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AL Central Betting Outlook

AL Central Betting Outlook

AL Central Betting Outlook
By Matt Zylbert

Detroit Tigers

While the Tigers will be remembered in the history books as having won last year's American League pennant, the path they chose to get there wasn't particularly pretty. In actuality, this was a team that tremendously disappointed throughout a good portion of 2012 before ultimately getting hot at the right time, and even still, they finished with a worse regular season record than six other American League teams! That's almost half the league! In fact, if this club was in another division, they don't even make the playoffs, let alone go to the World Series. However, they took advantage of a sometimes-curious postseason system, sparked by firepower that any team would love to have. Of course, it all begins with Miguel Cabrera, who captured the first Triple Crown since 1967, which is an enormous deal, given the majority of years since then where nobody was even close. The signing of Prince Fielder turned out to be an impactful one, as the beefy first baseman contributed his usual production that made him one of the most feared power hitters throughout his years in Milwaukee.

Their lineup goes much deeper than the franchise's two offensive superstars, especially after bringing in Torii Hunter this past offseason. Victor Martinez, meanwhile, has been with the Tigers a couple of years now, but his presence in the lineup will also feel like a new addition, considering he was out all of last year following knee surgery. Furthermore, there is also Austin Jackson, one of the most prolific lead-off hitters in the game, to set the table for Detroit's behemoths waiting in the wings. In other words, their offense is still among the most dangerous, and the same argument could be made for their pitching staff. Justin Verlander is obviously as dominant as anyone in the league, while Max Scherzer and Doug Fister, both coming off outstanding postseason performances, follow right behind him every five days. The bullpen is good, too, but the closer situation is still unsettled with Jose Valverde departed, which could cost them games out of the gate. With their division rivals making severe improvements across the board, the Tigers certainly cannot afford an extensive slow start similar to last year. Even so, they've got the target on their back and should be well in contention all year long. Predicted Record: 91-71

Cleveland Indians (Best Bet: Over 76.5 Wins)

In 2007, the Indians were up 3-1 in the American League Championship Series over the Red Sox, needing just one more win to record their first World Series appearance since 1997. Of course, that did not happen, as Boston ultimately ended up winning the whole thing, while Cleveland slowly but surely deteriorated into obscurity from that point on, having not surpassed .500 in any of the years since. Well, luckily for long-suffering Cleveland fans, it appears change is about to arrive, and apparently it already has, considering the ownership's rare offseason-spending spree that lured in some big names. First, it began by reeling in successful manager Terry Francona, who ironically led that aforementioned Red Sox miracle comeback in '07 (Among a few other historic achievements while in Boston). Francona carries a mindset and demeanor that very few managers possess, which should speed up the process of Cleveland returning to relevancy. And so should their player acquisitions on offense, having nabbed one of the best lead-off men in the business in Michael Bourn, a couple of useful sluggers in Nick Swisher and Mark Reynolds, and a dynamic outfielder in Drew Stubbs, who finally may begin to realize his full potential as an Indian. Combine those talents with Carlos Santana, Asdrubal Cabrera, and the highly-emerging Jason Kipnis, and you have the makings of one of the most exciting lineups in all the American League.

Cleveland did some shoring up to its pitching staff, too, adding Brett Myers, Trevor Bauer, and Scott Kazmir, all of whom figure to make an impact at some point in the middle of the rotation. Justin Masterson and Ubaldo Jimenez both top the staff, and while they may not be ideal choices for their positions, they do have talent and a knack for striking out opposing batters. When it comes to pitching, the team's strength lies in its bullpen, which, on paper, looks to be in good shape with the likes of Joe Smith, Vinnie Pestano, and Frank Hermann teaming up to get the ball to Chris Perez in the ninth. The talent is there and an excellent manager is in place; this is a club that can accomplish special things. Watch out for the 2013 Indians. Predicted Record: 87-75

Kansas City Royals

Without question, the Royals were quite a trendy sleeper pick last year to impress, as many, including this author, thought 2012 would be the year they finally put everything together. After all, this is a team that has been bad for several years now, having not recorded a winning season since 2003. In addition, they haven't reached the playoffs since 1985, which seems like an entire generation ago. With those misfortunes comes high-quality draft picks, at least, and if you look up and down their roster, Kansas City is flooded with them. Eric Hosmer (2008 3rd overall pick), the consensus choice to eventually become the face of the franchise, certainly symbolized the Royals' shortcomings last season with a very disappointing campaign. A bounce-back year is mandatory for the Royals to have any chance in 2013, and he's shown shades of it in the World Baseball Classic. However, it wasn't all underachieving for this promising ballclub, as Billy Butler (2004 14th overall pick) enjoyed the most successful season of his career, en route to his first all-star appearance. Mike Moustakas (2007 2nd overall pick) and Alex Gordon (2005 2nd overall pick) also put up solid numbers, proving the franchise's young core could be ready to collectively make a huge impact. And don't forget 22-year old catching prospect Salvador Perez, who has caught a lot of eyes entering his first full season now.

Meanwhile, draft picks have not panned out as well on the other side of the ball, as Luke Hochevar (2006 1st overall pick) was ineffective once again last season, leading to him being ousted from the rotation. Thus, the Royals went out and made a big trade for James Shields to be the ace of the staff, while also garnering Wade Davis in the same deal to return to a starting role. Furthermore, they dealt for Ervin Santana and re-signed Jeremy Guthrie, whom they acquired midway through last year, to refine their starting pitching. At least the bullpen looks sharp, as Greg Holland did a fabulous job in his first stint as closer last year, while Kelvin Herrera, Aaron Crow, Tim Collins, and Lou Coleman are all excellent pieces in delivering a lead to him. If the Royals don't break through this year, then there's a severe problem somewhere. Predicted Record: 84-78

Chicago White Sox

There wasn't a historic collapse at the end of 2012 like there was (Twice) in 2011, but if one team came closest to it, that would be the White Sox, who squandered a seemingly season-long stronghold over the AL Central in the final month. In fact, Chicago had a three-game lead with two weeks left, before ultimately blowing it, and opening up the door for the eventual American League champion Detroit Tigers. Even so, this was a club that took some unexpected steps forward under then-first year manager Robin Ventura, while flashing the potential to go even farther in 2013. Pitching-wise, the White Sox appear to be in nice shape, with two strong arms leading the way in Jake Peavy and Chris Sale. Peavy answered critics concerning his health by surpassing 30 starts for the first time in six years, while Sale was absolutely remarkable for most of his rookie campaign, even coming close to earning the always-special nod of starting the all-star game. Jose Quintana was also a bright surprise, as he became a fixture in their rotation. The bullpen was rocky at times, but did gain some stability with the emergence of Addison Reed as its closer, and they have other proven arms, like Matt Thornton and Jesse Crain, to help finish off games.

Offense might be the club's main strength, as Adam Dunn and Paul Konerko, two of the most dangerous sluggers in the league, reside in the heart of the batting order, while Dayan Viciedo's freakish power in his short time in the big leagues thus far has many believing he can develop into a similar-type power hitter. Meanwhile, Alex Rios proved last year he's still a force to be reckoned with, and perhaps most glaring of all was the improbable break-out season enjoyed by lead-off man Alejandro De Aza. There's no doubt Chicago will continue to put some crooked numbers on the scoreboard, but the concerns of health on the pitching front, especially with the returning John Danks, could turn out to be a season-long issue. Predicted Record: 76-86

Minnesota Twins

Once upon a time, the Twins regularly ruled over the American League Central, and they have the streak to prove it: Six division titles in nine years, you know. However, that was prior to the 2011 season, and since then, it's been nothing but last place finishes and .400-baseball. In other words, it hasn't been pretty for The North Star State over the past couple of years. Will 2013 change their recent string of misfortune? Eh, it's probably unlikely. No. 1, Minnesota, which ranked dead-last in the American League in home runs last year, failed to add anything to their lackluster offense. While they do possess a nice heart-of-the-order in Joe Mauer, Josh Willingham, and oft-injured Justin Morneau, the rest of the lineup is pretty uninspiring. Jamey Carroll and Pedro Florimon Jr., while they may be good defensively, comprise arguably the most unintimidating pair of middle infielders on offense in major league history. Trevor Plouffe and Ryan Doumit swing okay bats, but can't be leaned on too heavily for consistent production. Darin Mastroianni is the most intriguing up-and-coming player they have, and should help fill the void at lead-off left by Denard Span and Ben Revere, but that's the only other item of note.

No. 2, their pitching rotation may be best described as a collection of misfit toys. They added Vance Worley, Mike Pelfrey, and Kevin Correia, who are actually just as unspectacular as the potential starters they already had in place, Scott Diamond, Samuel Deduno, Cole De Vries, and Liam Hendriks. Believe it or not, Hendriks may have the highest ceiling of them all, being a surprising personal sleeper of mine. Also featuring a weak bullpen with Glen Perkins serving as the closer, it looks like these cellar dwellers are about to hit the trifecta. The Twins are at least a couple of years from being relevant again. Predicted Record: 67-95

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