Although the Detroit Tigers were picked apart in the World Series by the San Francisco Giants in 2012 and their closer situation is iffy, they should be strong enough to take command of the American League Central Division early and hold it all summer long.
Fireballing Justin Verlander on the mound and triple crown winner Miguel Cabrera at bat give the Tigers two major components in putting a winner on the field at Comerica Park. They’ve also got slugger Prince Fielder manning first base and Victor Martinez coming back from a year sidelined with a knee injury and they added outfielder Torii Hunter. The starting rotation is solid and Phil Coke is Mr. Reliability in the bullpen however he is used. Bruce Rondon was supposed to be the closer, but the Tigers sent him to the minors Thursday, leaving a rather large hole in the bullpen.
Having a dependable closer is generally a must cornerstone for choosing a team to finish first, but the Tigers have all the other ingredients dominate the division. If they have to go to closer-by-committee, though that weakens their position, it might mean the difference between advancing in the playoffs and not.
The fact that Rick Porcello claimed the fifth starter spot over Doug Smyly is a sign of strength on the mound. Verlander, Max Scherzer, Doug Fister and Anibel Sanchez make for an otherwise sturdy rotation and Verlander may be the finest pitcher in the game. His numbers weren’t quite as gaudy last year as they were in 2011, but he was just about as effective–his teammates didn’t perform as well for him as they had the year before.
Generally speaking the Tigers are so much more talented across the board than the other four teams in the AL Central that it would be hard to see them losing the division crown. If anyone has an outside shot at the Tigers–and it really is a longshot–it’s the Cleveland Indians. The Indians worked harder than anyone else in baseball to upgrade without adding a superstar. They brought in a new manager in Terry Francona and played the free-agent market aggressively. The Indians were big spenders without being complete break-the-bank spenders.
Nick Swisher was a big-ticket item and they may have overspent for his services. But the Indians also brought in Michael Bourn, a National League All-Star, Drew Stubbs, an ace fielder, and Mark Reynolds, among others. The Indians are sick of losing and they don’t even have too many fans lef alive who remember their last World Series triumph in 1948.
Doormats for so long, there is something to be said for the Kansas City Royals, too. They have cast their lot with homegrown talent and much of its is coming of age. At the least the days of 100-l0ss seasons are in the rearview mirror. It might be a lot to ask for a winning record, but the Royals could eke out a .500-plus mark by a game or two.
I feel a bit bad for White Sox second-year manager and veteran slugger Paul Konerko. I just don’t see much help for Paulie on the roster. Designated hitter Adam Dunn could hit 40 home runs with 100 RBIs and still bat under .200. That would be something to see. Also possible rescuers of Konerko’s lonely success might be some members of the starting rotation. At one time or another Chris Sale, Jake Peavy, Gavin Floyd and John Danks have all done well. But they almost all no longer seem to have good years at the same time or all stay healthy at the same time. Danks is on the 15-day disabled list now.
Joe Mauer may be king of the Twin Cities, but his royal court is substandard.
This is how I see the American League Central playing out this season: 1) Detroit Tigers; 2) Cleveland Indians; 3) Kansas City Royals; 4) Chicago White Sox; 5) Minnesota Twins.