Commentary

Previewing the AL Central

Originally Published: March 29, 2012
By Buster Olney | ESPN The Magazine

Editor's note: ESPN.com has teamed with ESPN The Magazine and the SweetSpot Blog Network to produce this year's preview capsules. Buster Olney and Tim Kurkjian examined the American League and the National League, respectively. They ordered the teams based on how they think they'll finish, while also breaking down each team's best- and worst-case scenarios.

The SweetSpot bloggers provided the projected lineups, pitching rotations and bullpens, which are mostly approximations based on the latest information. In most cases, they don't include players who will open the season on the disabled list. The lineups reflect the most likely batting order against a right-handed starter and are subject to change.

Click on the links below to go directly to a capsule for each American League Central team:

Chicago White Sox | Cleveland Indians | Detroit Tigers
Kansas City Royals | Minnesota Twins



Information courtesy of Walkoff Woodward

THE PICK

1st Place
  • Best-case scenario: Justin Verlander is again the best pitcher on the planet, Max Scherzer harnesses his nasty stuff to become a reliable No. 2 starter and big hitters Brennan Boesch, Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder -- who will bat 2-3-4 in the Detroit lineup -- overpower the team's defensive deficiencies.
  • Worst-case scenario: Cabrera struggles so much at third base that manager Jim Leyland is forced to use him and Fielder in a first-base/DH job share, a role neither finds comfortable. Catcher Alex Avila is unable to repeat his breakout 2011 (.295, 19 HRs), and Detroit misses the playoffs.

Information courtesy of Royals Authority

THE PICK

2nd Place
  • Best-case scenario: Former Giant Jonathan Sanchez finally fulfills his potential, and young starters Danny Duffy and Mike Montgomery improve so much that Kansas City flirts with a playoff berth for the first time since 1985, when the Royals won the World Series.
  • Worst-case scenario: Duffy and Montgomery fail to live up to their minor league promise, and the Royals' formidable offense is held back by a mediocre rotation. KC remains mired in the second division, and its attempt to lock up Eric Hosmer with a long-term deal stalls.

Information courtesy of It's Pronounced "Lajaway"

THE PICK

3rd Place
  • Best-case scenario: Ubaldo Jimenez, who spent the offseason strengthening his core, rediscovers his fastball and his success of 2010 (198, 2.88 ERA). Jimenez, Justin Masterson and a dominant bullpen led by Vinnie Pestano rival Detroit's staff as the best in the division.
  • Worst-case scenario: Jimenez is again plagued by control problems, and scouts label him -- and Cleveland's trade-deadline deal for him last July -- a bust. By year's end, the Indians' window for future success seems to be closing, and they rebuild all over again.

Information courtesy of Twins Daily

THE PICK

4th Place
  • Best-case scenario: Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau -- who account for roughly 40 percent of the team's payroll -- recapture their MVP-caliber form, and the Twins are transformed. The defense, so ineffective in 2011, gets back to the business of making plays.
  • Worst-case scenario: Morneau suffers from more concussion symptoms, ending his days as a front-line player, and Mauer -- in Year 2 of an eight-year deal -- again is nagged by injuries. The small-market team is faced with two massive albatross contracts and a major rebuild.

Information courtesy of SweetSpot

THE PICK

5th Place
  • Best-case scenario: Youngsters Gordon Beckham and Dayan Viciedo respond well to new manager Robin Ventura, and the skipper's calm demeanor coaxes bounce-back seasons from Adam Dunn and Alex Rios. The Sox surprise and fight for the second wild-card spot.
  • Worst-case scenario: Dunn turns out to be done, Chris Sale is unable to make a successful conversion from the bullpen to the rotation and Jake Peavy's lingering injuries effectively end his career. Ventura is seen as too aloof, and the Sox finish last for the first time since 1989.

Buster Olney | email

Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine