s it going to take): Beltran finds himself in a tough position regarding how he profiles for the Hall of Fame. As a centerfielder, he finds himself in an extremely difficult group to compare against in terms of all-time numbers. There have been 18 primary players at the position that have been inducted thus far, not counting the inevitable election of Ken Griffey, Jr before Beltran’s eligibility clock starts.

Once again, the potential of Beltran comes in the spotlight again. He both is, and isn’t, an elite performer at his position. Beltran’s career WAR (64.9) tells a story that shows him on the fringe of being in the top 10 players to ever play the position. His five-tooled impact during his prime and late career renaissance as a power hitter has helped him to get in range of some very solid marks. With another 20 home runs in 2013, he’ll pass none other than Joe DiMaggio’s career mark of 361, as well as move him into the top 10 all-time at centerfield. That’s an impressive, but it’s really the only strong claim to fame he’ll make.

The potential of Carlos Beltran will ultimately be his undoing. He lost the years that would have put him firmly in range to make a run at the Hall, especially in light of the productive turn he’s taken with the Cardinals in the last two years. His three-year average coming into the 2009 season, where injuries first took a substantial toll on him (at age 32, his late prime) was a .278/34/113 effort, with 22 steals and 37 doubles added on as well. An addition two years of those changes everything about what his potential is. He’d be in range to top 400 home runs and 2,500 hits, in addition to the 300 steals he’s already accumulated.

An output of that caliber would have put Beltran on par with Dawson, who was considered to be more of a fringe HOF. Who knows what could have happened in withat time. Perhaps Beltran would have filled out his entire potential, and became the best player in the National League for at least one full season (although he had terrible timing for a coming of age with the dominance of Barry Bonds and Albert Pujols happening simultaneously as his best years). Beltran has as unique niche established, but it’s all based on the ‘almost’ instead of the ‘done’. He’s a postseason hero, without a Championship. He is a power hitter, who’s never led in any major category. A Rookie of the Year, that never took the next major award step. Instead of having the case that Dawson had, being an MVP, he’s more in the haze range of Andruw Jones and Jim Edmonds, and as of now, that’s proven to be very great, but not immortal.

So, when it’s all said and done, and the question is asked about Carlos Beltran’s place in history: is he in, out or in-between, the numbers are solid, but the time lost will hurt, and he will remain OUT.

For more on Beltran’s road to prove me wrong (although he’ll never ever know I wrote this in all likelihood), follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan.

Justin+Verlander+Miguel+Cabrera+Kansas+City+jOMIn3GJU5Zl

The American League Central went a little differently than expected last year. Yeah, the bad teams were that and the good teams were that, but it took a lot longer road to figure it. The Chicago White Sox were legit for much of the season, behind an MVP-caliber early effort from Paul Konerko, Chris Sale’s emergence and bounce back campaigns from Alex Rios and Adam Dunn. In a division that was supposed to clearly belong to the Detroit Tigers, it seemed like a coup was on deck.

That was until Miguel Cabrera went into overdrive. The Tigers third baseman went on a second-half tear, and finished up the season by pulling his club to not only a division title, but to the World Series, and secured a first in 45 years Triple Crown for himself as well.

2012 Finish

1.                   Tigers (88-74)
2.                   White Sox (85-77)
3.                   Royals (72-90)
4.                   Indians (68-94)
5.                   Twins (66-96)

A year later, and the Tigers are perhaps better equipped than they left off, but it is not the same AL Central either. The Royals made a big, gamblers splash in the offseason, and are rounding into shape as legit competitors. Meanwhile the Cleveland Indians were a surprise aggressor on the open market, and have handed new manager Terry Francona a lot of weapons to utilize. For the first time in years, former MVP Justin Morneau is back to join Joe Mauer at the core of the Twins attack, and the White Sox are still in the fray as well. The Tigers had to fight their way to top last season, and if a similar bumpy road comes in front of them this time around, will a third consecutive division title be there for the taking this year?

All Division Team

Catcher: Joe Mauer-Twins

First Base: Prince Fielder-Tigers

Second Base: Jason Kipnis-Indians

Third Base: Miguel Cabrera-Tigers

Shortstop: Alcides Escobar-Royals

Left Field: Alex Gordon-Royals

Center Field: Austin Jackson-Tigers

Right Field: Josh Willingham-Twins

Designated Hitter: Billy Butler-Royals

In regaining his health, Mauer regained his bat as well. His .416 on-base percentage led the AL.

In regaining his health, Mauer regained his bat as well. His .416 on-base percentage led the AL.

Starting Pitcher: Justin Verlander-Tigers

Starting Pitcher: James Shields-Royals

Starting Pitcher: Chris Sale-White Sox

Starting Pitcher: Jake Peavy-White Sox

Righty Relief: Vinnie Pestano-Indians

Lefty Relief: Tim Collins-Royals

Closer: Chris Perez-Indians

Top 10

  1. Miguel Cabrera, Tigers
  2. Justin Verlander, Tigers
  3. Prince Fielder, Tigers
  4. Joe Mauer, Twins
  5. Alex Gordon, Royals
  6. James Shields, Royals
  7. Paul Konerko, White Sox
  8. Billy Butler, Royals
  9. Chris Sale, White Sox
  10. Austin Jackson, Tigers

Lineup

  1. Tigers
  2. Royals
  3. Indians
  4. White Sox
  5. Twins

The Tigers already could do serious damage with Cabrera and Fielder coming in behind Austin Jackson. Yet now the rich will get richer with Victor Martinez back from injury and Torii Hunter taking swings from the two spot, the Tigers 1-5 everyday lineup is ridiculous. Don’t sleep on the Royals either, with Salvador Perez, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Alcides Escobar all primed for breakthrough seasons.

Dunn and Konerko combined for 67 homers at the heart of the White Sox lineup.

Dunn and Konerko combined for 67 homers at the heart of the White Sox lineup.

Heart of the Lineup

  1. Tigers (Cabrera/Fielder/Martinez)
  2. White Sox (Konerko/Dunn/Rios)
  3. Twins (Mauer/Willingham/Morneau)
  4. Royals (Butler/Perez/Moustakas)
  5. Indians (Kipnis/Swisher/Santana)

There may not be a better 3-4-5 in baseball, depending on how well Martinez rehabs. However, the rest of the division is in good shape in the midst of their orders as well. The Indians are the relative worst in the division, with Nick Swisher, who hit 24 home runs last season, at the core of it. The entire fortune of the Twins rests on what Mauer, Willingham and Morneau are capable of pulling off each day.

Table Setters

  1. Tigers (Jackson/Hunter)
  2. Royals (Gordon/Escobar)
  3. Indians (Bourn/Cabrera)
  4. White Sox (De Aza/Keppinger)
  5. Twins (Mastroianni/Carroll)

Once again, the Tigers rule. Jackson was a terror last season, hitting double digits in doubles, triples and home runs, and topped 100 runs scored for second time in three years. By adding Bourn, the Indians add the most dynamic stolen base threat in baseball over the past five years. Alejandro De Aza is coming into his own as well, getting on-base at .329% clip.

Bench

  1. Indians
  2. Tigers
  3. Royals
  4. White Sox
  5. Twins

Quintin Berry is capable of producing anywhere in the Detroit outfield, and Ramon Santiago is capable at every position in the infield. In Cleveland, Terry Francona will be able to split time in multiple areas, with a very diverse bench of Mike Aviles, Ryan Rayburn and Lou Marson.

Rotation

  1. Tigers
  2. White Sox
  3. Royals
  4. Indians
  5. Twins

Justin Verlander, winning of 41 games since 2011, is a great start, but Max Scherzer, Doug Fister and the resigning of Anibal Sanchez gives them a glutton on riches. A bounce back effort from John Danks would go a long way towards giving the Sox one of the better AL rotations. The addition of James Shields, Ervin Santana and Wade Davis has completely revamped the Royals attack as a team.

The durable Shields was brought in to be both an example and stabilizer atop the Royals rotation.

The durable Shields was brought in to be both an example and stabilizer atop the Royals rotation.

1-2 Punch

  1. Tigers (Verlander/Scherzer)
  2. White Sox (Sale/Peavy)
  3. Royals (Shields/Guthrie)
  4. Indians (Masterson/Jimenez)
  5. Twins (Worley/Correia)

While there’s no question who’s the top dog in the D, Sale and Peavy are both capable of anchoring a very competitive club, as they proved last season in combining for 28 Chicago W’s. The Twins see a lot of potential in Vance Worley, as he inherited the top spot in their rotation from the second he was acquired. The Indians have a ton of potential, which has struggled to move past being only that in the inconsistent Ubaldo Jimenez and Justin Masterson

Bullpen

  1. Royals
  2. Indians
  3. Tigers
  4. Twins
  5. White Sox

One of the quietest, dominant units in baseball is the KC pen. They have 4 hurlers in Greg Holland, Tim Collins, Aaron Crow and Kelvin Herrera that can throw pure smoke. They are very versatile, and can be deployed in a variety of situations. Vinnie Pestano finished second in the AL in holds last season for Cleveland, while Glen Perkins limited left-handed hitters to a .192 average in Minnesota.

Defense

  1. Royals
  2. White Sox
  3. Indians
  4. Twins
  5. Tigers

The biggest Achilles for the Tigers is the fact their defensive often makes their potent lineup and pitching staff work too hard for wins. That’s not a problem that the Royals, as Gordon and Francouer are arguably the best defensive corner outfielders in baseball, while Escober, Hosmer, Moustakas and Getz are the best defensive infield in the game. The White Sox 70 errors were the fewest in MLB as a team.

Bourn pushes both the Indians extra base (42 steals) and defensive potential (2 Gold Gloves) to a new level.

Bourn pushes both the Indians extra base (42 steals) and defensive potential (2 Gold Gloves) to a new level.

Speed

  1. Royals
  2. Indians
  3. White Sox
  4. Tigers
  5. Twins

There’s not a bad runner on the team in KC, save for Billy Butler, but he’s not paid for that gig. In Cleveland, Bourn and Stubbs are fast enough to play a two-man outfield if needed (I’m sure of it). Between Alex Rios, Alexei Ramirez, DeWayne Wise and DeAza combined for 81 steals a year ago, and the best team defensive percentage .

Manager

  1. Jim Leyland, Tigers
  2. Ron Gardenhire, Twins
  3. Terry Francona, Indians
  4. Robin Ventura, White Sox
  5. Ned Yost, Royals

Leyland and Francona have a combined four World Series wins, and are two of the greatest motivators in the game…albeit in very different fashions. Ventura jumped from college baseball analyst to an 85-win MLB rookie manager last year. Also, there’s a reason why there’s no talk of trouble around Gardenhire despite two consecutive 90-loss seasons; it’s scary to think how bad it could be WITHOUT him.

Finances

  1. Tigers
  2. White Sox
  3. Indians
  4. Royals
  5. Twins

The Tigers played it cool for the most part on the market, outside of keeping their club intact for another run. They’ll need to hold funds back for the always needed in-season addition mid pennant chase most likely, especially with their current bullpen condition. The Indians had a surprisingly aggressive spending run this offseason, which could see them as sellers if it doesn’t payout by mid-summer.

Impact Additions

  1. James Shields (Royals from Rays)
  2. Michael Bourn (Indians from Braves)
  3. Nick Swisher (Indians from Yankees)
  4. Torii Hunter (Tigers from Angels)
  5. Wade Davis (Royals via trade)

The Royals made the ballsy move of the winter in trading everybody’s top prospect in Wil Myers to the Rays for Shields and Davis. It is a huge “win now” move from a franchise that hasn’t been in a position to do that in some time. The Indians core was rebuilt starting with Swisher, and later Bourn. Add in Trevor Bauer and Mark Reynolds, and it was an interesting winter in AL Ohio.

The continued growth and experience of Hosmer and Perez is at the heart of the Royals rise this summer.

The continued growth and experience of Hosmer and Perez is at the heart of the Royals rise this summer.

Leap Forward Candidates

  1. Salvador Perez,Royals
  2. Eric Hosmer, Royals
  3. Jason Kipnis, Indians
  4. Anibal Sanchez, Tigers
  5. Greg Holland, Royals

The time is finally here for the Royals window of competition to open. A key component will be Perez rising up to the elite producers at catcher this summer. He’s hit .311 in first 115 games, and should rise over 20 homers as well. If Hosmer can rebound from his down sophomore effort, the everyday lineup will have a lot more punch. Kipnis has a chance to ascend into the upper tier of second basemen in baseball this season.

Rookies/Prospects to Watch

  1. Trevor Bauer (Pitcher, Indians-MLB)
  2. Bruce Rondon (Pitcher, Tigers-MLB)
  3. Nick Castellanos (Third Base, Tigers-AAA)
  4. Aaron Hicks (Center Field, Twins-MLB)
  5. Francisco Lindor (Shortstop, Indians-A)

The biggest question mark for any serious competitor may be the Tigers’ closer situation. Rondon blew through the minors, and has been in the mix for the final frame in the Majors as well. If he takes on the role this year, he could be in the mix for AL Rookie of the Year. Hicks has blown up on the scene this spring and looks ready to step in and live up to his former Top 10 prospect potential.

2013 PREDICTIONS

  1. Tigers
  2. Royals
  3. Indians
  4. White Sox
  5. Twins

The Central is a division in transition…in the middle. Kansas City has improved each of the last three seasons, and is primed to make a major leap to league-wide respectability. This is due in part to the focus of management to add impact players to their maturing core, as well as a very balanced development of young talent both developed and acquired over the past few years. A run into the Wild Card picture should be expected, and a surge similar to last year’s Oakland Athletics should shock nobody.

Behind them, the margin between the Chicago White Sox and Cleveland Indians is close. Where Cleveland is strong at the plate, Chicago is tough one the mound. The margin of difference could come down to the better equipped system of the Indians vs. the barren Sox farm. The Indians have the pieces to add to their push from within, while the Sox do not. Cleveland’s lack of pitching will keep them from truly pushing the Tigers, but a rise 10 game improvement or should be in the cards.

The Twins are in the midst of a long and drawn out rebuilding phase that has finally hit its bottom floor, and is ready to look up again. An influx of youngsters around their lineup should make things exciting occasionally, but frustrating more often than not. Another 90-loss year is on deck.

That just leaves the Tigers in the end, and the question is more not where they’ll finish in the first 162, but if they finally have the legs to win the last four of the last series of the season. They are a study in extremes: huge bats/terrible defense, great starters/questionable bullpen end. These are the type of issues that separate a club from the other elite teams in the league in the end, not so much the division. They will win the Central by more games than any other divisional champ, and could produce both an MVP, Cy Young winner, Comeback Player of the Year and maybe even a Rookie of the Year. Those would-be accolades aside, the difference is in the details for Leyland’s club. And it will take the full stretch of games to see if this “win now” club gets over itself, to rise above everyone else.

Sergio Romo

The CHEAP SEATS breakout of the best units in baseball continues today, with a look at the best bullpens in baseball. This isn’t just the best closer, with a few other guys, but the teams that can make a window of opportunity really small to a get a W. There are some really strong groups of late arms coming into the league, with potentially some of the best units not even finishing among the Top 10 coming in. With Rafael Soriano still looking for a home as well, there’s still a huge piece that could change the fortune of a few of these groups, as well as a few not mention among them yet.

But this is what it is, and the series continues with a spotlight on the pitchers that don’t stand it as often…until the pressure is on highest.

 

1. Atlanta Braves: The only bullpen that can truly turn leads into six inning wins, and it got deeper this offseason. Craig Kimbrel has been the best closer in the game for his first two season in the game, converting 89 of 100 save opportunities, while opposing hitters have a .151 average against him. Eric O’Flaherty has 1.95 ERA over the last two seasons and Jonny Venters has struck out 258 batters in 229 pro innings. Add on Jordan Walden, who saved 32 games as a rookie All-Star in 2011, and you’ve got a devastating group.

2. San Francisco Giants: You’d think they would take a step backwards losing Brian Wilson at the beginning of the year, but not a skip was missed up and down their pen. That’s a testament to the game’s most balanced pen, with Sergio Romo handing in his second consecutive sub-2.00 ERA year, with 18 total saves. Santiago Casilla, Jeremy Affelt and George Kontos all handed in ERA’s below 3.00 as well.

3. Baltimore Orioles: The O’s weren’t the best late-inning team in the game just due to a knack for walk off hits. Their pen was the secret strength of the team, led by Jim Johnson, who saved 51 games while walking just 15 batters in over 60 innings. Pedro Strop, Darren O’Day, Luis Ayala and Troy Patton were the ultimate support group and 18 won total games.

4. Oakland A’s: Whether it was Ryan Cook (14 saves, 21 holds, .166 average against) or Grant Balfour (24 saves, 15 holds, .160 average against) closing games, the entire path through the late innings against the A’s was hell. With their entire pen returning, the American League’s best total pitching staff will be trouble again.

5. St. Louis Cardinals: Once again, the Cardinals’ staff stepped up big late in the season. Jason Motte tied for the NL lead in saves with 42, and Edward Mujica put up a 1.03 ERA after being acquired from the Marlins. Randy Choate (.158 average vs. left-handers) and Trevor Rosenthal (15 strikeouts in 8.5 playoff innings) could both be huge additions over the course of the full season in 2013.

6. Los Angeles Dodgers: Around their big name additions, the Dodgers have done a good job off filling in the details as well, starting with a solid bullpen. Brandon League will resume his role as a full-time closer, after saving 37 games in 2011. 2012’s closer Kenley Jansen, who struck out 13.7 batters per 9 innings, will open as setup man, and with Matt Guerrier, JP Howell and Ronald Belisario in the mix as well, there will be no shortage of situational arms available as well.

7. Boston Red Sox: There may be no team with more “what if” talent on their bullpen mix than the Bo Sox. Joel Hanahran (36 saves, 2.72 ERA in Pittsburgh) was their biggest acquisition of the winter, but if Daniel Bard, Andrew Bailey and Koji Uehara can also find their old forms (and health), this could be the group at the top of the list by next year.

Aroldis Chapman makes the Reds group a top 3 pen collection, but even without him, Cincy still has a ton of strong late inning arms.

Aroldis Chapman makes the Reds group a top 3 pen collection, but even without him, Cincy still has a ton of strong late inning arms.

8. Cincinnati Reds: Another group that has a pretty big “if” attached to it. With Aroldis Chapman, this is a top 3 unit, but since the plan is to move him to rotation currently, it slides some. Even without him available daily, it is still a strong unit led by Jonathan Broxton, Jose Arrendando and one of baseball’s best left-handed setup arms, Sean Marshall.

9. San Diego Padres: A great unit that makes a so-so club a lot better on its own. Despite losing Heath Bell and Mike Adams the last two years, the Padres still have 10 relievers that averaged better than a strikeout an inning. When he gets a chance, Huston Street was lights out, converting 96% of saves chances with a 1.85 ERA.

10. Tampa Bay Rays: Annual guarantee in baseball is the Rays will have a dynamic bullpen. It will be needed more than ever, with a rotation thinned out after trading it’s workhorse, James Shields, and setup man Wade Davis. However, Fernando Rodney (0.60 ERA and 48 saves in 74 innings), along with Jake McGee and Joel Peralta are a strong base for the next wave of certain to follow up and comers that will join the group to build off of.

 

Just Missed: Kansas City Royals, New York Yankees, Arizona Diamondbacks.

The 2011 AL Central was a tale of two halves. The Minnesota Twins were ravished by injuries, and “completed” for the league’s worst record instead of a third straight Central crown. The Kansas City Royals and Cleveland Indians played the opposite game early in the year, going from the outhouse to the penthouse and battling for the top of the division, until the Chicago White Sox entered the fray as well. But then the Tigers woke up, and never laid their heads down again.

2011 Finish

  1. Detroit Tigers (95-67)
  2. Cleveland Indians (80-82)
  3. Chicago White Sox (79-83)
  4. Kansas City Royals (71-91)
  5. Minnesota Twins (63-99)

Propelled by Justin Verlander’s unstoppable run that ended up with 25 wins and becoming the first dual MVP/Cy Young winning starting pitcher since 1986, as well as batting champion Miguel Cabrera, the Tigers went unconscious. They built up a 38-16 in August & September, and won the division by 15 games. All the while, Chicago’s huge offseason signing Adam Dunn had perhaps the worst season in MLB history (high strikeout total than batting average), the Joe Mauer & Justin Morneau missed a total of 173 games for Minnesota, the Royals caved in to their youth and the Indians couldn’t keep up for the long haul.

Now a year later, the Tigers still have their foot on the gas, and adding slugger Prince Fielder to their attack and enter the season in better shape than they ended the last in. How will the rest of the division cope? Will it still be up for grabs like it was for the first half of its story a year ago, with one the newly rehabbed and matured teams snatching the ring? Or will the defending Champs pick up where they left off, plus some?

All Division Team

Catcher: Joe Mauer, Twins

First Base: Prince Fielder, Tigers

Second Base: Jason Kipnis, Indians

Third Base: Miguel Cabrera, Tigers

Shortstop: Astrubal Cabrera, Indians

Left Field: Alex Gordon, Royals

Center Field: Austin Jackson, Tigers

Right Field: Shin-Shoo Choo, Indians

Designated Hitter: Billy Butler, Royals

The rich got a lot richer with Fielder coming to Detroit...in every possible way that statement can be applied.

Starting Pitcher: Justin Verlander, Tigers

Starting Pitcher: John Danks, White Sox

Starting Pitcher: Justin Masterson, Indians

Starting Pitcher: Doug Fister, Tigers

Bullpen Righty: Joaquin Benoit, Tigers

Bullpen Lefty: Tony Sipp, Indians

Closer: Jose Valverde, Tigers

Best Players

  1. Miguel Cabrera, Tigers
  2. Justin Verlander, Tigers
  3. Prince Fielder, Tigers
  4. Joe Mauer, Twins
  5. Jose Valerde, Tigers
  6. Paul Konerko, White Sox
  7. Eric Hosmer, Royals
  8. Ubaldo Jimenez, Indians
  9. Alex Gordon, Royals
  10. Shin-Soo Choo, Indians

Mauer is a .323 career hitter with three batting titles all before the age of 30.

Lineup

  1. Tigers
  2. Indians
  3. Royals
  4. White Sox
  5. Twins

The Tigers run away with this even after losing their second best bat for the year in Victor Martinez. It’s hard to believe that Fielder could leave Ryan Braun behind and find a better guy to hit behind, but he has done it in Cabrera. Add Alex Avila, Jhonny Peralta, Delmon Young and Brendan Boesch to the mix and it’s scary in the D. The Indians have Kipnis and Carlos Santana primed to have big breakthrough seasons. The Royals now have two legit power bats in Hosmer and Mike Moustakas that are ready to launch their developing lineup into a new level of productivity this year.

Rotation

  1. Tigers
  2. Indians
  3. Royals
  4. White Sox
  5. Twins

Verlander is the class of AL pitchers, and Doug Fister found the perfect ballpark for his ground ball-inducing style in Comerica. The Indians have a lot of depth in their rotaton, and if Ubaldo Jimenez can recapture his NL form, they will be formidable match for the Tigers. Francisco Liriano has looked like he shook off whatever curse he had last year this spring, and would be a big boost for Minnesota’s fortunes if he keeps it up.

25 wins, a no hitter, a Cy Young and an MVP; Verlander turned his 2011 alone into what stands for a great career for most.

1-2 Punch

  1. Tigers (Verlander & Scherzer)
  2. Indians (Jimenez & Masterson)
  3. White Sox (Floyd & Danks)
  4. Royals (Hochevar & Sanchez)
  5. Twins (Pavano & Baker)

Verlander himself may be better than most of the other combos in this division, but Scherzer is capable of greatness himself, if not consistency. The same goes for Jimenez, and Masterson is developing into one of the game’s best. Hochevar and Sanchez have huge ceilings and could be one of the most surprising duos in the game. If the White Sox keep Danks and Floyd together all season, the payout could be great, but that’s a big if.

Bullpen

  1. Tigers
  2. Indians
  3. White Sox
  4. Royals
  5. Twins

Valverde didn’t waste a save opportunity last season and returns to anchor a Tiger bullpen with a lot of quality arms. Chris Perez’s health is big for Cleveland, and Chicago’s pen will have a lot of guys settling into new, if not still temporary roles. The Royals pen had a chance to be a real strength, but potential Tommy John surgery for Joakim Soria may have them scraping for another year for consistency.

Tablesetters

  1. Tigers (Jackson & Boesch)
  2. White Sox (De Aza & Ramirez)
  3. Royals (Gordon & Giovantella)
  4. Indians (Brantley & Kipnis)
  5. Twins (Span & Carroll)
 

There are a lot of unconventional duos atop lineups in this division, but each has strong potential. Boesch will benefit from hitting in front of Cabrera & Fielder, and if Austin Jackson raises his on-base percentage past…. He could lead the AL in runs scored. De Aza has the potential to be a Juan Pierre clone, and if Minnesota cuts Denard Span lose more in an attempt to raise his trade marketability; he could put up big steal numbers. Gordon led the AL in doubles last season, and added 17 Steals as well.

Heart of the Order

  1. Tigers (Cabrera/Fielder/Young)
  2. Royals (Hosmer/Butler/Francouer)
  3. Indians (Choo/Santana/Hafner)
  4. Twins (Mauer/Morneau/Willingham)
  5. White Sox (Konerko/Dunn/Morel)

Pairing a Cabrera, who has averaged 35 homers over the last five years, with Fielder, who has averaged 40 a summer over the same time, is flat terrifying. It places the middle of Tigers order at the top of all of baseball just from its 3-4 alone. Hosmer is primed to be among the great hitters in the game already, and Carlos Santana brings nearly as precocious of a stick to Cleveland as well. The perhaps no lineup is more dependent on “ifs” than the White Sox on Dunn, and the Twins on both Mauer and Morneau.

Dunn is showing signs of turnaround this spring from his horrendous 2011 debut on the South Side.

Depth

  1. Tigers
  2. Royals
  3. Indians
  4. White Sox
  5. Twins

Brandon Inge and Ramon Santiago give the Tigers two very versatile players to plug in all over the place, and Gerald Laird is an important pick up to spell Avila, who wore out at the end of last season. In KC, Yuliensky Betancourt, Chris Getz and Mitch Maier will all provide sparks to KC, all before they dig into their substantially deep minor league crop as well. Kosuke Fukodome could be an important sub in Chicago.

Defense

  1. Royals
  2. White Sox
  3. Indians
  4. Tigers
  5. Twins

The Royals feature a Gold Glover in Gordon in right, as well as rightful winners (in my opinion) from a year ago in the right field and shortstop in Jeff Francouer and Alcides Escobar. They can cover the field well at every position. Chicago runs out a very good infield defense, headed by Alexei Ramirez. The Tigers crutch will be an underwhelming defense to match the output their offense puts on the board.

Escobar is one of the game's finest defenders at any position, and was the top prize gained for Zack Greinke.

Speed

  1. Royals
  2. White Sox
  3. Twins
  4. Indians
  5. Tigers

The young Royals have young legs as well. Gordon, Escobar and Johnny Giovantella can move. Even Hosmer stole 10 bases as a rookie, so KC is not afraid to find ways to take the extra base. De Aza and Ramirez can be firestarters in Chicago, as can Denard Span, Ben Revere and Jamey Carroll for the Twins.

Manager

  1. Tigers
  2. Twins
  3. Indians
  4. Royals
  5. White Sox

Giving Jim Leyland an abundance of talent is almost always the recipe for success, and he’s got as much this season as he’s ever had in Detroit. The Twins are coming off of a brutal 2011, but Ron Gardenhire is among the absolute best minds in the game, and if he has a healthy team, they could be a big surprise. Robin Ventura will go from ESPN College World Series commentator, to head of the Sox bench this year.

Rookies/Prospects to Watch

  1. Addison Reed (Pitcher, White Sox)
  2. Salvador Perez (Catcher, Royals)
  3. Mike Montgomery (Pitcher, Royals)
  4. Jacob Turner (Pitcher, Tigers)
  5. Chris Parmalee (First Baseman, Twins)

Reed sits in the mid to high 90’s and projects as the future closer of the team since Chris Sale has moved to the rotation and Sergio Santos was traded away. Perez hit .331 in a brief call-up at the end of the season, but after tearing his MCL this spring, it will be until after the All-Star break that he can return.

Finances

  1. Indians
  2. Tigers
  3. White Sox
  4. Royals
  5. Twins

The Indians have been aggressive in improving their roster since their surprising start, and stay, around the top of the Central last year. While they didn’t make a big splash in the winter market, they don’t seem to be afraid to go after whatever they may need. The Tigers have 3 players making $20 annually now, but being as close as they are to a title, they probably won’t be shy about future smart moves either.

Jimenez landing in Cleveland was a product of the Indians' new found aggressive approach on to the market.

Leap Forward Candidates

  1. Eric Hosmer, Royals
  2. Mike Moustakas, Royals
  3. Luke Hochevar, Royals
  4. Brendan Boesch, Tigers
  5. Danny Valencia, Twins

The future is nearly now for the Royals and the first wave of their extremely talented minor league crops are poised to make an impact in KC this summer. Hosmer is looking more and more like a Joey Votto-type and could have his first type of season the former MVP as made routine this summer. Moustakas will see benefit from his many plate appearances a year ago, and Hochevar was quietly one of the most successful second half pitchers in the AL last year.

Impact Additions

  1. Prince Fielder (Tigers from Brewers)
  2. Jonathan Sanchez (Royals from Giants)
  3. Josh Willingham (Twins from A’s)
  4. Jonathan Broxton (Royals from Dodgers)
  5. Derek Lowe (Indians from Braves)

Fielder’s winter patience paid off in the form of a massive nine year, $214 million dollar deal that instantly changed the AL forecast. Sanchez has a ton of potential, and the hard throwing lefty will bring championship experience to the young Royals.  The steady Willingham (20+ homers four of the last six years) should fit into the middle of the Twins lineup nicely as a replacement for All-Star Michael Cuddyer.

PREDICTIONS

  1. Tigers
  2. Indians
  3. Royals
  4. White Sox
  5. Twins

Last year, the Tigers closed the gap on the Indians in July, and ran away in August. This season however, they should have such difficulties. But a team that returns virtually everyone else, along with an improved bullpen and a 50 homer candidate in Fielder, it is primed to have one of the best seasons in franchise history. However, it won’t be a path that they walk to easily, because nearly every other team in the division has improved in its own, if yet a bit more understated, way.

The Indians have revamped their approach via balanced moves and growth from within, and have very few weaknesses on their roster. It’s just a matter of having the rare favor of health on their side and a breakthrough season or two. With a bit more endurance, they could easily push for the division crown. The Royals have been moving along gradually, but they have some exciting young talent in the works and could easily be this year’s Arizona Diamondbacks and pull the upset special of the summer. However, the loss of Joakim Soria is a major speed bump in that effort, yet if any team could pull a big surprise move in the AL this year, it’s them.

If Dunn, Alex Rios and Alexei Ramirez can wake up before the White Sox go into full fire sale mode this summer, they could easily make some noise in a hurry. And take all of those same sentiments, change the names and apply them to the Twins, and the same situation applies.

But in the end, there’s no uncertainties around the team that returns the League’s MVP and Cy Young rolled in one, starts five current or former All-Stars, one of the game’s best managers and have the confidence of being the returning division champs as well. The time is now for the Detroit Tigers, and they have far less hurdles to the top than any other Central club does…and a lot more weapons to fight their way there with. The Tigers roll this year.

Come back next time as I turn my sights on the toughest division in all of sports: the AL East. Who will have the chops to breakthrough in what is sure to be the game’s best drama yet again?

 In the meantime, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan.

IN MEMORY….PAUL SPLITTORFF: 1946 – 2011

Posted: June 1, 2011 by The Cheap Seat Fan in MLB
Tags: , , ,

–          By Matt Oates, guest writer

Last Wednesday, the Kansas City Royals, Kansas City and the sports world at large, lost a great man when Paul Splittorff succumbed to a bout with cancer & melanoma Wednesday morning. In recent weeks, Splitt had to leave the booth because he was ill with some unknown ailment but if you have been following the Royals for a while you probably thought it had something to do with his voice. Splitt’s normally booming voice had grown increasingly hoarse & stressed over the past couple seasons. After a while, he struggled to get enough voice to be audible on TV. It was painful to watch because you know from all the stories about Splitt as a player that he was a tough, gritty man & he was trying to tough this out too.

Splittorff won 166 games in his career and carried a 2.79 postseason ERA as well.

Paul Splittorff has been part of the Royals franchise since its inception in 1969. He was drafted from a small school in the Royals first amateur draft & would make his debut in 1970. From there he would go on to be one of, if not the best, pitcher in franchise history. Splitt was the anchor of the dominant Royals squads of the 70s & 80s compiling the best record in franchise history, and NEVER lost a playoff game. He owned the New York Yankees during the rivalry in the late 70s and earned the nickname of the “Yankee Killer”. Splitt would retire in 1984, a season before the magical 1985 season. He suffered from agonizing back problems that plagued him for his final years in his career. Splitt would then move over to the booth, first doing local high school & college sports and then as a member of the Royals TV broadcasts. That’s the capacity I knew him in as I wasn’t even alive during his great career.

Splitt’s voice, along w/ Denny Matthews, have become a part of the soundtrack of my summers growing up in Kansas City. Though I never met him personally, he was there when I’d sit down to eat dinner with my family on summer nights, explain to me the strategy of a particular play & then I’d try to pass it off as my “wisdom” to my teammates on my little league teams. He never held any punches when it came to critique of his beloved franchise which would assure me that I wasn’t crazy for feeling a certain way during the long summers of Royals losing but then he’d almost act as a comforter that things would be better one day for the Royals & their fans. He shared our hope that the Royals brighter days were ahead of us.

We’ll here’s hoping things are better for you, Splitt and here’s hoping his family and friends finds peace in their time of grieving.