Saturday, March 03, 2007

2007 AL Central Predictions

Cleveland Indians (94-68) 92-96 win range
*Minnesota Twins (93-69) 91-95 win range
Detroit Tigers (90-72) 88-92 win range
Chicago White Sox (88-74) 86-90 win range
Kansas City Royals (63-99) 61-65 win range

2006 W-L Record: 78-84 (4th)
2006 pW-pL Record: 89-73
2007 Projection: 94-68
Strengths: Offense, Pitching depth
Weaknesses: Rotation star quality; Bullpen
Biggest Change from '06: Not a lot; full year of Jeremy Sowers, Josh Barfield at second base, stronger outfield offense
One Reason:
One Reason the Indians will win in '07 is that they were good enough to win it the last two years, but had everything go wrong for them. There's a strong possibility that there's more than bad luck to this, but you can't deny the Indians' big-time talent.
One Reason the Indians will lose in '07 is that their pitching staff is the 4th-best in their division. They've got several solid guys in the rotation, but no real ace and a lot of questions at the back of the pack (Paul Byrd?). Their bullpen is a work in progress once again, and could prove to be the difference between making the postseason and finishing just short -- which would be an eerie repeat of 2005.
The Indians have a top-notch, solid young offense. They've got impact players in Travis Hafner, Grady Sizemore, and Victor Martinez. They've also added a stronger supporting cast, especially in the outfield, where the addition of Trot Nixon and David Dellucci should add strong depth at a reasonable price. There's also some high hopes for Ryan Garko at first base, if he ends up in the role full-time.

2006 W-L Record: 96-66 (1st)
2006 pW-pL Record: 93-69
2007 Projection: 93-69
Strengths: Impact players; young pitching, Johan Santana
Weaknesses: Offensive depth, back end of rotation
Biggest Change from '06: No Francisco Liriano
One Reason:
One Reason the Twins will win in '07 is they are, all-around, one of the strongest clubs in baseball. Each of their weaknesses is somewhat compensated for. The lack of experience of their young pitchers is compensated for by the fact that there are several of them, and each of them has very good potential. There's also Johan Santana, the superstar rock of the pitching world. Their lack of offensive depth is made up for by the presence of MVP-caliber players such as Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau.
One Reason the Twins will lose in '07 is that they just barely made the playoffs last year, and it's hard to believe that they're a better team this year. They've lost Francisco Liriano, an excellent pitcher, and will have to deal with the likely regression of hitters such as Michael Cuddyer, Nick Punto, and Justin Bartlett. It will be very hard to bridge this gap in a division where there's no room for taking a step back.
The Twins have a good chance to stay in the race all season, and in my opinion, they've got what it takes to win the Wild Card. This isn't without a few caveats; I'm counting on some strong performances from the Twins' young starters (Garza, Bonser, etc.) as well as a strong lineup up and down the order. It's a lot to ask for, but I think that with Santana, Mauer, and Morneau, they've got a head start on everybody else.

2006 W-L Record: 95-67 (2nd)
2006 pW-pL Record: 95-67
2007 Projection: 90-72
Strengths: Young pitching; power
Weaknesses: Patience; Fluke factor
Biggest Change from '06: Gary Sheffield: power + patience in one surly package
One Reason:
One Reason the Tigers will win in '07 is that they could end up winning just as they did in 2006 -- with dominant pitching and big power. There's room for improvement, with Gary Sheffield added and Joel Zumaya (hopefully) closing by season's end. If Placido Polanco and Carlos Guillen can stay healthy, the Tigers will contend.
One Reason the Tigers will lose in '07 is that there's also a lot of room for regression. Like the Twins, the Tigers got into the playofffs last year by a nose, and it's not clear that they've improved a lot in the offseason. Adding Sheffield helps, but he's getting more and more brittle, and his MVP days are probably behind him. There's a lot of room for regression in the rotation, too, with Justin Verlander entering an uncertain sophomore season, Kenny Rogers another year older, and guys like Nate Robertson and Mark Maroth not exactly inspiring confidence.
Unlike the Twins, the Tigers don't have any real impact players, and neither do they have the same farm systen depth to compensate for underachievers. It's a close call, but I'm picking the Tigers to just miss the playoffs.

2006 W-L Record: 90-72 (3rd)
2006 pW-pL Record: 88-74
2007 Projection: 88-74
Strengths: Pitching durability, power
Weaknesses: Lineup holes, Thinned-out rotation
Biggest Change from '06: Loss of Freddy Garcia
One Reason:
One Reason the White Sox will win in '07 is that they're a well-rounded ballclub. They've got a pretty good bullpen with a good (if volatile) closer, a good starting rotation that goes deep into ballgames, and several legitimate offensive threats.
One Reason the White Sox will lose in '07 is that they've taken a step back from '06. Replacing Freddy Garcia with Gavin Floyd is a loss in the short-term, and there are still big questions surrounding Juan Uribe's ability to play every day while facing murder charges in the Dominican. With John Danks, Ryan Sweeney, and Josh Fields, the Sox have the impact players to step in and produce in the majors. But there's just not much evidence that the Sox are significant better than they were in 2006. And in this division, treading water just isn't enough.
The Sox are a pretty reliable 85-90 win team, but it's tough to project beyond that. Any scenario that sees them winning more than 90 games requires a rebound by starters Mark Buehrle and Jon Garland as well as solid production from their young prospects.

2006 W-L Record: 62-100 (5th)
2006 pW-pL Record: 63-99
2007 Projection: 63-99
Strengths: Young hitters
Weaknesses: The entire pitching staff, skilled defensive positions
Biggest Change from '06: The ascension of Alex Gordon
One Reason:
One Reason the Royals will win in '07 is that their hitting prospects reach the majors and make an immediate impact.
One Reason the Royals will lose in '07 is that their pitching staff is abysmal and not likely to get much better.
The Gil Meche contract is what everyone will be focusing on this year. And once it goes down in flames, we'll be able to move on and look at the mess that is the Royals' pitching staff. With their young hitters, the Royals have the chance to field a league-average offense quite soon. But there's little prospect for improvement in their pitching staff, which is probably why management got desperate and signed Meche. And while Meche is a notch above the other Royal starters, that's a very dubious honor.

We'll finish up with the NL West soon.

No comments: