American League Central 2011 Season Preview

Leading up to the start of the 2011 Regular Season, Diamond Hoggers will preview each of MLB’s 30 teams . Today’s preview features the Chicago White Sox. Stay tuned as Diamond Hoggers previews every team division by division until the start of the regular season. We’re running out of time, so here is a preview of the American League Central. You’ll get the American League East tomorrow, so be ready on the fly.

Chicago White Sox

Why to watch: While the Red Sox are the lineup attracting all the headlines, the ChiSox are the team that I like to really score a ton of runs. With Paul Konerko, Adam Dunn, Juan Pierre, Gordon Beckham, Carlos Quentin, Alex Rios, Alexei Ramirez, Dayan Viciedo, Brent Morel, Omar Vizquel, and A.J. Pierzynski; it’s a veteran lineup that will score in abundance if they’re healthy. The White Sox are going for broke this year. Plus, they’re The Golden Sombrero’s team. That alone gives us some rooting interest. Look for Beckham to arrive this season; with .290, 20 HR and 90 RBI being within reach.

Why we’re concerned: We don’t like their pitching staff; at least in the starting rotation, all that much. You could do a lot worse than Mark Buerhle, Gavin Floyd, an old Jake Peavy, John Danks, and Edwin Jackson for sure. But if they do win the AL Central like we’re predicting, they’ll have trouble in a series running up against the elite of the elites. But good enough to get through the AL Central? Absolutely.

Kansas City Royals

Why to watch: Can anyone say 1994 Montreal Expos? That’s the feeling that is coming out of Royals spring training camp. They’ve stockpiled a bunch of really good young players on the horizon and have a few others who are in their primes. They’re built around Billy Butler, who I think is going to hit .300 this season. Gone is Zach Greinke but they’re going to be better than they’ve been maybe at any point in your lifetime. Baseball in Kansas City is going to be relevant again, and this time we think that fans of America’s Past time are ready to see it. Kila Ka’aihue is going to hit tape measure shots. Jeff Francoeur has arrived (ok we’ll keep giving you positives). Alex Gordon had an absolutely huge spring and it’s now or never. Mike Moustakas might be last year’s Buster Posey.

They’ve got young players coming out their asses. High, high picks. We’ve been waiting on Jeremy Jeffress (acquired in the Greinke trade along with Alcides Escobar). Don’t forget about Joakim Soria, who has entrenched himself as the top closer in the AL.

Why we’re concerned: In any instance where there are this many young players involved, there will be highs and lows. There could be a point where they win 9 of 10 or 11. But there is also going to be points where there are some droughts. They might finally bring a winning season to Kansas City, but they’re probably two or three seasons away from the playoffs.

Cleveland Indians

Why to watch: Their lineup isn’t actually all that bad–if healthy. Look, throw Grady Sizemore in the three hole and tell him to hit gaps. He should have been there years ago but Eric Wedge was a stubborn dickhead about it. Build around him with Carlos Santana, Asdrubal Cabrera, Shin-Soo Choo, and even Travis Hafner might get in on the act. If Matt Laporta would ever hit, they would really have a few spots that could hurt you.

Santana will make sweet music. He will be a .300 hitter. Trevor Crowe and Micheal Brantley are going to be solid 3rd and 4th outfielders in this league and they play great defense. The outfield will make exciting plays, at least until June when Sizemore is shopped to a contender.

Why we’re concerned: What an awful starting rotation. There’s not one guy that we’re that high on, from Carmona on down. They’ve got a few arms that will start the season in the minor leagues due to arbitration reasons that are going to be studs. That’s down the road. For now, enjoy watching these guys finish last, draft another stud they’ll never make the long-term payments on and generally a team that will continue to add to the long heartbreak of Cleveland sports tradition. I’m sorry, but we told you a few years back when the Indians lost in the ALCS that they were headed down a bad road. You’re just onto that road right now. Ride it out.

Detroit Tigers

Why to watch: Another team that can knock down fences. Miguel Cabrera is the centerpiece of a Rolls-Royce offense with Victor Martinez, Carlos Guillen, Brennan Boesch, Ryan Raburn, Alex Avila and the ageless Magglio Ordonez in full tow.

Everyone knows about Justin Verlander but the rotation aside from him is in good shape. Brad Penny is an addition that should help at the back end of the rotation along with Rick Porcello and Max Scherzer. One of these years, Motown is going to belong to Porcello. We really believe that.

Why we’re concerned: The bullpen is insignificant and nothing to write home about. They gave a huge contract to Joaquin Benoit in the offseason, and you really have to wonder why. Brad Thomas, Ryan Perry and Joel Zumaya will get their innings but it seems like a team that will blow some leads late. An injury could really hurt their rotation–although that could be said for anyone.

Minnesota Twins

Why to watch: Joe Mauer will do his thing and hit .330, and he’ll probably regain his power stroke to a degree this season. He’s still going to need some help and that help should come in the form of Delmon Young. Young has arrived as the perennial All-Star that he was always supposed to be. The usual gang will show up with their usual steady performance. Denard Span will be Denard Span and Micheal Cuddyer will be Micheal Cuddyer. That said–if everyone else in the Central is more heavily armed, the Twins are going to be steady with where they were last year.

Joe Nathan and Matt Capps are great 8th and 9th inning options, and Francisco Liriano is another year removed from surgery.

Why we’re concerned: Everyone else in the division got a lot better (or at least a little). Justin Morneau is really, really banged up for a 29 year old guy and will be the biggest contingent for make or break on this roster. We think Morneau needs another year to recover fully. How many wins can you really squeeze out of Carl Pavano, Kevin Slowey, Brian Duensing, and Nick Blackburn again? This is in one of the best hitting divisions in baseball, mind you. The Twins will not win the division this season, but they’ll be solid.