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After a series of trades and free agent signings, Detroit entered the 2009 season as the team to beat. They held a season high 7 game lead on September 6th and remained in first place right up until the very last pitch of the season. Minnesota beat Detroit in special one game playoff to decide AL Central. The Twins won in the bottom of 12, 6-5. Minnesota advanced, Tigers went home with tails between their legs.
2010 will be another tight race in baseball's anything can happen division. All teams not named Cleveland have either improved or matured. It's going to be a great race. Time to take a look at winter winners and losers (in order of '09 standings).
Minnesota Twins (87-76):
Key additions: Orlando Hudson, Jacque Jones, Jim Thome.
Key losses: Orlando Cabrera, Carlos Gomez.
Ron Gardenhire's Twins are good. They play solid defense, offense provides key hits in clutch situations. Rotation began slowly but solidified by years' end. Closer Nathan is lights out. Hardy & Hudson form Twins newest dp combo. I've never been high on Hardy. Limited defensive range and very high strikeout total. He will hit homers from time to time between unproductive bad outs. Mauer & Morneau are a deadly combo and lead this offense. On paper, they often don't match up well vs foes. But, when games are played, their scrappy style wins more than they lose.
Projected rotation: Baker, Slowey, Blackburn, Pavano, Liriano.
Bullpen: Lights out with Nathan anchoring talent group of relievers.
Forecast: Is there one more big season left in DH Jim Thome's bat? Twins hope so but he may not see much action unless powerful numbers are produced this spring. Which Liriano will show up this season? He went 12-3, 2.16 in '07 before posting miserable performances last year (5-13, 5.80). Pitching holds the key in '10. Twins should be right in the Central race to the final week.
Detroit Tigers (86-77):
Key additions: Austin Jackson, Jose Valverde, Max Scherzer, Phil Coke and young pitchers who should add depth when called up from minors.
Key losses: Placido Polanco, Curtis Granderson, Brandon Lyon, Edwin Jackson, Aubrey Huff, Fernando Rodney, Marcus Thames.
Tigers gained good inexperienced talent. Gave up great proven talent. Last year, I thought Detroit might challenge for World Series glory. They never lived up to expectations. Pitching doomed hopes last year. Not keeping Edwin Jackson won't help their '10 changes. New look batting lineup will scare many opposing rotations. It could be a very long year for the Tigers.
Projected rotation: Verlander, Scherzer, Porcello, Galaragga, ???
Bullpen: Valverde is their new closer. He many not see too many save opportunties. Middle relievers and setup jobs to be won in spring training. Forecast: As of now, it doesn't look good for the Tigers heading into spring training. Too many question marks from batting lineup decisions to defense and bullpen.
Chicago White Sox (79-83):
Key additions: Jake Peavy, Juan Pierre, JJ Putz, Omar Vizquel, Andrew Jones, Mark Teahen.
Key losses: Jermaine Dye, Octavio Dotel, DJ Carrasco, Scott Posednik.
Chicago hopes woes of '09 have been left far behind. These guys struggled all season long to score runs and still found themselves within contention into mid-September. 2010 lineup will generate plenty of excitement. Starting pitchers will have new found run support. Bullpen needs to protect leads. Skies the limit. Sox looking like front runners to me.
Projected rotation: Peavy, Buehrle, Danks, Floyd, ???
Bullpen: Jenks returns as Sox closer. Plenty of solid arms will duke it out this spring.
Forecast: Deep team. Lineup will create runs. Peavy & Buehrle will win 20+ each. Back half of rotation must put up solid efforts. Chicago looks like a major challenger to winning the AL crown.
Cleveland Indians (65-97):
Key additions: Not many impact players (aging vets or castoffs from other teams).
Key losses: Kelly Shoppach.
Cleveland has given away so much talent in recent years. Not too long ago this franchise seemed destined for greatness. Not anymore. This is going to be a very long rebuilding process. Avoiding 100 wins will not be easy. Too many question marks in all phases of their game.
Projected rotation: Carmona, Huff, Westbrook, ???
Bullpen: Kerry Wood (closer) is always one pitch away from arm troubles. He's their go to guy. Middle relief was a disaster last year.
Forecast: This team will rise or fall on their pitching arms. Starters need to keep games close and reliever need to thwart rallies. 2007 ALCS appearance seems like a distant memory.
Kansas City Royals (67-95):
Key additions: Rick Ankiel, Josh Fields, Chris Getz, Jason Kendall, Scott Posednik,
Key losses: John Buck, Coco Crisp, Miguel Olivo, Mark Teahen,
I had hoped KC was going to surprise the baseball world last year. Only one player did, Cy Young Award winner Zack Grienke (16-8, 2.16). He was masterful for a dismal team. They couldn't hit or pitch in clutch moments. Guess what? 2010 Royals will turn heads. Don't be surprised at all when these guys climb the standings. Many question marks on offense. However, new players could set the stage for a memorable season.
Projected rotation: Grienke, Meche, Davies, ???
Bullpen: Soria anchors a deep bullpen. Relievers have been a sore spot for KC in recent years. Looks good on paper right now.
Forecast: Outfield defense much improved. Veteran backstop Kendall knows how to handle young pitchers which is an instant bonus. If these guys learn to cut down on strike outs and put the ball in play then 2010 will be considered a success by seasons' end.
Stay tuned... NL Central on deck.