MLB Predictions: AL Central Breakdown, playoff teams, more

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The 2012 version of the American League Central division should be a dogfight all season long…for 2nd-5th place that is. The Detroit Tigers appear to have the division on lockdown while the Indians, Royals, White Sox, and Twins will duke it out for the pipe dream of a wild card play-in game but with a more likely result of merely hoping to stay above .500.

The loss of Victor Martinez temporarily provided optimism to the chasers. And then the Tigers went out and signed Prince Fielder and order was restored. Detroit, coming off of a 95-win season, and their first ever AL Central crown, will look to repeat.

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Regarding “the other 4”, it should be an exciting race. Scenarios certainly exist in which all 4 of these teams could end up between 75-82 wins. Don’t be surprised if it happens. The White Sox and Twins are capable of bounce back seasons while the Indians look to build on last year’s 2nd place finish. The x-factor will be the potent, yet young, Royals lineup. If their pitching can at least be respectable, they will make serious noise.

So here’s how I see it shaking out:

1st Place: Detroit Tigers (97-65) – Winning 95 games is no small trick, which is what the Tigers did last year. I think they’re slightly better than last year so I’ll say 97. I wouldn’t be surprised if they ended up in the low 90’s in wins, but either way, they win the division. Adding Drew Smyly to a rotation of Justin Verlander, Doug Fister, Max Scherzer, and Rick Porcello provides a more than serviceable rotation pitching in front of what will be one of the more destructive offenses in the game. The Tigers have 6 guys who could crack 20 homers this year. It should be a fun summer in Motown.

2nd Place: Minnesota Twins (82-80) – I never discount a Ron Gardenhire-coached team. I expect substantial bounce-back years from Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, and Francisco Liriano. If they get even 2 of those 3 to play to their potential, they’ll take 2nd place in this division. Predicting a 19-win increase over 2011 is bold, but I think it’s entirely possible here. No way does this team bottom feed again in 2012.

3rd Place: Cleveland Indians (79-83) – The Tribe has added a lot of different arms to their rotation, but none of them excite me. I like Justin Masterson the most, but he struggles mightily against lefties and there are a lot of superb bats from that side of the plate in this division (Fielder, Mauer, Hosmer, etc.). If he’s the ace (sorry Ubaldo Jimenez, I don’t believe), then .500 is the ceiling for this team. Offensively, they will struggle to find runs at times. A healthy Shin Soo-Choo and the continued emergence of Carlos Santana could change that, but they will need some help. Manny Acta has opted for a defense first approach to his 25-man roster. That sounds good, but it’s hard to catch home runs.

4th Place: Kansas City Royals (78-84) – Let’s be honest, the KC starting rotation is highly suspect. Jonathan Sanchez is ultra-shaky and who knows what they’ll get from Luke Hochevar, Danny Duffy, and the 5th starter, which will likely be a revolving door all season. They will need to mash their way into victories, and I think they will. Eric Hosmer appears to be 100% legit. A big spring from Lorenzo Cain combined with the veteran presences of Alex Gordon and Jeff Francouer could be the best outfield in the division. If Mike Moustakas can rake at the dish, this offense will be special. Preseason injuries to Sal Perez and Joakim Soria took a little shine off of this roster, but it’s still going to be an intriguing summer in Kansas City.

5th Place: Chicago White Sox (77-85) – Before you Sox fans start freaking out, just look at the projected records, I’m only predicting you to be 5 games out of 2nd place. The bottom 4 teams could go any of a number of different directions. The key here will be the starting rotation. This could be a very good group but they seem to underachieve more than anything else. If they can get Jake Peavy and Gavin Floyd to pitch to their potential, look out. The Sox obviously need comeback seasons from Adam Dunn and Alex Rios. But even with that, will Paul Konerko have enough help or will the visiting teams take more advantage of the friendly confines than the Sox?

The rest of my predictions:

American League

AL East: 1) Boston, 2) Tampa bay, 3) New York, 4) Toronto, 5) Baltimore

AL West: 1) Los Angeles, 2) Texas, 3) Oakland, 4) Seattle

Wild Cards: Tampa Bay and Texas

AL MVP: Miguel Cabrera – runner ups: Adrian Gonzalez and Albert Pujols

AL Cy Young: David Price – runner ups: Felix Hernandez and Justin Verlander

National League

NL East: 1) Philadelphia, 2) Washington, 3) Miami, 4) Atlanta, 5) New York

NL Central: 1) Cincinnati, 2) Milwaukee, 3) St. Louis, 4) Chicago, 5) Pittsburgh, 6) Houston

NL West: 1) Arizona, 2) San Francisco, 3) Los Angeles, 4) Colorado, 5) San Diego

Wild Cards: Milwaukee and San Francisco

NL MVP: Matt Kemp – runner ups: Joey Votto and Jose Reyes

NL Cy Young: Zack Greinke – runner ups: Clayton Kershaw and Roy Halladay

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