The American League Central features three solid teams that should battle for the division title, followed by two others that are young and in rebuilding phases.

TWHS brings you its 2011 AL Central preview, set wilth statistics, analysis, breakdowns Fantasy Baseball breakout candidates and more:

KP’s 2011 American League Central Preview

Chicago White Sox

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Will Ozzie Guillen and the potent White Sox make the playoffs?

Offense: GM Ken Williams has always been aggressive, and that’s why it’s no shock that the White Sox decided to add more pieces.  With the addition of Adam Dunn to the middle of a lineup already featuring Paul Konerko (resigned) and Carlos Quentin, Chicago has one of the most potent lineups in the American League.

Defense: This is a middle-of-the-road defensive team (17th in MLB last season) with a very young, but talented infield.

Pitching: The rotation is an interesting one, featuring a number of solid arms that can be streaky at times – including Mark Buehrle and John Danks.  The biggest key will be Jake Peavy, who is recovering from a rotator cuff injury.  If Peavy gets healthy and takes off, watch out.

Fantasy Breakout Candidate: Matt Thornton – Bobby Jenks is now in Boston, and the closer job is up for grabs.  Thornton has been mentioned as the favorite, and if he wins the job, Thornton would be a likely candidate for a hefty chunk of saves.

KP’s Take: The White Sox have a few question marks with health both on offense and with the pitching staff, but there’s no question about the talent in the middle of the batting order.  Playing in a hitter friendly park, the White Sox should post big numbers, and remain in the division and playoff chase throughout the entire season.

Cleveland Indians

Offense: The Tribe are continuing a rebuilding stage, and feature a number of talented, young pieces on offense, including Shin-Soo Choo, Carlos Santana and Matt LaPorta.  The key to Cleveland getting into the mix will be the growth of these players, coupled with the health of the team as a whole.

Defense: The Indians are ranked in the middle of the pack with the White Sox, but do have a few players that are capable of making very flashy plays.

Pitching: Again, the Indians rely on some younger players, with the streaky Fausto Carmona fronting the rotation, and 25-year old Chris Perez at the back end closing games.  It will be a major challenge for this staff to hang with the lineups of the Twins, White Sox and Tigers.

Fantasy Breakout Candidate: Carlos Santana – There are few elite fantasy catchers, and Santana could climb into that pack if he stays healthy. The key will be if he suffers zero setbacks from the knee injury he sustained last season.

KP’s Take: With the youth across both the lineup and the pitching staff, it’s hard to imagine the Indians competing in 2011.  The key will be if they can grow, and find some diamonds in the rough.  Expect the Tribe to battle with the Royals for the worst record in the division.  Make me pick, and I would put Cleveland in last place by season’s end.

Detroit Tigers

Offense: Adding Victor Martinez is huge for Detroit’s offense, but the biggest key will be Miguel Cabrera, and how things progress with the issues he’s been having off the field with alcohol.  Clearly, Cabrera anchors the offense, and the Tigers will need him around to be successful.

Defense: Last season, the Tigers were in the bottom third in baseball regarding fielding percentage, and as a team, they committed 109 errors in 2010.

Pitching: The rotation is solid and has a chance to be very good – headlined by Justin Verlander and also featuring Max Scherzer, Rick Porcello and Brad Penny.  The bullpen also added quality arms that will help bridge the gap to closer Jose Valverde.

Fantasy Breakout Candidate: Ryan Raburn – In just 371 at-bats last season, Raburn batted .280, and hit 15 HR.  The Tigers are expected to give him a more significant role this season, where he could flourish offensively, and be a high-quality fantasy sleeper.

KP’s Take: Distractions can derail a team, and there is no potential bigger distraction looming than the off the field issues involving superstar Miguel Cabrera.  Combine that with a team that’s going to need everyone to be healthy and focused with both Chicago and Minnesota loaded with talent.  Call it a hunch, but Detroit’s roadblocks are too much to reach the postseason in 2011.

Kansas City Royals

Offense: It’s a known fact that the Royals may have the deepest farm system, and this could be a team on the rise in upcoming years.  Kansas City also features a number of talented young players on its current roster, including Alex Gordon and Billy Butler.

Defense: Only four teams in baseball finished with a lower fielding percentage, and these young Royals also committed 121 errors in 2010.  This will need to improve if KC wants to get into the win column more frequently.

Pitching: The Royals traded away ace Zack Greinke to the Milwaukee Brewers, so it’s safe to assume that the rotation is weaker heading into the 2011 season.  Closer Joakim Soria is still headlining the bullpen, and it will be interesting to see if the Royals choose to move him during the trade deadline.

Fantasy Breakout Candidate: Alcides Escobar – At age 24, Escobar is still a young kid learning on the job.  He possesses the talent and the speed to wreak havoc on the basepaths.  Last year’s .235 average and 4 HR were disappointing – and there’s nowhere to go but up from here.

KP’s Take: This is a very young team with the potential for a bright future if even half of its talented prospects pan out.  The keys here will be getting significant growth out of the young players, especially players like Alex Gordon, who has disappointed to date.  Don’t expect the Royals to challenge in 2011, but 4th place is a definite possibility.

Minnesota Twins

Offense: The key to Minnesota’s offense will be Justin Morneau recovering from post-concussion syndrome.  If Morneau can return to the cleanup spot, the Twins should be dynamite with Delmon Young, Joe Mauer and others also anchoring the offensive attack.

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Francisco Liriano returned to form in 2010

Defense: Minnesota sports one of baseball’s strongest defenses.  The Twins were ranked 5th in baseball last season, and Japanese rookie Tsuyoshi Nishioka adds another solid glove to the middle infield.

Pitching: Francisco Liriano returned to form last season, and cemented himself as the ace of the rotation.  Carl Pavano returns, and Joe Nathan is set to be back from injury as the team’s closer.  All in all, this is a solid staff that should perform well.

Fantasy Breakout Candidate: Tsuyoshi Nishioka – Rookies from Japan can be a question mark, especially in the Fantasy Baseball department.  But Nishioka has had a great spring, is set to likely bat out of the #2 hole, which would put him in position to post solid statistics within this offense.  High steal totals and a solid average are a good possibility.

KP’s Take: The Twins have been a model of consistency under Ron Gardenhire, but have had trouble going deep in the playoffs.  This season, if Morneau and Nathan can log a lot of games, and the rotation has another solid year, Minnesota should compete for another division title.  My gut tells me that will happen, and the Twins take the Central.

 

THE FINAL WORD

The AL Central race should come down to three teams in the final month – the White Sox, Twins and Tigers.  Detroit has some concerns and distractions involving Miguel Cabrera.  Chicago has a lot of added pop and could see an extra boost if Jake Peavy can log some innings.  Meanwhile, the Twins played well without Justin Morneau and Joe Nathan last season, and if they get each back, that could be the difference in the division race.  With the Indians and Royals set as likely AL doormats, the other three teams should benefit with additional victories in the league.  That’s why I’m predicting that the Central features both the division winner and the wild card.  Minnesota and Chicago head to the postseason.

KP’s Division Winner: Minnesota Twins

KP’s Overall 2011 MLB Season and Playoff Predictions will be posted in the next few days…

Who Will Win The American League Central Division in 2011?

  • Minnesota Twins (27%, 11 Votes)
  • Chicago White Sox (24%, 10 Votes)
  • Detroit Tigers (24%, 10 Votes)
  • Cleveland Indians (17%, 7 Votes)
  • Kansas City Royals (7%, 3 Votes)

Total Voters: 41

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