The A.L. Central is clearly the best division in baseball, which is precisely why it won't produce the 2007 Wild Card winner. The four good-not-great teams at the top of the division are going to claw each other's eyes out all year thanks to the unbalanced schedule, and I think the division champ ends up topping out at about 92 wins. Meanwhile, the Yankees and Red Sox will both win at least 97, so none of that four-teams-for-three-slots nonsense like we saw in 2005. This is the story (true story) of four quality teams who possess severe flaws, battling to see which defect will prove the least harmful.
It's been well documented that the Indians run differential was vastly better than their won-loss record last year, so expect some course correction. The pitching, led by C.C. Sabathia, should be just good enough to allow the monster talents of Travis Hafner, Grady Sizemore and Victor Martinez to carry the day. Despite the unappetizing prospect of Joe Borowski closing games, the bullpen features some young power arms who are better than they showed last year.
The Tigers obviously aren't as good as they looked last year, despite the addition of Gary Sheffield. Most of last season was a fluke. Their offense is terrible, even with a pissed-off Sheffield. Luckily, they have Jeremy Bonderman poised to have a massive year and a great bullpen. Unluckily, Kenny Rogers is about to go back to being irrelevant, Justin Verlander's shoulder might fall off at any moment and Jim Leyland is a douche.
Hmm...Ramon Ortiz and Sydney Ponson? Great plan! Sorry, Twins fans, you've got a likable team, but the Liriano injury combined with a weak off-season killed your playoff chances for 2007. Time to cross your fingers that Liriano is ready to go next spring. Oh, and Johan — pinstripes are slimming. ::sexy wink::
Scott Podsednik (2006 OBP: .330) and Darin Erstad (2005 OBP: .325) at the top of the order? Great plan! The Garcia and McCarthy trades made absolutely no sense, unless one or both represented severe clubhouse problems. Mark Buerhle is dunzo, and whining about a contract extension to boot. Ozzie Guillen is an idiot who thinks his patented brand of small ball was responsible for the 2005 championship (instead of a season of good and somewhat fluky pitching). The salad days are over on the South Side.
Kansas City GM Dayton Moore is in a tough spot. He was brought in to put an end to a decade-plus of losing seasons, but inherited a team with absolutely no nucleus, a small payroll and a handful of prospects who are probably a couple years away. But he can't wait for his prospects to develop naturally, because ownership and the fan base has lost all patience with losing. So Moore felt the need to make a big splash in the insanely inflated free agent market this past off-season, which led to the colossal mistake of signing Gil Meche for five years and tying up an inordinate amount of the team's payroll in one below-average starting pitcher. Moore's not dumb: he knows Meche isn't about to turn into Chris Carpenter. He thought that showing the franchise was willing to spend money would placate the fans enough to let Alex Gordon, Billy Butler et al. become what they're going to be. I can't blame Moore at all. But the Royals are going to be awful again.