For the first time in I don't know how many years, I haven't bought a baseball preview magazine. I peeked through it the last time I was in the supermarket, and the one I picked up didn't even have the Johan Santana deal. So I figure, why bother? And I also figure, why don't I just write my own. So this week I'll quickly preview each of the divisions, culminating in my playoff picks and my award winners. Today we look at the American League Central.
I guess I'm sold on Detroit. But I'm not 100% sure. They look great on paper. But so did the 1993 Mets. And I think with these Tigers, there's some potential for clubhouse explosions - between Miguel Cabrera, Gary Sheffield, and Kenny Rogers, someone's going to get a black eye. But I think the big difference between those star-studded Mets failures and this team is Jim Leyland - he won't take crap from the players, and he probably won't have to. One big thing to realize about Detroit is there's this strange Florida Marlins connection:
1) Jim Leyland managed the Marlins to their first world championship in 1997.
2) On that team was current Tigers DH Gary Sheffield.
3) The Tigers acquired Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis from the Marlins this off-season. Both players were on the 2003 championship team.
4) The catcher on that Marlins team was Ivan Rodriguez....starting catcher for the 2008 Detroit Tigers. (Also, that 2003 Marlins team began the year with Jeff Torborg as their manager. Torborg also managed the 1993 Mets. Whoa. Spooky.)
I don't think the Tigers will go all the way in the American League playoffs. (Who will beat them? - find out next week when I publish my playoff picks!) But I do think they'll be good enough and veteran enough to win what might shape up to be a tough division.
Why is it such a tough division? Well, the Indians have that year of experience, as a young team, of having gotten to within one game of the World Series (three times). And they have that bitter taste in their mouth after blowing the 3-games-to-1 lead to Boston. And they still have a very, very good pitching staff.
The White Sox are strange. I think they'll get back to being good - but they really fell off the pace last year. They went from world champs to 90 wins to 72 wins over three seasons - you have to think last year was the aberration. They managed to keep Mark Buerhle, and that was important - would he have stuck around if he didn't see potential? They're not going to threaten the Tigers, but they'll finish with a better-than-.500 record and win some important games.
I always want to pick Kansas City to finish better than they do. And I do think they're on an upswing. I think this will be a breakthrough year for them - a year where they don't finish in last place, but more importantly, a year they build on. The last time they didn't finish in last place was the year they won 83 games....then lost 100+ for three straight seasons. I like rooting for Kansas City, and they're one of those teams like the Reds, which I wrote about yesterday - I keep expecting them to pull out one of those miraculous turnarounds and surprise everyone. Maybe this year.
And then the Twins. 2008 is a year for the Twins to find out what they have in 2009. Francisco Liriano needs to come back healthy and dominant. Carlos Gomez needs to show that he was worth being the centerpiece of the Johan Santana deal (I think he'll be exciting for Twins fans to watch). And then the Twins need to figure out what else they have so they can gear up for the following year - because I think this will be a year of mourning in Minnesota: