Saturday, April 02, 2005

It's time for the ever so exciting AL Central

My apologies for not getting the AL Central preview up yesterday. I had some issues in my private life that seemed to reach a head last night and was therefore unable to conduct my interview with Neil. However the ever thoughtful Mr Hay has e-mailed me with a preview of that division this evening, so over to you Mr Hay...

Minnesota Twins: Well the Twins provided my introduction to the world of blogging thanks to Aaron Gleeman so I guess I should say nice things! To my shame, and to the detriment of my league position, I traded away Johan Santana in one of my fantasy leagues last year for… Ken Griffey Jr – I hear your laughter, just feel my pain. Just after I traded him Santana went on an incredible pitching run, piling up quality start after quality start. If 2005 Santana gets close to 2004 Santana, then the Twins have a strong foundation. But this team is not simply reliant on one pitcher, Radke was almost a warmly welcomed Red Sox, the bullpen was very strong, and on the hitting side the team has a slew of young names that will surely be impact hitters for a number of years to come – Mauer, Morneau, Ford chief among them. It then comes down to – is this team good enough to beat the AL East in the first and second round of the AL playoffs? As you would see from my season predictions, I think the answer is yes. I was at Yankee Stadium to see the Twins in Game 2 of the ALDS, and it was a game the Twins had the chances to, and should have won – it is tough sitting in Yankee Stadium, as a Sox fan, watching a non-Sox team appear to repeat the Sox’s mistakes. In a 2005 repeat, I think they have the team to beat both the Yankees, and Red Sox in 5/7 game series – though my belief on the Sox result is shaped by how poorly the Sox have performed recently in the Dome.

Cleveland Indians: The Indians showed last year that GM Mark Shapiro hadn’t been stockpiling talent in vain – there were a lot of impressive performances in that team. But given that the Indians were generally considered to be competing ahead of schedule, I do think that 2005 may see a slight regression from that level. They have added some interesting names – Aaron Boone coming back from injury and Kevin Millwood coming off a down year are nice pick-ups, but starting the season with CC on the DL can’t help.

Chicago White Sox: The Sox are in a funny place – from an outsiders perspective they really should be able to dominate the AL Central on an ongoing basis with the resources they should have, but don’t ever seem to do so. The 2005 experiment is the ‘need for speed’ – with the trade for Posednik a key example. The team’s MLB site states that Posednik was recruited to “get on base and score runs, forgetting about trying to do too much offensively” – the only problem is that getting on-base last year was an offensive challenge for Posednik - .313 isn’t really a great number for a lead-off man, and while 70 SB in 83 attempts is great when he is on-base, surely any team would rather he was standing at first a few more times to begin with?

Detroit Tigers: Well the Tigers rebounded fantastically from the almost historically awful 2003 season… and won 72 games. So a further 29 game improvement in 2005 makes a nonsense of my Twins prediction and sees them safely into the play-offs – that is how these statistic things work isn’t it? The Tigers have picked up some nice talent the last two off-seasons, but have been required to overpay to attract that talent. The future hopes of the franchise are probably better reflected in the ages of the starting rotation – clearly youth doesn’t necessarily mean talent or end-results, but in the Tigers case, patience with Bonderman, Robertson, Maroth and Ledezma may be the best hope.

Kansas City Royals: Opening Day Starter – Jose Lima – and with those five painful words, the hopes and fears of the Royals franchise rest? I tend to make a point of looking for the upside, so lets swiftly move from Lima (who is the baseball player I have been most intimate with – a Houston hotel elevator, July 2004…”which floor” – it doesn’t get much better) on to Zach Greinke. Greinke has been much heralded – in his 24 starts last season, his ERA of 3.97 was inflated by three rough starts – remove those and you drop that ERA by almost a full run (a selective approach, but removing his three best and three worst still reduces that ERA to 3.61). Most commentators note his excellent control and ability to phenomenally change speeds on pitches – some 30 mph between his fastest and slowest pitches – quite a combination!

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