To be honest, I was a little intimidated by the prospect of writing this preview. I really just wanted to be lazy and post, "THE DETROIT TIGERS ARE GOING TO WIN THE AL CENTRAL," but since my colleague Domenic did such an extensive and fantastic job with his AL West and NL West previews, I figured I owed it to all of you to attempt to do the same. In 2012, those same Tigers emerged as the American League Central Division winners which was a little surprising considering they only spent a total of 33 days in first place all season. Of course, they were the most important days of the season, the ones at the end. The Chicago White Sox, who came up short and in second place, were in that position for 117 days. Luckily for Detroit, Chicago went cold in September and they made the playoffs with only 88 wins. But as we found out, 88 wins in the regular season don't mean much in the playoffs, everyone starts at zero and in the case of the Yankees, they stayed at that number in the ALCS.
But I digress.
They were a few notable changes in the Division this offseason, from Cleveland hiring Terry Francona to manage the Indians to Kansas City being bold and making a big trade with Tampa for two starting pitchers in James Shields and Wade Davis and Chicago losing A.J. Pierzynski to the Texas Rangers. And let's not leave out Detroit who re-signed Anibal Sanchez and added Torii Hunter to their lineup.
The team I did leave out is the poor Minnesota Twins. Last year, they had the worst starting rotation in the American League and they didn't do much in the offseason to improve.
So let's get started, shall we?
Detroit will more than likely win the Division. They definitely have the lineup and the pitching to do it. Their closer by committee, because of the departure of Jose Valverde, may be their weakest point but they should be the team to beat this year in the AL Central.
They have last year's Triple Crown/MVP winner Miguel Cabrera now complimented by new addition Torii Hunter and second-year Tiger Prince Fielder and getting Victor Martinez back from his knee injury will be a big boost for the Tigers' offense - not that they really needed it.
The Detroit Tigers' pitching rotation continues to be like me, extremely right hand dominated. This worked for them in the playoffs, especially against the Yankees whose lineup was thrown off by the Tigers' righties.
With Justin Verlander continuing to be Justin Verlander, this rotation is scary enough but with Max Scherzer emerging as a guy to look out for, it's gotten even more formidable. You add Sanchez to the mix and Detroit's rotation is looking really strong compared to its Division counterparts.
Like I said above, I don't see anyone unseating them from the top spot in the Division. The only question is how easy will it be for them to take the title.
The poor White Sox. Chicago spent most of the year in first place but a pretty dismal September allowed the 88-win Tigers to swoop in and take the Division. One guy who emerged as a star for the Sox and who was rewarded for it was 2013 opening day starter Chris Sale. 23-year-old Sale finished the year 17-8 with a 3.05 ERA and was given a five-year deal worth $32.5 million in the offseason. He was very strong in the first half of last year posting an 10-2 record with an ERA of 2.19 before the All-Star break but seemed to tire after mid-July. From then until the end of the season Sale was 7-6 with a 4.03 ERA. Still, the White Sox believed in him enough to have locked him down for the next few years and they hope he leads them to bigger and better things.
Offensively, the squad lost both Kevin Youkilis and A.J. Pierzynski who combined to hit 42 home runs and with Pierzynski gone it seems the the job of starting catcher will be given to Tyler Flowers who is a very light hitting catcher compared to his predecessor. Flowers' career Major League line so far is only 205/.307/.385/.694 in 317 appearances. Pierzynski batted .278/.326/.501/.827 last season. (Hey, another team has a catching situation too?)
One more question mark for the Sox, John Danks and his shoulder. Danks sat out most of 2012 but the White Sox feel that if he continues to pitch well this Spring and remains healthy, their rotation looks to be pretty solid from top to bottom.
After their 2012 rotation finished 10th in the AL with a 4.30 ERA, the Royals did something that sent shockwaves throughout baseball this winter and traded the crown jewel of their farm system, Wil Myers to the Tampa Bay Rays for James Shields and Wade Davis. That move told everyone that after many years of futilty the Kansas City Royals were in "win now" mode.
But will they win now? Not with Detroit standing in the way. Will they be more competitive than in years past? Most likely, thanks to their pitching rotation. Shields was 15-10 with a 3.52 ERA in 2012 for the Rays. He led the team in strikeouts (223) and he pitched a team-high 227.2 innings. He will be a huge addition to the Royals. Davis appeared in 54 games last year for the Rays; he compiled a 3-0 record while holding seven games. He also had an ERA 2.43 in his appearances.
Offensively, Kansas City remains the same but they need young Eric Hosmer to step up. He wasn't great last season - he batted .232 with 14 home runs and 60 RBI - but he made a strong showing in this year's WBC so with Hosmer improving and Billy Butler and Alex Gordon doing what they normally do, the Royals have a shot to create some havoc in the Central.
Perhaps one of the AL Wild Card slots? KC hasn't seen the playoffs since I was 11-years-old so if they finally did get there, it would be a nice story.
Last year was not good for Cleveland. Their lineup wasn't powerful enough offensively - their highest home run hitter was Carlos Santana who hit 18 - and their pitching left much to be desired - their "best" pitcher, Justin Masterson led the team with only 11 wins and a 4.93 ERA.
So what did Cleveland do this offseason? They visited the baseball mechanic and instead of getting a tune-up, they got a shiny, brand new car, at least offensively: New manager, Terry Francona, big free agent, Nick Swisher and they also added guys like Michael Bourn, Mark Reynolds and Drew Stubbs to the mix. This should help them a lot offensively with Swisher, more than likely, taking over the top spot in home runs in 2013. Of course, you also have Reynolds who has been known to mash somewhat, when he's not striking out.
Pitching-wise, though, the Indians may still have some issues. That car could be a lemon. They had the league's worst rotation last year and Ubaldo Jimenez did not live up to expectations, in fact, he was a disaster. The Indians are hoping the acquisition of Brett Myers will help Jimenez recover from his 9-17 with a 5.40 ERA in 2012 and that the rotation will improve enough to help them get back to the playoffs for the first time since 2007.
Oh how the mighty have fallen. Once known as perennial Division winners, guaranteed to get to at least the first-round of the playoffs every year, the Twins have had a disastrous past few seasons and it looks like it will remain this way at least for one more year.
In 2012, their pitching ranked 13th in the AL with a 4.77 ERA and their defense committed 107 errors. And kids, what do they always say about pitching and defense? Right, they win Championships. There were some positives for the Twins last year, most notably, Joe Mauer remained alive and healthy while hitting .319/.416/.446/.861 with 10 home runs and 85 RBI in 147 games. The other guys with the M last name, Justin Morneau also made a bit of a comeback batting .267/.333/.440/.773 with 19 home runs and 77 RBI in 134 games. Unfortunately, the Twins finished 66-96 and 22 games back of the Tigers in 2012.
For 2013, they hope that Mauer and Morneau remain healthy, that Josh Willingham can repeat his offensive output of 2012 in which is clubbed a team-high 35 home runs and drove in 110 RBI.
So what's my final prediction?
1. Detroit Tigers 2. Kansas City Royals/Cleveland Indians/Chicago White Sox 3. Cleveland Indians/Chicago White Sox/Kansas City Royals 4. Chicago White Sox/Kansas City Royals/Cleveland Indians 5. Minnesota Twins
Truthfully, I think first place and last place are locks with the teams in the middle duking it out.
You can follow Stacey on Twitter at @StaceGots