However, despite past successes the division has been relatively quiet in the playoffs in recent years, making it past the first round only 6 times in 16 years and, over the same time, appearing in only 2 World Series, winning one. That being said the division has welcomed in several high profile free agents this off season, and, whether by internal promotion or external upgrade, every team has improved their roster over last years model.
Considering that this division has only ever had 3 of its 5 (White Sox, Twins, and Indians) teams win it, I believe that this season will constitute more of the same, returning the White Sox to the playoffs for the first time in 3 years.
The Chicago White Sox: Preseason Rank: B+
Despite injuries, inconsistencies and the leagues most consistently overrated pitching staff, the White Sox made a hard playoff push down the stretch last season, winning 88 games and finishing 8-2 in their last 10. However, this season, with one of baseballs most balanced offensive units the White Sox look poised to mash their way deep into October. Ageing stars Mark Buehrle and Jake Peavy headline this improved Sox rotation along with up-and-comers John Danks and Gavin Floyd, who up until now have not quite lived up to their promised potentials. Added to the mix in the off season was the epitome of mediocrity that is Edwin Jackson. Never before has a no-hitter perfectly personified the career of the achiever so much as his perfect game last season has: 0 Hits, 8 Walks. With a career ERA of 4.62 and a losing record, it is beyond my comprehension as to why this guy is considered one of the hundred best players in the league. That being said his best statistical season came two years ago with the Tigers, so maybe a return to his old stomping ground is exactly what he needs. Compared with all the talent in the front of the rotation, the back of the rotation is surprisingly flaccid and weak (Bobby Jenks ain't walking through that door). Looking to be a closer by committee operation in 2011, featuring the likes of Jesse Crain, Matt Thornton, and talented rookie Chris Sale, look for the Sox to trade a bat for an arm later in the season if they are still in contention. Speaking of hitting, these Sox have a salivating mix of power and speed that destines them for the best offensive club in the AL. Underrated for most of last season, and perhaps over shadowed by the lack of pitching competence, leadoff man Juan Pierre led the AL in stolen bases with 68, the most of his career. Along with Pierre was Alex Rios who had the quietest 20HR 30SB season in sports, one of the most underrated players in the league, and Paul Konerko who had his best all around statistical season since 2006 (when the Sox won the Series). Look for the addition of Adam Dunn to kick this offense into 5th gear, get this team past the 90 win plateau, and seriously contend for the AL pennant.
The Minnesota Twins: Preseason Rank: B
Hungry for a 3 peat of the division are the Twins, one of the most consistent teams in the sport over the past decade. This is a team that continues to defy expectations year in and year out, this is a team that Lil Wayne says "can't be stopped even when they are, in fact, stopped."From appearances this Twins team looks to be one of the weakest in recent years, desperately lacking middle infield help and quality starting pitching. They have added former Nationals great Matt Capps in the off season and Joe Nathan is returning but the lack of pitching depth from 3-5 is what will be their Achilles heel this season. In addition to the unremarkable pitching staff is the sorely depleted lineup the Twins have to offer; with the only tough outs coming from a banged up Joe Mauer, a banged up Justin Morneau, an inconsistent Michael Cuddyer, and a suddenly surging Delmon Young. The rest of the lineup is dreadfully soft and untalented, featuring no veteran presence. Nick Punto and JJ Hardy are potentially huge departures seeing as there were no heir apparent at either position. The Twins, normally solid defensively and fundamental offensively, appear to be taking a huge step in the wrong direction and are now several pieces away from contending. The only reason they are second on my list is because of the sheer ineptitude the bottom of the division features- two teams 25+ games back by the end of the season. The Tigers will be the biggest contender for this number 2 spot, but ultimately it will be only a moral victory for whoever because they will be far away from a playoff birth.
The Detroit Tigers: Preseason Rank: B
|MVP this year baby!|
The Cleveland Indians: Preseason Rank: C
It is a testament to the futility of the Royals that the Indians are ranked this high, as I think either team could lose 100 games and no one would think twice. These Cleveland Indians have question marks at every position, and just might send Cleveland fans over the edge when it comes to their professional sports teams. Two years ago the Indians went 81-81, the year after they went 65-96 and last year they showed signs of improvement, going a modest 69-93; this sudden drop off of success begs the question: "What the hell happened?" It seems as though the Indians were in a Nationwide Insurance commercial, where 'life comes at you fast,' dump trucked by injuries, derailed promising careers, and losing big name pitchers- unable to pay them. Fausto Carmona, and the rest of this Indian staff, are going into this season with something to prove; after putting up a collective stinker of a season the 4 main cogs in Clevelands rotation stepped it up in September, putting up a collective 3.35 ERA. Carmona went 2-1 with a 1.99 ERA in September, former Red Sox Justin Masterson posted a 2.86 ERA in August and September combined, Mitch Talbot went for 2.89 in September and 2010 rookie Carlos Carrasco showed up with a 3.83 after getting the call to join the big boys. However to say that the Indians are on 'the right track' is just not true. They have a handful of good players but no potential franchise building blocks, and like the other team in this position (Houston) they lack talent in their farm system. If you are an Indian fan chances are that you know how to cope with loss and garbage teams, so don't be surprised when these chiefs stink up the joint for the next several years.
The Kansas City Royals: Preseason Rank: C
The real life representation of Nic Cage's character from Leaving Las Vegas, The Royals are as hard to watch as they are depressed and disgusted at themselves. Kansas City made the right decision this off season when they dumped Zach Greinke, unfortunately they got shafted in the deal. The center piece of the deal was Alcides Escobar, a 26 year old prospect who hit .235 last year (.250 career) and as a 'speed' guy only stole 10 bases. But don't worry, he is a great defender. In that deal the Royals also dumped Yuniesky Betancourt, their best hitter, the man who led the team in homeruns and RBI's- but don't worry, Escobar is a slick fielder. A. Slick. Fielder. This team has thrown in their cards essentially saying, 'fuck it, these young players are going to have to put the team on they back,' a lot like Greg Jennings of the Green Bay Packers actually:
This season the Royals are going to rely heavily on the strengths and weaknesses of their highly touted prospects. Young players go through an adjustment period of anywhere between a few months and several years before they are fully acclimated to the big league atmosphere; so not only are these players getting rushed to the show irresponsible for their development, it could set the Royals further back in terms of future success. Consistently the Royals have one of the best farm systems in the league but they do such a bad job with there players that none of them ever turn out as good as they are thought to be. The Royals are one of the games worst franchises, plain and simple, and as exciting as it would be this team is no where near contending for anything.
Another season, another group of teams with high aspirations ready to get shot down. My Tigers, starting out strong but fading fast since 1894.