AL Central preview: predictions and projections

Joe Mauer is the reigning AL MVP.
Joe Mauer is the reigning AL MVP.

The Twins won the division title in a one-game playoff against the Tigers last season, a year after losing a one-game playoff to the White Sox. Minnesota’s title defense will come without closer Joe Nathan (elbow), and the Tigers and White Sox should make this a three-team race all season. The Royals have the reigning AL Cy Young award winner in Zack Greinke, while the Indians remain in rebuilding mode.

SN’s predicted order of finish in the AL Central:
1. Minnesota Twins
2. Chicago White Sox
3. Detroit Tigers
4. Kansas City Royals
5. Cleveland Indians

BUT LOOK OUT FOR …
Sporting News contributor Todd Jones, a former major league closer, picks one team that could prove SN wrong:
White Sox. The rotation is very good, and the bullpen has gas from both sides with Matt Thornton and Bobby Jenks. The lineup is what really excites me. Juan Pierre is now in a place he can shine.

THE ALL-DIVISION TEAM
By ESPN analyst Chris Singleton
Former White Sox center fielder

Zack Greinke is the division's top pitcher.
Zack Greinke is the division’s top pitcher.

LINEUP
C: Joe Mauer, Twins
1B: Miguel Cabrera, Tigers
2B: Orlando Hudson, Twins
3B: Brandon Inge, Tigers
SS: Alexei Ramirez, White Sox
OF: David DeJesus, Royals
OF: Grady Sizemore, Indians
OF: Carlos Quentin, White Sox
DH: Jason Kubel, Twins

ROTATION
RHP: Zack Greinke, Royals
RHP: Justin Verlander, Tigers
RHP: Jake Peavy, White Sox
RHP: Rick Porcello, Tigers
LHP: Mark Buehrle, White Sox

CLOSER
RHP: Bobby Jenks, White Sox

MANAGER
Ron Gardenhire, Twins
— As told to Jeff D’Alessio

THREE THINGS I THINK ABOUT THE AL CENTRAL
By TBS analyst Buck Martinez
Former Royals catcher

1. The White Sox will have the best rotation. They have experience at the top with Jake Peavy and Mark Buehrle, and Gavin Floyd and John Danks are budding stars. I like the Tigers’ staff; I just don’t think they have the depth.
2. The Royals’ Billy Butler will be the division’s breakout player. He’s a very smart hitter. He’s learning to turn on the ball and hit with power. Shin-Soo Choo, for the Indians, is going to have a huge year, too.
3. Twins lefthander Francisco Liriano will be better—but not at his 2006 level. He looked good in winter ball, but I don’t think we’ve seen that same electricity.
— As told to Ryan Fagan

SN SAYS
Sporting News’ Ryan Fagan makes three predictions for each team in the AL Central:

TWINS
1. With J.J. Hardy and Orlando Hudson added to the lineup, Denard Span will score at least 110 runs.
2. Minnesota will have two starters with at least 14 wins for the first time since 2004.
3. Either Michael Cuddyer or Jason Kubel—they hit 60 homers combined in 2009—will make his All-Star debut.

WHITE SOX
1. Gordon Beckham’s rise will mirror that of the Rays’ Evan Longoria in terms of how quickly the league respects and fears him.
2. Juan Pierre will finish in the AL’s top five in stolen bases and outs made.
3. Signing reliever J.J. Putz will prove to be the division’s most underrated offseason move.

TIGERS
1. Johnny Damon will make an impact, but he won’t match the numbers he put up with the Yankees in 2009 (24 homers, 82 RBIs).
2. Austin Jackson will steal the highlight reel, but Scott Sizemore will be the more consistent rookie.
3. Miguel Cabrera will earn his fourth career top five finish in league MVP voting.

ROYALS
1. Billy Butler will reach the 30-homer, 100-RBI plateaus for the first of many times.
2. Alex Gordon’s broken thumb—he could be out until mid-April—will be the latest setback in his All-Star timetable.
3. Aaron Crow, a 2009 first-round pick, will join the rotation by September—if not sooner.

INDIANS
1. Shin-Soo Choo, who had 20 homers and 21 steals last season, will be an All-Star for the first time.
2. Justin Masterson, who has been a starter and reliever in his two-season career, finally will stick in a major league rotation.
3. Trade rumors will swirl, but Grady Sizemore will finish the season with Cleveland.

BESTS OF THE AL CENTRAL
Rookie hitter: Austin Jackson, Tigers
Rookie pitcher: Daniel Schlereth, Tigers
Trade bait: Glen Perkins, Twins
Offseason pickup: Johnny Damon, Tigers
Hitter: Joe Mauer, Twins
Bet to win 20 games: Justin Verlander, Tigers
Unit: White Sox rotation
Bounce-back candidate: Francisco Liriano, Twins
Fifth starter: Freddy Garcia, White Sox
Outfield arm: Rick Ankiel, Royals
1-2 rotation punch: Mark Buehrle and Jake Peavy, White Sox
Basestealer: Juan Pierre, White Sox
Executive: Dave Dombrowski, Tigers
Bullpen: White Sox
— Ryan Fagan

GUEST BEST
Double-play combination
White Sox 2B Gordon Beckham picks: Asdrubal Cabrera and Luis Valbuena, Indians. "They’re both really athletic and smooth infielders. I think they’ll do well there for a while."

This content first appeared in Sporting News magazine. If you are not receiving the magazine, subscribe today, or pick up a copy, available at most Barnes & Noble, Borders and Hudson Retail outlets.

Joe Mauer is the reigning AL MVP.
Joe Mauer is the reigning AL MVP.

The Twins won the division title in a one-game playoff against the Tigers last season, a year after losing a one-game playoff to the White Sox. Minnesota’s title defense will come without closer Joe Nathan (elbow), and the Tigers and White Sox should make this a three-team race all season. The Royals have the reigning AL Cy Young award winner in Zack Greinke, while the Indians remain in rebuilding mode.

SN’s predicted order of finish in the AL Central:
1. Minnesota Twins
2. Chicago White Sox
3. Detroit Tigers
4. Kansas City Royals
5. Cleveland Indians

BUT LOOK OUT FOR …
Sporting News contributor Todd Jones, a former major league closer, picks one team that could prove SN wrong:
White Sox. The rotation is very good, and the bullpen has gas from both sides with Matt Thornton and Bobby Jenks. The lineup is what really excites me. Juan Pierre is now in a place he can shine.

THE ALL-DIVISION TEAM
By ESPN analyst Chris Singleton
Former White Sox center fielder

Zack Greinke is the division's top pitcher.
Zack Greinke is the division’s top pitcher.

LINEUP
C: Joe Mauer, Twins
1B: Miguel Cabrera, Tigers
2B: Orlando Hudson, Twins
3B: Brandon Inge, Tigers
SS: Alexei Ramirez, White Sox
OF: David DeJesus, Royals
OF: Grady Sizemore, Indians
OF: Carlos Quentin, White Sox
DH: Jason Kubel, Twins

ROTATION
RHP: Zack Greinke, Royals
RHP: Justin Verlander, Tigers
RHP: Jake Peavy, White Sox
RHP: Rick Porcello, Tigers
LHP: Mark Buehrle, White Sox

CLOSER
RHP: Bobby Jenks, White Sox

MANAGER
Ron Gardenhire, Twins
— As told to Jeff D’Alessio

THREE THINGS I THINK ABOUT THE AL CENTRAL
By TBS analyst Buck Martinez
Former Royals catcher

1. The White Sox will have the best rotation. They have experience at the top with Jake Peavy and Mark Buehrle, and Gavin Floyd and John Danks are budding stars. I like the Tigers’ staff; I just don’t think they have the depth.
2. The Royals’ Billy Butler will be the division’s breakout player. He’s a very smart hitter. He’s learning to turn on the ball and hit with power. Shin-Soo Choo, for the Indians, is going to have a huge year, too.
3. Twins lefthander Francisco Liriano will be better—but not at his 2006 level. He looked good in winter ball, but I don’t think we’ve seen that same electricity.
— As told to Ryan Fagan

SN SAYS
Sporting News’ Ryan Fagan makes three predictions for each team in the AL Central:

TWINS
1. With J.J. Hardy and Orlando Hudson added to the lineup, Denard Span will score at least 110 runs.
2. Minnesota will have two starters with at least 14 wins for the first time since 2004.
3. Either Michael Cuddyer or Jason Kubel—they hit 60 homers combined in 2009—will make his All-Star debut.

WHITE SOX
1. Gordon Beckham’s rise will mirror that of the Rays’ Evan Longoria in terms of how quickly the league respects and fears him.
2. Juan Pierre will finish in the AL’s top five in stolen bases and outs made.
3. Signing reliever J.J. Putz will prove to be the division’s most underrated offseason move.

TIGERS
1. Johnny Damon will make an impact, but he won’t match the numbers he put up with the Yankees in 2009 (24 homers, 82 RBIs).
2. Austin Jackson will steal the highlight reel, but Scott Sizemore will be the more consistent rookie.
3. Miguel Cabrera will earn his fourth career top five finish in league MVP voting.

ROYALS
1. Billy Butler will reach the 30-homer, 100-RBI plateaus for the first of many times.
2. Alex Gordon’s broken thumb—he could be out until mid-April—will be the latest setback in his All-Star timetable.
3. Aaron Crow, a 2009 first-round pick, will join the rotation by September—if not sooner.

INDIANS
1. Shin-Soo Choo, who had 20 homers and 21 steals last season, will be an All-Star for the first time.
2. Justin Masterson, who has been a starter and reliever in his two-season career, finally will stick in a major league rotation.
3. Trade rumors will swirl, but Grady Sizemore will finish the season with Cleveland.

BESTS OF THE AL CENTRAL
Rookie hitter: Austin Jackson, Tigers
Rookie pitcher: Daniel Schlereth, Tigers
Trade bait: Glen Perkins, Twins
Offseason pickup: Johnny Damon, Tigers
Hitter: Joe Mauer, Twins
Bet to win 20 games: Justin Verlander, Tigers
Unit: White Sox rotation
Bounce-back candidate: Francisco Liriano, Twins
Fifth starter: Freddy Garcia, White Sox
Outfield arm: Rick Ankiel, Royals
1-2 rotation punch: Mark Buehrle and Jake Peavy, White Sox
Basestealer: Juan Pierre, White Sox
Executive: Dave Dombrowski, Tigers
Bullpen: White Sox
— Ryan Fagan

GUEST BEST
Double-play combination
White Sox 2B Gordon Beckham picks: Asdrubal Cabrera and Luis Valbuena, Indians. "They’re both really athletic and smooth infielders. I think they’ll do well there for a while."

This content first appeared in Sporting News magazine. If you are not receiving the magazine, subscribe today, or pick up a copy, available at most Barnes & Noble, Borders and Hudson Retail outlets.

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