An early look at the division
The AL Central is shaping up to be the best division in baseball. The White Sox, Indians, and Twins have three of the best pitching staffs in baseball. It's tough to find two teams more complete than the White Sox and the Indians. Both of those clubs look outstanding on paper and capable of winning 95-100 games. The Twins have made some improvements to their offense and have some good young arms. The Tigers look pretty mediocre as usual. The Royals have improved their club, but so have most of the teams in the division.
Chicago White Sox
Rotation: Buehrle, Garcia, Vazquez, Contreras, Garland
Bullpen: Cotts, Politte, Marte, Jenks, Hermanson (CL), McCarthy
The White Sox have a very good rotation. The rotation finished 6th in ERA last year and 3rd in WHIP. Javier Vazquez is an upgrade over Orlando Hernandez and Brandon McCarthy had a nice debut as a starter (4.03 ERA in 10 starts). The White Sox bullpen also looks very good. Hermanson saved 34 of 39 games last season and the setup duo of Cotts and Politte was extremely effective (ERAs of 1.94 and 2.00 respectively). The addition of Jenks and McCarthy to the pen make it especially strong.
Position Players: Pierzynski (C), Konerko/Thome (1B/DH), Iguchi (2B), Uribe (SS), Crede (3B), Podsednik (LF), Anderson (CF), Dye (RF)
The White Sox return most of an excellent defensive team (2nd in the majors in defensive efficiency). The White Sox lineup still has pretty good power (200 HRs last year), however the Sox finished 15th overall in OPS. The strength of the offense will depend on the health and production of Jim Thome, a career .970 OPS hitter. If healthy, the White Sox would have a very potent 1B/DH combo with Konerko and Thome.
Rotation: Lee, Sabathia, Byrd, Westbrook, Johnson
Bullpen: Wickman (CL), Rhodes, Cabrera, Riske, Sauerbeck, Betancourt
The Indians' rotation features two major changes: addition of Paul Byrd and Jason Johnson. Paul Byrd for Kevin Millwood is a slight downgrade and Jason Johnson for Scott Elarton is pretty even. So, the Indians' rotation that finished 10th in ERA last season should still be an above-average rotation in 2006. The Indians' bullpen finished first in ERA and WHIP last season. Wickman had a career year as closer, saving a career high 45 games. Wickman's age and inconsistency could be a downfall of the Indians' bullpen. The Indians retained their strong bullpen and should have one of the best bullpens in baseball again in 2006.
Position Players: Martinez (C), Broussard/Hafner (1B/DH), Belliard (2B), Peralta (SS), Boone (3B), Crisp (LF), Sizemore (CF), Blake (RF)
The Indians' young lineup was one of the most productive in baseball. Hafner, Peralta, Martinez, and Sizemore put up great numbers for the Indians, helping the Indians finish 4th in team OPS and HRs. With a solid core of young position players, the offense should continue to improve. The Indians also finished 3rd in the majors in defensive efficiency. Like the White Sox, the Indians have a very complete baseball team.
Rotation: Santana, Radke, Silva, Lohse, Baker
Bullpen: Nathan (CL), Rincon, Crain, Mulholland, Guerrier, Liriano, Durbin
The Twins round out 3 very good pitching staffs in the division. The Twins' rotation finished in the top 10 in ERA and 1st in K/BB ratio (3.47) last year. Removing Mays from the rotation should improve the rotation, especially with some good young pitchers waiting to obtain a spot in the rotation (Liriano, Durbin, Baker). Given the Twins' starting pitching depth, Liriano and Durbin will probably end up in the bullpen, giving the Twins' a nice group of power arms. The Twins could have a very formidable group of setup men to get the game to their outstanding closer Joe Nathan.
Position Players: Mauer (C), Morneau/TBA or White (1B/DH), Castillo (2B), Bartlett/Castro (SS), Batista (3B), Stewart/White (LF), Ford (CF), Kubel (RF)
The Twins' offense was a problem last year, with an team OPS lower than the Royals. The Twins added Tony Batista, Luis Castillo, and Rondell White to improve the offense and are still searching for a DH. Those players, minus Rondell White, should improve the defense as well. The Twins finished 7th in defensive efficiency last season. Much of the Twins' success depends on the performance of the young players (Mauer and Morneau performing at original expectations). The Twins have a pretty complete team, but are still needing some help offensively.
Rotation: Bonderman, Rogers, Maroth, Robertson, Verlander
Bullpen: Jones (CL), Rodney, Walker, German, Spurling
The Tigers' rotation features two potential future aces in Bondermand and Verlander. Bonderman, Verlander, and Zumaya could be a potent trio in the near future. Bondermand, Maroth, and Robertson gave the Tigers roughly league-average efforts last season. Overall, the Tigers' rotation should be pretty average unless Bonderman and Verlander improve considerably. The Tigers' bullpen is a questionmark. The Tigers signed Todd Jones, a 37-year-old closer who saved 40 games last year for the Marlins. Rodney, Walker, German, and Spurling pitched pretty well for the Tigers last season. The Tigers bullpen looks pretty average at this point.
Position Players: Rodriguez (C), Shelton/Pena (1B/DH), Polanco (2B), Guillen (SS), Inge (3B), Monroe (LF), Granderson (CF), Ordonez (RF)
The Tigers' offense is pretty much like the rest of the team, very average. If Ordonez produces a .300-30-100 season like he did regularly for Chicago, that'd help the Tigers' offense. Curtis Granderson had an impressive debut and could also help the Tigers' offense. The Tigers finished 16th in defensive efficiency last year and will probably be average defensively again in 2006.
Rotations: 1. White Sox, 2. Twins, 3. Indians, 4. Tigers, 5. Royals
Bullpens: 1a. White Sox, 1b. Indians, 1c. Twins (3-way tie for first essentially), 4. Royals, 5. Tigers
Offense: 1. Indians, 2. White Sox, 3. Tigers, 4. Royals (maybe generous), 5. Twins
It's pretty tough to put the Royals ahead of anyone in the division in most categories. The White Sox, Indians and Twins all have outstanding bullpens with proven pitchers. The Royals could certainly join that group of outstanding bullpens if the young power arms pitch well. The Royals' offense and rotations should be improved, but not enough to move up in the division.