by Robert Ferringo - 03/28/2006
The American League Central is the Major League equivalent of the Lost Boys. In 2005, Chicago was their Peter Pan, bucking the odds and an 88-year history of failure to win the World Series.
This season, the Southsiders bring back their core for an attempt to repeat. I don't expect the same level of success out of the Sox, but I also don't expect anyone in this division to get in their way.
The AL Central remains a hodgepodge of teams and talent. There are journeymen starters, unproven outfielders and long-forgotten middle relievers. This division is a wasteland of low-budget teams from small-market cities. It's a sad commentary on the State of Baseball, but the only way a team can rise up from this situation and compete is through outstanding fundamentals and some great pitching.
Just ask the Sox.
Here's one man's look at the American League Central:
AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRALCHICAGO WHITE SOX
2005 Record: 99-63 (first)
Odds to win AL Pennant: 5/1
Odds to win World Series: 7/2
Wins Over/Under: 91.5
Strengths: Just like last season, the key to the White Sox is their dominating starting pitching. Also, the offense should show a bit more explosiveness now that Jim Thome is protecting Paul Konerko. Of course, that's if Thome stays healthy.
Weaknesses: Already cracks have been showing. The public feud between Frank Thomas and GM Ken Williams has cast a cloud over the team. The White Sox were 61-34 in games decided by two runs or less, and 35-19 in one-run games. While this is a credit to their bullpen and veteran focus, it's also tough to expect that level of execution two years in a row.
Outlook: The champions are locked and loaded to make a run at a repeat. However, I don't think it will happen. Lightning struck last season, but they had an incredible run of clutch play and good fortune. Also, manager Ozzie Guillen has the potential to grate on some guys if the Sox get off to a slow start.
2005 Record: 93-69 (second)
Odds to win AL Pennant: 7/1
Odds to win World Series: 14/1
Wins Over/Under: 90.5
Strengths: Cleveland was a week away from the playoffs last season, and that experience of being oh-so-close should have whetted the appetite for 2006. They have speed and contact hitters up and down the lineup, and if Travis Hafner can take that next step to Elite this season the Indians could make The Leap.
Weaknesses: Besides C.C. Sabathia, there isn't any power on this pitching staff. That would normally be fine, but the Tribe's defense is suspect. Also, Bob Wickman is solid in the closer role, but he has a history of arm troubles.
Outlook: Been knocking on the door. This is the season they break through it. They remind me of the early nineties Indians, the Lofton-Baerga-Belle crew, who took some time to learn and then became a force. I don't think they're at Force Level yet, but they'll push that 90.5 win mark.
2005 Record: 83-79 (third)
Odds to win AL Pennant: 13/1
Odds to win World Series: 33/1
Wins Over/Under: 82.5
Strengths: Their pitching staff is still probably one of the best four or five in the Majors. They play excellent defense, are fundamental on the bases and they have outstanding chemistry. I think Luis Castillo will have a nice bounce-back year, and could be the key to the offense.
Weaknesses: In 2005 the Twins scored just 688 runs, by far the worst in the American League. They have a new hitting coach, Joe Vavra, but they still don't have the sticks. Also, guys like Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau need to fill in the gaps and become top-flight players.
Outlook: Poor Twins. The window is just about closed. Too many top-notch players have been siphoned off over the last three years. Remember, David Ortiz was their DH from 97-02. Now, the cupboard is a little too bare. However, with those pitchers anything is possible.
2005 Record: 71-91 (fourth)
Odds to win AL Pennant: 40/1
Odds to win World Series: 100/1
Wins Over/Under: 77.5
Strengths: They have some outstanding young arms. Jeremy Bonderman and Justin Verlander have No. 1 stuff, and Mike Maroth and Nate Robertson are both crafty. The lineup actually isn't that bad, but since Comerica Park is about the size of the Silverdome their numbers will never reflect it.
Weaknesses: Their top two off-season acquisitions (Todd Jones, Kenny Rogers) have an average age of 39.5. Rogers has to keep his cool and mentor the young arms, and that is a dicey proposition. Magglio Ordonez and Pudge also run the risk of mailing it in when this team begins to fade.
Outlook: New skipper Jim Leyland has his work cut out for him.
KANSAS CITY ROYALS
2005 Record: 56-106 (fifth)
Odds to win AL Pennant: 300/1
Odds to win World Series: 17/1
Wins Over/Under: 63.5
Strengths: I'll get back to you.
Weaknesses: This team is a mishmash of players. But hey, when your budget is roughly the size of the Yankees' electric bill, what can you do?
Outlook: A team in rebuilding mode should have some discernable young talent, right? These guys still suck, and show no immediate signs of improving. That being said, I don't know/think they're 100-loss bad.
Questions or comments for Robert? E-mail him at email@example.com.
The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of Doc's baseball picks service.