Smile Politely

The AL Central Report #1

I’m going to level with you. I’m a Twins fan, so if you’re looking for fair and balanced AL Central reports, you may want to move along, dear reader.

If you have room, however, for just one more baseball column in your weekly surf, I hope that I can earn your trust and loyalty. I have no idea what sort of sports coverage you are looking for — after all, this is a primarily local arts and entertainment website — but please, use the comments section to subtly nudge my attention in the right direction.

As a baseball fan, what really gets me excited are great stories. And I don’t think that every great story has to end with a world championship. Sometimes, it’s more fun to root for an overachieving team that comes up short (see: 2007 Rockies) than to back an overwhelmingly talented squad which has the ability to turn it on and off (see: 2007 Red Sox).

Baseball’s regular season is so long that it lends itself to storytelling better than other major sports, since each game’s ups and downs aren’t magnified by days in between. All but the very best teams are going to lose more than 60 times, so a little revisionism is important even when recapping a “dominant” season.

So what are the chances of each team producing great stories and general excitement this season? It depends on what they have to work with. This is my totally subjective evaluation of what I’m looking forward to about each of these teams this season. In my estimation, the AL Central seems to get stronger every year.

Chicago White Sox: The Sox made most of their improvements in the bullpen, which is a funny place to find hope. If things work out well, then that will mean that there will be less collapses at the end of games. So is the absence of a negative a positive? Even if it is, I’m having trouble getting excited about the prospect of competent middle relief. I guess there’s always the hope that A.J. Pierzynski will punch someone or, preferably, be punched. Any shot the Sox have at being interesting will have to come from newcomer Alexei Ramirez, because the rest of the team is hopelessly vanilla.

Cleveland Indians: The Indians were good last year, and a hell of a lot of fun to watch. I know this is C.C. Sabathia’s walk year, and it’s supposed to be a big deal, but he’s never done it for me. It just seems like he puts together one decent outing after another, and then at the end of the year, it’s supposed to have been amazing. Fausto Carmona, on the other hand, is electric. Plus, Grady Sizemore continues to get better, and the late-season emergence of Asdrubal Cabrera and Franklin Gutierrez give hope that the Indians will be able to defend their title from the…

Detroit Tigers: The Tigers are going to have to really put it together to make their season a better story than their offseason. Their lineup has had the ability to bludgeon anyone for the last two years, and now they’re replacing Brandon Inge, the only hole they had in their lineup, with Miguel Cabrera? Wow. They’re going to be fun to watch.

Kansas City Royals: The Royals are far and away the best AL Central candidate for a surprisingly great story. All the elements are there: low expectations, a young core that doesn’t know they aren’t supposed to win, and a new manager who won’t remind them. Zack Greinke could be a dominant starter this year, Alex Gordon and Billy Butler could form a potent core to the lineup, and Joakim Soria can pile up the saves if they ever get late in a game with a lead. Their ceiling is probably third place, but that would seem like a pennant after what they’ve been through.

Minnesota Twins: After this offseason, anything approaching respectability would be nice. After the Royals, this team definitely has the most potential to exceed expectations. Unfortunately, most of their prospects who will get a shot this year, as well as those they received in return for Johan Santana, have a pretty low upside. I’m excited to see how Francisco Liriano comes back, though. After Liriano, the rotation can pick from no fewer than 10 guys who have #4 or #5 starter-type skills. I guess that kind of depth is a good thing?

More next Wednesday…

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