AL Central preview: Just how many games will the Tigers win this one by?

Kevin Kaduk
Big League Stew

Rejoice, rejoice, the baseball season is almost here! In an attempt to quickly get some of you slackers up to speed on the year ahead, Big League Stewards Kevin Kaduk and David Brown will again look at a division, hold a conversation about the issues therein and then issues some predictions on expected standings and award-winners. Up next is the AL Central.

Kevin Kaduk: And westbound down I-80 we go, Monsieur Marron! Our next division to preview is the AL Central, which hasn't really been playing to a wealth of dissension when it comes to predictions. The Tigers had their names traced on the non-existent AL Central trophy after winning the division by 15 games in 2011 and then straight-up engraved once Mike Ilitch dropped $214 million on Prince Fielder. We all know that contract will cause some major problems down the road, but it's an absolute game-changer right now. Fielder has premier left-handed power and the 3-4 he forms with Miguel Cabrera is the most terrifying combo in the bigs.

Add it to a pitching rotation that's somehow sneaky good (even though it features a very well-known AL Cy Young winner) and a weak division filled with either half-interested or half-built teams and it looks like the Tigers are guaranteed to win their second straight division title after going 24 years without capturing a single flag. I know they had experienced a multi-year hangover after appearing in the World Series in 2006, but do you see any way this doesn't end differently?

David Brown: The only thing holding me back from picking the Tigers to run away with the division by 20 games is the efense. Yes, I left out the "D" on purpose, like they do with Elmon Young out in left field. Good luck to Justin Verlander trying to pitch a perfect game and get in good with Kate Upton with this backup band. Is it courage that allows manager Jim Leyland to play Cabrera at third, Jhonny Peralta at short, Ryan Raburn at second and Prince at first in the same game, at the same time? I'll have what he's smoking, then. It's actually a neat experiment GM Dave Dombrowski is trying, in a way. Like the fantasy baseball player who stockpiles his lineup with lowly rated defensive players because they can hit, and they happen to be eligible at odd positions. This menagerie is going to cost the Tigers some victories here and there but, like you said, nobody else in the division is ready to take advantage. Still, I'd bet Leyland a carton of Marlboro Reds that Cabrera is playing first and Fielder isn't fielding anything by midseason.

[Video: AL playoff predictions | NL forecast]

Now, come 2013 when the Kansas City Royals have matured some and the AL still doesn't allow teams to use six DHs (Who do they think they are, the White Sox?) the Tigers aren't going to get away with such arrogance.

Kevin Kaduk: There's definitely going to be an air of "now or never" surrounding the Tigers the next season or three, but we all know this is not the way to build a franchise in the age of 10 playoff teams. I understand that Mike Ilitch realizes he's not going to be on this mortal coil to sell everyone affordable pizza forever — and I give him credit for going after the whole pepperoni (heh) with all the dough (heh) he's amassed — but he still has to hope that everything lands just right come October. Best of luck to the pizza king.

As for second place, your guess is as good as mine. The Indians seem to fit the definition of "middling" perhaps more than any other team in the league, the White Sox are in the midst of a huge identity crisis and the Royals have had their optimism drenched by some spring injuries. It's the type of field that the Twins would have usually grinded down to crying uncle in past years, but they're coming off a 99-loss season. Should we just draw a name from a hat or what?

DB: More like pull the hat over our eyes. The Indians and Royals would have a heck of a club if you combined the best of their rosters. Alex Gordon, Shin-Soo Choo, Billy Butler, Asdrubal Cabrera, Eric Hosmer, Carlos Santana, Jeff Francoeur, Ubaldo Jimenez, Aaron Crow, Vinny Pestano. I'll flip ya' for who's better — Lonnie Chisenhall or Mike Moustakas. Sign me up for partial season tickets at the K and the Jake, know what I'm sayin'? Alas, both of these clubs have more holes than a Lamar's Donuts. Or something in Ohio that also has a lot of holes.

A couple of months ago, I would have picked the Royals to finish ahead of the Tribe, but KC's starting pitching — yeesh. Bruce Chen, I love as a concept — but opening day? He's the best guy they got? Luke Hochevar seems to be evolving, ever so slowly, into a solid pitcher. Maybe by mid-2013, he'll be a good No. 2 starter. With Jonathan Sanchez, they might get a guy who will pitch a no-hitter one start then not get out of the first inning the next. Danny Duffy is coming along, but is it at a Hochevar timetable, or more like Danny Jackson? We're just going to have to be patient with the Royals. The Indians seem more like a "second place now" kind of bunch. The All-Star game is coming to KC this summer. That's going to be the season's high point. And there's nothing wrong with that. The good folks have been waiting for more than 25 years for a champion, so what's one more?

[Craziest stadium foods fans will find from MLB park to park]

'Duk: Ah yes, the All-Star game in Kansas City. Can we switch this post midstream into an argument over which barbecue joint has the best burnt ends? That's a tastier prospect than anything the White Sox have in their farm system. Which is probably just as well since the foolish contracts that Kenny Williams waved aboard the past few years prevent them from doing a full-blown rebuilding project. We could be looking at a contender if Daniel Hudson and Clayton Richard were still in the rotation, instead Hawk Harrelson has been sentenced to a full season of dadgummiting his way— yes, I just made that into a verb — through Adam Dunn and Alexis Rios plate appearances. Jake Peavy says he's aiming for 30 starts, but I probably have a better chance of watching 30 full White Sox games this seasons.

It's a shame, too, because this division had been featuring some pretty good rivalries between the Tigers, White Sox and Twins. But Ozzie Guillen has gone fishin' for something other than piranhas and the M&M boys stand for "medical" and "malady." As a fine son of the Midwest, I will now go stand in the nearest cornfield and weep.

DB: It's funny, but a year ago at this time, the Twinkies were still kind of fresh. We all figured they'd get Justin Morneau back eventually, and that Joe Mauer would come through and keep them contending again in '11. None of that happened in the worst way. And now, even if Mauer and Morneau come through with their best possible seasons, and Denard Span reverts to his form of three years ago, this team can't possibly contend. Danny Valencia, Jamey Carroll and Alexi Casilla — that's got to be the worst infield in the major leagues. Who in the name of Nick Punto are they trying to kid? Also, I know he can go get the ball, but can a major-league team afford to have Ben Revere as its left fielder? I expect the Twins to be better than they were in 2011, because worse is too unlikely. But they have as much rebuilding to do as your White Sox. I'd say they need to fire the GM, but they already did.

'Duk: Ah yes, the curse of Tsuyoshi Nishioka. Long may it haunt Bill Smith.

Honestly, I might be the one that's haunted — or at least thoroughly depressed. When we go through other divisions, there usually a number of premier superstars, tantalizing prospects and solid pitching rotations to touch upon. But you come out here to the AL Central and once you fawn over the Tigers and then wonder if Eric Hosmer and Co. can start hitting for power, you're pretty much done. Are we being too negative?

DB: No, you're right. It's a dreadful, dreadful place where nothing but the Tiger can survive. Bill Smith's doing just fine, by the way. I believe he's prospering with his chain of dry goods stores down in Florida. Oh, what's the next division already?

* * *

AL Central predicted order of finish
'Duk: 1. Tigers, 2. Indians, 3. White Sox, 4. Royals, 5. Twins
DB: 1. Tigers 2. Indians 3. Royals. 4. White Sox 5. Twins.

AL Central MVP
'Duk: Miguel Cabrera, Tigers
DB: Miguel Cabrera, Tigers

AL Cy Young
'Duk: Justin Verlander, Tigers
DB: Justin Verlander, Tigers

AL Rookie of the Year
'Duk: Addison Reed, White Sox
DB: Addison Reed, White Sox

* * *

Previously: AL East, NL East

Coming Friday: NL Central

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