|1. Cleveland Indians||91||71||—|
|2. Detroit Tigers*||88||74||3|
|3. Kansas City Royals||81||81||10|
|4. Chicago White Sox||72||90||19|
|5. Minnesota Twins||70||92||21|
* Denotes predicted Wild Card winner
The Indians have all the components to take the next step from their near .500 season in 2011.
There are positives amid the negatives of the old warhorses’ injuries and contract statuses. Grady Sizemore keeps getting hurt, but the Indians couldn’t have expected him to return to form nor expected him to stay healthy. His injury and absence will give them the chance to see what Ezequiel Carrera can do. Travis Hafner is in the final guaranteed year of his contract and some players manage to stay healthy when there’s a large amount of money on the line.
Carlos Santana is a mid-lineup run producer; they have a highly underrated 1-2 starting pitching punch with Justin Masterson and Ubaldo Jimenez; and their bullpen is deep.
The entire season will come down to how obstinate Jim Leyland is about the decision to move Miguel Cabrera to third base.
I was about to say “experiment”, but is it really an experiment if we know what’s going to happen?
He can’t play third; the Tigers have pitchers—Doug Fister, Rick Porcello and even Justin Verlander—who need their defense to succeed; and Leyland is adamant in saying that not only is Cabrera going to play third but that he won’t be removed for defense in the late innings in favor of the superior gloves of Don Kelly and Brandon Inge.
Eventually Leyland will probably bow to reality and Cabrera and Prince Fielder will share first base and DH.
I say probably because it depends on whether Leyland is going to be the old-school baseball guy who’ll see weakness in admitting he’s wrong or the one who admits the team’s playoff spot in jeopardy and bows to reality.
The extra Wild Card will save the Tigers.
Kansas City Royals
The Royals are loaded up with young players and have to give them the chance to sink or swim on their own without looking at them for a month and sending them down.
Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas will be in the lineup every day for the Royals for the next decade, but the other youngsters Lorenzo Cain, Salvador Perez, John Giavotella and Danny Duffy have to be given the legitimate chance to play without wondering if they’re going to be sent down immediately if they slump.
The starting pitching is young and improving; the bullpen has been bolstered and is diverse.
Chicago White Sox
Is this a rebuild or not?
Are they going to continue listening to offers for the likes of Gavin Floyd or will they hold their fire?
The decision to hire Robin Ventura as manager was a “he’ll grow with us” maneuver, but the foundation of the team is still in place.
It’s not a rebuild or a stay the course blueprint. They’re just doing things.
When serious structural alterations needed to be made, just doing things translates into 90 losses.
Much was made of Terry Ryan’s return to the GM seat.
But so what?
They made something of a lateral move in letting Michael Cuddyer leave and replacing him with Josh Willingham; they got a solid defender and good on-base bat with Jamey Carroll; and they did the “Twins thing” in signing cheap veterans who can contribute with Jason Marquis and Ryan Doumit.
Their bullpen is loaded with a bunch of bodies and has already lost Joel Zumaya.
Much depends on the health of Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau and even if both stay on the field, there are still too many holes offensively, defensively and—most importantly—in the rotation and bullpen to ask how much they can be expected to improve from losing nearly 100 games in 2011.
Far more in depth analysis is in my book, Paul Lebowitz’s 2012 Baseball Guide, now available.
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