NL and AL Central Division Previews
NATIONAL LEAGUE CENTRAL Preview
Courtesy of www.statfox.com It’s the place to go for numbers!
2011 record: 71-91 (.438), -15.3 Units
Odds to Win National League Central: 15/1
Odds to Win National League Pennant: 25/1
Odds to Win World Series: 60/1
Over/Under Regular Season Wins: 73.5 wins
“Under New Management” is the motto in Wrigleyville, where Epstein, Hoyer, Sveum and Co. aim to turn SS STARLIN CASTRO and a bunch of straw into gold . . . OF DAVID DeJESUS was an underrated first pick-up. But OFs ALFONSO SORIANO and MARLON BYRD are overpaid and over the hill . . . C GEOVANY SOTO has lost his mojo . . . New 3B IAN STEWART has a lousy career OPS of .737 away from Coors Field . . . 1B BRYAN LaHAIR is tagged as part of a “youth movement,” but he’s almost 30. The other youths—2B DARWIN BARNEY, IF JEFF BAKER, and IF BLAKE DEWITT —are interchangeable guys with low ceilings . . . Fourth OF TONY CAMPANA is fast but one-dimensional . . . And minor-league reinforcements are scarce. OF BRETT JACKSON is solid, but blocked in the lineup. And former uber-prospect 3B JOSH VITTERS has done nothing to justify his third-overall draft status. This rebuilding process will take time. Meanwhile, somewhere in the Chicago suburbs, Jim Hendry quietly sobs into a pile of Cubs-themed stuffed animals.
RYAN DEMPSTER should bounce back from an unlucky year in which there was nearly a full-run difference between his ERA and his FIP. He’s no ace in good times, but he’s an underrated and dependable source of innings and strikeouts . . . MATT GARZA didn’t disappoint in his debut season on the North Side, but he was an odd acquisition to begin with: the Cubs dealt top prospects from a thin system when all signs pointed to a belly-flop of a season. He’s already trade bait again . . . JEFF SAMARDZIJA is moving to the rotation after a strong year in the bullpen (2.97 ERA, 87 K in 88 IP), but he needs to cut down on his walks (5.1 per 9 IP) . . . What killed TRAVIS WOOD in 2011 was uncharacteristic wildness. His walk total spiked by over 50 percent from 2010. He’s better than this, though it’s hard to say how much. It could be that a 40-inning jump from 2010 to 2011 aided his freefall . . . Subpar newcomers PAUL MAHOLM and CHRIS VOLSTAD will also compete for rotation spots. The lefty Maholm is coming off his best seasonin Pittsburgh (3.66 ERA, 1.29 WHIP), but was awful after the All-Star break (0-5, 5.75 ERA, .355 Opp. BA). The 6-foot-8 Volstad was 5-13 with a 4.89 ERA for the Marlins last year, but still has time to figure things out at age 25.
Because of his contract and the head-scratching faith in the “closer mentality” that still pervades even the most enlightened front offices, CARLOS MARMOL will enter the 2012 campaign with a near-ironclad grip on ninth-inning duties for the Cubs. Trading away Sean Marshall, arguably Chicago’s best reliever last season, is yet another vote of confidence for Marmol. His lack of command leads to more hittable pitches (along with tons of walks), though his ceiling for strikeouts and saves is sky-high . . . KERRY WOOD will be the main set-up man again after a triumphant return to Chicago last season (3.35 ERA, 57 K in 51 IP).
StatFox Prediction: 5th Place in NL Central; UNDER 73.5 Wins (-105)
2011 record: 79-83 (.488), -15.1 Units
Odds to Win National League Central: 11/10
Odds to Win National League Pennant: 13/2
Odds to Win World Series: 15/1
Over/Under Regular Season Wins: 88 wins
2B BRANDON PHILLIPS sparked the Reds offense after moving to the top of the order. But his free-swinging makes him a bad fit there . . . SS ZACK COZART played in only 11 games for the Reds before wrecking his non-throwing elbow, but it was still enough to convince the team they’d seen enough of PAUL JANISH in the starting role . . . 1B JOEY VOTTO keeps punishing pitchers . . . OF JAY BRUCE is in his gawky, teenage phase, but he’s already emerged as a major power source . . . OF DREW STUBBS must cut down on his MLB-leading 206 strikeouts. He’s out of the leadoff spot now, but those whiffs don’t play wellanywhere in the lineup . . . OF CHRIS HEISEY should get the starting nod in left now that Yonder Alonso is out of the picture . . . 3B SCOTT ROLEN is a permanent health question mark. His backup, JUAN FRANCISCO, swings for the fences . . . C DEVIN MESORACO is the most hyped catching prospect since Matt Wieters . . . RYAN HANIGAN will split squatting responsibilities with him.
Considered a source of strength entering the 2011 campaign, the Reds rotation directly caused their undoing . . . The first step toward a remedy was trading for MAT LATOS, who began 2011 slow and got stronger as the year went on. The 24-year-old threw at least six innings with 5+ K in 16 of his final 17 starts (2.94 ERA). But that was in a much more pitcher-friendly environment. He has a decent career road ERA (3.57), and Cincy will surely give him much better run support than he received in San Diego . . . Last year’s pitching problems began with BRONSON ARROYO, who gave up more home runs in a season than any pitcher in this millennium. He allowed more HR (46) than walks (45) . . . JOHNNY CUETO was the one big bright spot; he hasn’t maintained the strikeout rates he flashed early in his career, but he’s All-Star caliber . . . HOMER BAILEY was a disappointment, going 9-7 with a 4.43 ERA . . . MIKE LEAKE actually pitched pretty well after he got his first taste of the minors to get his mechanics worked out.
With Francisco Cordero flying the coop, and newcomer RYAN MADSON lost for the season with Tommy John Surgery, Cincinnati will use a closer-by-committee approach . . . The Reds gave up three players, including starter Travis Wood, to acquireSEAN MARSHALL, who should fit in nicely as a set-up man who’s tough on both right-and left-handed batters . . . AROLDIS CHAPMAN is listed as the main set-up man for Marshall, but he missed out on winter ball and could be too raw to trust in the ninth inning . . . LOGAN ONDRUSEK is also capable of being a decent closer, with a big fastball.
StatFox Prediction: 1st Place in NL Central; OVER 88 Wins (-115)
2011 record: 56-106 (.346), -34.0 Units
Odds to Win National League Central: 100/1
Odds to Win National League Pennant: 40/1
Odds to Win World Series: 300/1
Over/Under Regular Season Wins: 63 wins
This season will mark Houston’s final year in the National League. Look away, children, as the Astros launch into what is sure to be the crappiest victory lap in baseball history . . . Tiny 2B JOSE ALTUVE’s jump from High-A to MLB starter says more about Houston’s pitiful state than anything. He belongs in Triple-A . . . CHRIS JOHNSON won the starting 3B job as JIMMY PAREDES was optioned to Triple-A. Johnson was thought to have 25-homer power, but last year he slugged just .378 . . . 1B CARLOS LEE is in the twilight of a very productive career. Backup 1B BRETT WALLACE seems to be in the twilight of an unproductive one . . . OF BRIAN BOGUSEVIC has a low ceiling. But he’s one of only a few recent draft picks who will even contribute. . . OF J.D. MARTINEZ doesn’t blame you if you haven’t heard of him, but he’s the team’s best player who hits third in the lineup . . . SS JED LOWRIE was a nice little pickup for a mid-tier closer. But his platoon split is intense . . . C JASON CASTRO will probably play ahead of CHRIS SNYDER . . . OF JORDAN SCHAFER has yet to put things together; but he’ll be starting in center on Opening Day. Fourth OF J.B. SHUCK is only 24, but doesn’t have a whole lot of upside.
WANDY RODRIGUEZ has been a durable, above-average starter for five years, yet every season his real-world team limits his wins. He’ll be traded at some point this year . . . Don’t shortchange BUD NORRIS. He’s an underrated source of strikeouts, and has improved his command . . . J.A. HAPP really needs to cut down on his walk total . . . JORDAN LYLES couldn’t legally drink until the second-to-last week of the season. He’s in the big leagues way too soon. He’s yet another young Astro who isn’t terrible, but won’t ever set the world on fire . . . KYLE WEILAND came from Boston with Jed Lowrie and should earn the final spot in the rotation . . . Texas-bred fireballer JARRED COSART, 21, is a legitimately exciting (but risky) prospect who Houston will probably rush up to the majors at some point this year.
BRETT MYERS flummoxed the Astros’ front office with a stinker of a season. He’s probably closer to that pitcher than to the one who posted a career-best 3.14 ERA in 2010 at age 29, but he’ll move the bullpen this year to get the rare opportunities to close out a game when this awful team is actually leading . . . WILTON LOPEZ was good in 2011, but was much better the previous season, when he may have been the most underrated reliever in the National League. Houston will go with him in the ninth if they want Myers to return to the rotation . . . BRANDON LYON has seen better days. He bombed early, then was shut down for good with a bicep injury. He intimidates nobody now.
StatFox Prediction: 6th Place in NL Central; UNDER 63 Wins (-115)
2011 record: 101-72 (.584), +19.5 Units
Odds to Win National League Central: 9/5
Odds to Win National League Pennant: 11/1
Odds to Win World Series: 25/1
Over/Under Regular Season Wins: 85 wins
It helped when the Brew Crew had Prince Fielder in the fold, but there’s still lots of firepower here now that he’s moved on . . . 2B RICKIE WEEKS starts it off, with some of the game’s best bat speed . . .OF NYJER MORGAN doesn’t hit the ball hard, but when it drops in he’s off to the races . . . OF RYAN BRAUN hasput up Hall of Fame numbers since day one. Now the big question is whether he doped to do it . . . OF COREY HART has improved his batting eye and is no longer an on-base liability. He’s also one of the few Brewers hitters who plays even average defense . . . 3B ARAMIS RAMIREZ is on the down side of his career, but remains productive. Backup TAYLOR GREEN should see decent time behind him though . . . IF MAT GAMEL is slated to start at first; nobody knows if he’ll be any good. He sure as heck won’t be Prince Fielder . . . C JONATHAN LUCROY was effective in a middle-of-the-road kind of way . . . Fourth OF CARLOS GOMEZ still can’t hit . . . SS ALEX GONZALEZ will play every day and has decent pop for a middle infielder.
The Brewers’ front three is among the mostformidable in baseball. YOVANI GALLARDOhas improved his peripherals every year asa starter. High pitch counts used to chase him early in games, but not anymore. One day he’ll win a Cy Young . . . ZACK GREINKE was a product of bad defense, bad luck, and an unusually high home run rate. In the second half, he was a beast . . . SHAUN MARCUM pulled a reverse Greinke,starting brilliantly then fading down the stretch. Not too surprising, given the durability issues that have followed Marcum throughout his career. Most teams would still kill to have him as their No. 3 starter . . . People laughed when the Crew signed RANDY WOLF for three years and $30 million, but he’s been a highly dependable innings-eater in both seasons as a Brewer . . . The same holds for CHRIS NARVESON. He’s the very definitionof a back-end guy, but as fifth starters go,he’s pretty good.
JOHN AXFORD and his Long John Silver’s facial hair are proof positive that you don’t need to spend a fortune on a closer. Axford was an undrafted retread when Milwaukee signed him. The list of “proven closers” with fat contracts that Axford has outpitched each of the past two years is a deep one . . . FRANCISCO RODRIGUEZ ruined the Brewers’ offseason plans by accepting arbitration. He’s a decent bet for some cheap saves, and still brings it with that crazy body-flinging delivery. But the team may still deal him at some point this season . . . KAMERON LOE has made a reasonably smooth transition to full-time reliever.
StatFox Prediction: 3rd Place in NL Central; UNDER 85 Wins (-105)
2011 record: 72-90 (.444), -1.5 Units
Odds to Win National League Central: 20/1
Odds to Win National League Pennant: 25/1
Odds to Win World Series: 80/1
Over/Under Regular Season Wins: 73.5 wins
The Pirates’ two-month casual flirtation with competitiveness was cute while it lasted, before this team fizzled to a 72-win season. This team is still years away . . . But don’t blame OF ANDREW McCUTCHEN, who might be the best all-around player in the division. Of all the ballyhooed outfielders from the 2005 draft, he’s the one GMs would most want to build around . . . OF JOSE TABATA, not so much. He’s serviceable and has plus speed, but the six-year extension the Pirates gave him was absurd . . . 2B NEIL WALKER has settled into a respectable place short of stardom . . . 3B PEDRO ALVAREZ has a lot of uphill climbing to do if he wants to wake up old expectations. He’ll compete with 3B CASEY MCGEHEE for a starting role, but it’s most likely that Alvarez moves to first base to back up 1B GARRETT JONES . . . OFs NATE McLOUTH and ALEX PRESLEY are underwhelming choices for the starting left-field spot . . . SS CLINT BARMES and C ROD BARAJAS would like to thank the Pirates for wildly overpaying them.
JEFF KARSTENS looked pretty decent for much of last year. But that’s what happens when you get to log 14 percent of your innings against the lowly Astros. Better teams exposed him for the replacement-level guy he is . . . Contrary to what a lot of bored, lazy sportswriters wanted you to believe last year, CHARLIE MORTON doesn’t pitch like Roy Halladay. At all . . . JAMES McDONALD could still be special if he cut down his walk rate . . . ERIK BEDARD was a respectable signing. Even if his shoulder acts up, he cost only $4.5 million for a year. If he’s healthy, he’s still well above-average . . . KEVIN CORREIA may only be slightly more effective at striking out hitters than a batting tee, but the Pirates are grateful for the innings he eats . . . BRAD LINCOLN is the designated fill-in if any of the other starters get hurt (cough, Bedard). In the meantime, he’s a swing man.
Closer JOEL HANRAHAN has been outstanding since first donning a Pirates uniform in 2009, converting 40-of-44 saves with a 1.83 ERA last season. It makes sense for the rebuilding Pirates to move him, but they’ll probably keep the hand they were dealt . . . There isn’t another qualified ninth-inning pitcher in this bullpen though. EVAN MEEK was bit by the shoulder bug. His early season was an unqualified disaster, but he turned it around and regained his form once he came back in September. He should be fully healthy again, and a quiet source of a few saves . . . CHRIS RESOP is another primary set-up man, but he posted a 4.39 ERA and 1.48 WHIP in 2011 . . . DANIEL McCUTCHEN won’t be so lucky with his ERA this year if he doesn’t lower his walk rate. He’s just not a guy to put much faith in.
StatFox Prediction: 4th Place in NL Central; OVER 73.5 Wins (-115)
ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
2011 record: 101-79 (.561), +7.2 Units
Odds to Win National League Central: 7/2
Odds to Win National League Pennant: 15/1
Odds to Win World Series: 35/1
Over/Under Regular Season Wins: 84.5 wins
Alienate and trade your talented young centerfielder for bullpen scraps and a middling, impending free-agent starter. Justify your ludicrous pitching changes by blaming crowd noise and your innocent bullpen coach—and you too could win a World Series! This was Tony La Russa baseball. But he’s gone now, as is the all-world Albert Pujols . . . SS RAFAEL FURCAL liked his short stint in the Show Me State enough to sign up for more . . . OF CARLOS BELTRAN will hit second after an impressive 2011 campaign during which he produced solid numbers in pitchers’ parks amidst weak lineups . . . 2Bs TYLER GREENE and DANIEL DESCALSO are the latest plucky “gamer” to play infield at Busch . . . Resuscitated slugger 1B LANCE BERKMAN shifts to a much more suitable defensive position. . . OF MATT HOLLIDAY’s OPS remains as strong as ever . . . 3B DAVID FREESE will never have to buy a drink in Missouri again after his postseason heroics . . . C YADIER MOLINA is a defensive whiz behind the plate and an underrated hitter . . . OFs ALLEN CRAIG and JON JAY are more suited to platoon roles, but Jay will be starting in center on Opening Day.
His stuff isn’t nearly what it used to be, and he’s more than earned his reputation within the game as a towering crybaby. But on the mound, CHRIS CARPENTER remains ruthlessly effective when he’s healthy. But he’ll miss the first couple of months of the 2012 campaign due to shoulder problems . . . ADAM WAINWRIGHT should be ready to go on Opening Day, and has shown every reason to think he’ll be his old brilliant self . . . JAIME GARCIA cannot sustain a sub-2.00 ERA for a full season. He’s a mid-rotation starter, but one of the better ones in all of baseball . . . Did KYLE LOHSE really register a 1.17 WHIP over an entire season? Really? He just doesn’t miss enough bats to keep that going . . . JAKE WESTBROOK stayed healthy for a full season again, which is a relief given his past dalliances with the DL. He’s an innings eater who’s capable of another dozen wins . . . LANCE LYNN gives the Cardinals enviable depth in the rotation. He’ll probably slide back to the bullpen once Carpenter returns . . . Uber-prospect SHELBY MILLER could be a second-half call-up.
It doesn’t look pretty when JASON MOTTE winds up and delivers a pitch, but in the end, results are results. The converted catcher has finally nailed down the closer role that many predicted would be his a few years ago. The only way he loses it this time is if he hurts himself with that painful delivery . . . FERNANDO SALAS can more than hold his own if that happens. He’ll slot into the eighth-inning role, but he provides more of the pitching depth that is a hallmark of this Cardinals team . . . KYLE McCLELLAN, like Lynn, is serviceable both in relief or in the rotation. But he’s better in the former role.
StatFox Prediction: 2nd Place in NL Central; OVER 84.5 Wins (-125)
2012 MLB Preview: AL Central
By: Staff Writer – StatFox
CHICAGO WHITE SOX
2011 record: 79-83 (.488), -11.2 Units
Odds to Win American League Central: 25/1
Odds to Win American League Pennant: 40/1
Odds to Win World Series: 80/1
Over/Under Regular Season Wins: 74.5 wins
The departure of Juan Pierre opens things up for SS ALEXEI RAMIREZ to hit leadoff . . . 2B GORDON BECKHAM will get a fresh start, but his leash is shortening . . . 1B PAUL KONERKO faded last year. He’s potential trade bait for the rebuilding Sox . . . Did DH ADAM DUNN need a year to adjust to A.L. pitching and DHing? With his contract, the Sox will have to find out . . . OF ALEJANDRO DE AZA’s late-season surge probably wasn’t for real, but it was enough to get him the inside track on a starting job with Carlos Quentin having been dealt to the Padres on New Year’s Eve . . . OF ALEX RIOS has bounced back before, but at his age the odds are longer now . . . The organization believes in OF DAYAN VICIEDO. His improving approach and power fit well in U.S. Cellular, but he could platoon with KOSUKE FUKUDOME in left field . . . C A.J. PIERZYNSKI has motivation for one more solid season as free agency looms . . . 3B BRENT MOREL is good glove, but has a limited stick . . . OF/1B BRENT LILLIBRIDGE has an improving bat and can play just about anywhere.
JOHN DANKS doesn’t look like a true No. 1 starter, but he keeps consistently throwing strikes and has some swing-and-missstuff . . . Maybe it’s because he’s fallenshort of his once-elite prospect status, but GAVIN FLOYD seems to get no respect as a quality middle-of-the-rotation arm. He was especially good after adding a cutter/slider-type pitch last year . . . JAKE PEAVY isn’t going to win another Cy Young, but unlike last year, his shoulder should be close to 100 percent. The big question will again be whether, as a flyball pitcher, he can keep the ball in the park at cozy U.S. Cellular . . . PHILIP HUMBER was a nice surprise in 2011, but don’t be fooled. It wasn’t a former top prospect finally figuring it out. It was a back-of-the-rotation arm getting some good breaks . . . CHRIS SALE will make the move to the rotation. He’ll likely be on some pitch counts, but this is an exciting development. With his stuff (he already has a solid changeup to go with his fastball/slider combo) he has monster upside.
With closer Sergio Santos shipped off to Toronto, youngster ADDISON REED figuresto be the top candidate to close games. Any young closer is a risk, but Reed’s fastball/slider combo has been dominant over two pro seasons . . . Lefty MATT THORNTON might have blown his chance to claim the closer role last year. He had regained his form as a top set-up man late in the year, but if Reed falters he might be no more than a committee guy . . . JESSE CRAIN chased strikeouts more aggressively last year, but he also issued more walks. He may miss the first couple weeks of the season with an oblique injury.
StatFox Prediction: 3rd Place in AL Central; OVER 74.5 Wins (-115)
2011 record: 80-82 (.494), +1.8 Units
Odds to Win American League Central: 7/1
Odds to Win American League Pennant: 30/1
Odds to Win World Series: 60/1
Over/Under Regular Season Wins: 79 wins
SS ASDRUBAL CABRERA’s reinvented swing, modeled after Ben Zobrist, likely led to his power surge . . . OF GRADY SIZEMORE is back on a one-year deal, so he has plenty of financial incentive to stay healthy. But he will begin the season on the DL after back surgery . . . OF SHELLEY DUNCAN is expected to get more playing time in replacing Sizemore, but speedy OF EZEQUIEL CARRERA is also waiting for his shot . . . Injuries and off-the-field issues spoiled OF SHIN SOO-CHOO’s 2011, but there’s a good chance he bounces back . . . OF MICHAEL BRANTLEY does everything well enough to get a regular gig in center . . . C CARLOS SANTANA is developing into a middle-of-the-order run producer . . . DH TRAVIS HAFNER can’t be trusted to stay healthy or to produce power numbers . . . After another down year, 1B MATT LaPORTA will have to sit and watch CASEY KOTCHMAN start at first more often than not . . . 3B LONNIE CHISENHALL will get his chance to play every day, but dwindling production the past two years is a concern . . . 2B JASON KIPNIS will get first crack at second base. He’s got nice pop for a middle infielder.
JUSTIN MASTERSON’s strikeout rate continues to decline, and he still gets hit hard by lefties. Still, his strong groundball rate guaranteeshe’s a solid middle-of-the-rotation arm at worst . . . His velocity dropped last year, and there’s no telling if UBALDO JIMENEZ will ever regain his early 2010 form. He’s the definition of high-risk, high-reward . . . DEREK LOWE was a decent middle-of-the-rotation arm in the National League, but now he must adjust to facing superior A.L. lineups . . . Healthy again, JOSH TOMLIN will remain in the rotation. He’s hittable, throwing strikes and relying on his defense . . . Former wins hurler KEVIN SLOWEY rounds out the staff. Although he posted a 6.67 ERA last year, Slowey has exhibited pinpoint control in his career with just 84 walks in 532.2 innings, tallying a .470 K-to-BB ratio . . . JEANMAR GOMEZ is a decent minor league arm, but his ceiling is low (long term and in the immediate future) . . . CARLOS CARRASCO may not pitch in the bigs this year after Tommy John surgery.
CHRIS PEREZ is entrenched as the closer, but he was a bit of a disappointment last season. His velocity dropped slightly, and his strikeout rate fell off a cliff . . . If Perezgets hurt, VINNIE PESTANO is next in line for saves. He may be undersized, but his stuff is overpowering . . . TONY SIPP proved he can get out righties too, but his value is as a lefty-on-lefty guy . . . Ditto for sidearmer JOE SMITH,whois deadly on righties. But it would be a surprise if he shut down lefties for a second straight year . . . RAFAEL PEREZ has been hampered by shoulder soreness in Spring Training, but the lefty should once again be serviceable in the late innings this year.
StatFox Prediction: 2nd Place in AL Central; OVER 79 Wins (-115)
2011 record: 100-73 (.578), +18.3 Units
Odds to Win American League Central: 2/9
Odds to Win American League Pennant: 3/1
Odds to Win World Series: 6/1
Over/Under Regular Season Wins: 93 wins
OF AUSTIN JACKSON doesn’t make much contact, but manager Jim Leyland likes his speed in the leadoff spot . . . RYAN RABURN and RAMON SANTIAGO will split second base duties, with Raburn getting the majority of the starts . . . 3B MIGUEL CABRERA seems to have cleaned up his act. He’s an MVP candidate . . . So is newcomer 1B PRINCE FIELDER who will try to keep slugging in his move to a pitchers’ park. His presence was needed after DH VICTOR MARTINEZ was lost for the season with a knee injury . . . OF DELMON YOUNG is a pending free agent, and he hitwell after escaping spacious Target Field. He’ll nab the starting LF job but could also DH . . .OF BRENNAN BOESCH did enough pre-injuryto earn an everyday role, but he’ll againbe in danger of fading over the summer . . .SS JHONNY PERALTA had a resurgence in 2011, and he’s on the right side of 30 . . . C ALEX AVILA might not hit for average, but his power is legit . . . Leyland favorite BRANDON INGE and DON KELLY will back up the All-Star corner infielders, so neither expect to get much playing time . . . Streaky OF ANDY DIRKS is a fourth outfielder . . . C GERALD LAIRD will spell Avila.
You can’t expect an identical stat line for JUSTIN VERLANDER; his opponent .236 batting average on balls in play suggests there was some luck involved in his MVP season.But he’s still the best pitcher in the American League by a wide margin . . . DOUG FISTER’s improved strikeout rate with the Tigerssuggests he could sustain success as aquality No. 2 starter . . . MAX SCHERZER can still be outstanding when he’s on, but he was inconsistent again last year. He could figure it out in his late-20s, but time is running out . . . RICK PORCELLO still has a ways to go. His mid-season success came against some weak lineups. He’s still only 23, but he hasn’t been able to beat hitters at any level in the pros . . . The Tigers are still searching for a No. 5 starter. Top prospect JACOB TURNER is only 20, but the Tigers haven’t been shy about fast-tracking young arms. He was dominant in the minors, but torched in his first big-league stint . . . ANDY OLIVER appears to be the front-runner for this role, but DREW SMYLY is also a possibility.
JOSE VALVERDE was perfect in 2011, but it wasa surprising development considering his sliding K/BB ratio. For Tigers fans, he carries more risk than 49-for-49 would suggest . . . One of baseball’s better set-up men, JOAQUIN BENOIT is an eighth-inning-only guy. He’d take over if Valverde got hurt . . . OCTAVIO DOTEL is another elite set-up man who will step up as the seventh-inning guy . . . As good asAL ALBURQUERQUE was in the regular season (one extra-base hit—a double—allowed in 43.1 innings!), he’s out until at least the All-Star break after offseason elbow surgery . . . Lefty DANIEL SCHLERETH has a chance to be the closer of the future, but first he’ll need to cut down on the walks.
StatFox Prediction: 1st Place in AL Central; UNDER 93 Wins (-115)
KANSAS CITY ROYALS
2011 record: 71-91 (.438), -6.4 Units
Odds to Win American League Central: 7/1
Odds to Win American League Pennant: 30/1
Odds to Win World Series: 60/1
Over/Under Regular Season Wins: 80 wins
With Melky Cabrera gone, OF LORENZO CAIN will get first crack at leadoff and centerfield. If he falters, speedster JASON BOURGEOIS, vet MITCH MAIER and prospect WIL MYERS are waiting . . . Former Brewer YUNIESKY BETANCOURT will start at 2B and has good life in his bat for a middle infielder . . . OF ALEX GORDON may not hit for average, but his approach and power are there . . . DH BILLY BUTLER is rock solid, but it’s fair to wonder whether his power will ever progress . . . 1B ERIC HOSMER has MVP-type upside, and he’s on the verge of figuring out MLB pitching . . . OF JEFF FRANCOEUR still chases too many bad pitches, but the organization likes him and he still has some pop and speed . . . 3B MIKE MOUSTAKAS is too good for the minors, but he still hasn’t caught up to major-league pitching. There’s a good chance he finds his groove this year . . . C HUMBERTO QUINTERO will be the main backstop with BRAYAN PENA backing him up . . . Speedy SS ALCIDES ESCOBAR’s bat hasn’t caught up to his glove.
K.C. once again hopes this is the year LUKE HOCHEVAR puts it all together. His velocity picked up late last year, allowing him to be more than a groundball guy . . . Lefty BRUCE CHEN’s late-career renaissance continues. He’ll be a reliable veteran arm in the middle of K.C.’s rotation again . . . FELIPE PAULINO has the biggest upside in this rotation. He’s always had one of MLB’s best fastballs. His problem was that, when he missed (which has been often), it was usually belt-high and over the middle of the plate. If he hits his spots as he did late last year, he’s got potential. But Paulino will start the season on the DL with a sore elbow . . . The Royals hope to solve JONATHAN SANCHEZ’s command issues. The lefty is a risk, but has legitimate No. 3 potential . . . Top prospect DANNY DUFFY will get every chance to pitch his way into the Opening Day rotation.
JOAKIM SORIA is out for the season with Tommy John surgery, leaving GREG HOLLAND to pick up closer duties. Holland was the Royals’ best bullpen arm in 2011 and his stuff has always been nearly unhittable. It’s just a matter of whether last year’s vastly improved walk rate was for real . . . JONATHAN BROXTON was a disaster last season, but he’ll be given every chance to become the No. 2 guy in this bullpen because of his experience in Los Angeles . . . AARON CROW was a first-round pick (twice) for his college career as a starter, but wore down late last year, and walked too many batters.
StatFox Prediction: 5th Place in AL Central; UNDER 80 Wins (-115)
2011 record: 63-99 (.389), -24.9 Units
Odds to Win American League Central: 15/1
Odds to Win American League Pennant: 50/1
Odds to Win World Series: 100/1
Over/Under Regular Season Wins: 72.5 wins
OF BEN REVERE’s slap-and-run style fits well in spacious Target Field. He will compete with lefty Chris Parmelee for the starting RF job . . . OF DENARD SPAN should be over his concussion problems. He works the count well as a steady presence near the top of the order . . . C JOE MAUER will see more time at first in an attempt to keep him healthy. Offensively, he’ll be limited by a pitcher-friendly home park and no support in the lineup . . . RYAN DOUMIT has a chance to play regularly and stay healthy as a full-time DH and/or backing up Mauer behind the dish . . . 1B JUSTIN MORNEAU’s concussion symptoms came back late last year. It’s a bad omen . . . OF JOSH WILLINGHAM is being relied on to produce runs, but he’s going from one pitcher-friendly home park (Oakland) to another . . . 3B DANNY VALENCIA showed enough power in 2011 to secure an everyday job headinginto 2012 . . . Newly signed SS JAMEY CARROLL has donea nice job off the bench, but hasn’t been tested in an everyday role . . . If hamstring problems are still holding him back, 2B ALEXI CASILLAwill have to battle disappointing import TSUYOSHI NISHIOKA, who will start the year in the minors.
Who would have thought CARL PAVANO would emerge as the picture of consistency anddurability? While he’s far from a star, theveteran continues to be a rock for Minnesota, throwing strikes and eating innings . . . SCOTT BAKER got hurt again last year. If he could ever stay healthy, he’s the prototype for success at Target Field—lots of strikeouts, few walks, lots of flyouts . . . The FRANCISCO LIRIANO rollercoaster nosedived again last year. The Twins have gotten so desperate to keep him healthy that they actually let him pitch more over the offseason. He’s obviously a huge risk again . . . BRIAN DUENSING, NICK BLACKBURN andJASON MARQUIS are all the definition of fifth starter. They serve it up, give up a lot of hard-hit balls, and hope they get hit right at their defenders . . . If Duensing and Blackburn falter, ANTHONY SWARZAK probably pitched well enough last year to get a shot in the rotation. LIAM HENDRICKS, one of the organization’s better prospects, would be a slightly more exciting option.
Despite his underwhelming performance last year, MATT CAPPS will pitch the ninth inning again because of his “closer’s experience.”He figures to be on an undeservedly long leash . . . GLEN PERKINS certainly proved he deserves to close. He was Minnesota’s best reliever in his first full season in the ‘pen. His velocity was up as a short reliever, and the lefty was truly overpowering. If things go sour for the Twins again this season (and it seems likely they will), perhaps they’ll get serious about Perkins later this year.
StatFox Prediction: 4th Place in AL Central; OVER 72.5 Wins (-115)