As Opening Day draws near, the biggest question on most Cleveland fans’ minds seems to be: Can we beat the Tigers? It’s easy to see where the sentiment is coming from—the Tigers won the AL Central in 2011, and since the Indians are hoping to contend in 2012 it’s only natural that their sights would be set on Detroit.
But while the Tigers are clearly the main team to beat, they aren’t necessarily the only division rivals the Tribe will have to contend with. So in this edition of the Weekly Wroundtable, we asked our panelists: Are you at all worried about the Twins, Royals, or White Sox? Joining us this week is WaitingForNextYear‘s TD. Here’s what we all had to say:
TD (WaitingForNextYear): The three teams not named the Tigers that will be in direct competition with the Tribe are all in interesting spots. The White Sox are clearly in rebuilding mode, yet they are still saddled with a couple of unloadable contracts (Alex Rios and Adam Dunn anyone?). Tribe-killer Paul Konerko is still there, but their bullpen is still a mess and they will be breaking in a bunch of kids on the fly. The Twins still have Joe Mauer, but you just don’t know about Justin Morneau and his concussion issues. Michael Cuddyer is replaced essentially by Josh Willingham. Their rotation won’t scare anyone and their bullpen was brutally bad last season. I wouldn’t expect to see them hanging around the top of the division.
The team that actually worries me the most is the Kansas City Royals. While people can talk about the Indians as the top threat to the Tigers—take a look at the Royals lineup and tell me how they can be discounted? Eric Hosmer is a budding superstar (yes, I said it, he will be a superstar). Alex Gordon is coming off a monster year in which he finally played to his No. 2 overall pick potential. Mike Moustakas is one of the top prospects in baseball who will get the everyday call at the hot corner. Another top prospect, Lorenzo Cain, will take over center field. Yes, their rotation is still a question mark with a bunch of No, 3′s and 4′s in it, but their bullpen is deep, especially with the addition of Jonathan Broxton.
The Royals scare me, and they should scare you now and in the next 3-4 years. That train is coming.
Lewie Pollis: Aside from the Tigers and Indians, the only team I see as having any chance to win the division is Kansas City. The Royals don’t look like a very good team—at least, not yet—but they are absolutely loaded with promising, high-ceiling young talent. If guys like Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, and Alcides Escobar can all take their games to the next level and Billy Butler finally has that big breakout year we’ve expected from him for so long, they could have a shot at the division. A lot would have to go right for that to happen, but there’s a lot that can go right for that roster.
The White Sox, too, have a chance to overtake the Indians in the division, but that would more likely be because of a disappointing year for the Tribe than a title run for Chicago. There isn’t a whole lot of upside or young talent on that roster, and after a sub-.500 finish last year they have a long way to go before they look like serious contenders.
I’m not at all worried about the Twins. Sure, they’re probably in for some positive regression after everything that could have gone wrong did go wrong for them in 2011, but at the same time we’re talking about a team that was 36 games below .500 last year. Not to mention that they look even worse on paper than they did a year ago. I’d be shocked if they even hit .500.
Katie Hendershot: The Tigers worry me more than any other team in the Central. It’s more than just Prince Fielder, though that does have a serious impact on my outlook of the team. With Justin Verlander leading the pitching staff, coming off of a spectacular season, and Miguel Cabrera at third base, the Tigers will likely have a potent lineup with depth. That being said, I don’t think it is impossible for the Tribe to make a run. I’m not saying it will happen or even that it’s likely, just that it’s a viable possibility.
I see potential in the Royals as well. They have the building blocks to start to prepare for the future and become a threat with players like Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas. I wouldn’t count out the White Sox or the Twins either. The White Sox have a solid group of players with Paul Konerko, Gordon Beckham and Alexei Ramirez. The Twins have players like Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau and Denard Span, that, when healthy, can wreak havoc on opposing pitching.
This is the American League Central. If there’s anything we’ve seen in the past few seasons, it’s that anything is fair game. The odds-are favorite can fade away just as quickly as the underdog can climb the standings. For that reason, to some extent, I worry about all of the teams in the Central. The Tigers are in the best position to make a run this season, but it’s not out of the question for any of the other four teams to do the same, even the Indians.
Brian Heise: I can’t believe I’m saying this, but the team other than the Tigers that I’m most worried about is the Royals. They’ve had their issues in recent years, but thanks to some smart moves by their front office and quality drafting they’re beginning to turn things around. Most pundits feel like the Royals are still a year away from seriously competing in the AL Central race, but how often do we see teams make the leap from pretender to contender a year earlier than expected? The Indians were that team last year and the Royals could be that team this year.
While the Indians managed to go 12-6 versus the Royals in 2011, it wasn’t easy. Most of the games were close and any number of them could have turned out differently. Flip that record around and the Royals, who finished nine games behind the Indians, would have finished the year in second place behind Detroit. So again, while it seems unlikely to most, don’t be surprised if the Royals make some noise.
Also contributing to the Royals’ potential success is the fact that this should be a down year for both the Twins and White Sox, given recent moves by both teams. If the Royals can improve their record against the Indians and beat up on the Twins and White Sox they may very well be in contention with the Indians for a wild card birth this season. That’s why it is crucial that the Indians take advantage of favorable match-ups against divisional opponents if they want to make the playoffs this season.
Steve Kinsella: As an Indians fan I worry about the Twins, Royals, and White Sox since we have to play them 54 times during the season. There is a large amount of volatility in trying to predict what to expect in 2012 from the Royals, Twins, and White Sox. There are numerous high-profile/high-ceiling players on the Twins and White Sox attempting to rebound from injury and/or poor performance who, if successful and healthy, could result in surprisingly competitive teams.The Royals have have a young nucleus of talent who, if they mature together, could be this years version of the 2008 Rays or 2011 Diamondbacks.
The team that has to worry about the aforementioned possibly improved teams is the Detroit Tigers. The Tigers had much go right for them in 2011 including the universal collapse of the AL Central teams in August/September. No AL Central team other than the Tigers played over .500 ball over the last two months of the season: the Royals were 25-29, the Indians 27-30, the White Sox 27-29, and the Twins went 13-41, all of which helped the Tigers win 95 games. An improved AL Central may inhibit the Tigers or anyone other team from running away with the division and may result in an exciting September finish in the AL Central.