It goes without saying that the Twins have been the biggest thorn in the Tigers' side in recent years. Even a full season removed from Game 163, I suspect that many of us still have some unresolved anger over the way 2009 ended. However, is there a new evil on the horizon, one that should be vexing Tiger fans even more than Mauer, Morneau, and company? In all of the sizing up of the competition that has been going on recently, I have heard little mention of the Chicago White Sox as the team the beat.
Consider the lineup the South Siders can trot out on any given night. While Juan Pierre offers little in terms of extra base pop and does not get on base as often as a leadoff hitter ideally would, he did swipe 68 bags last year. Following Pierre are Gordon Beckham, Alex Rios, Paul Konerko, Adam Dunn, Carlos Quentin, Alexei Ramirez, Pierzynski, and whichever youngster establishes himself at third base. Beckham has all-star potential and Ramirez had nice bounce back campaign in '10, winning the silver slugger award by posting a more than respectable slash line of .283/.321/.430. Rios experienced a tremendous revival after a disappointing 2009 campaign. Provided Kenny Williams does not trade his defensively challenged right fielder before the snow melts, I dare say that Chicago is a Carlos Quentin comeback year away from being an elite offensive club.
The White Sox pitching staff does not have a dominant front-line starter unless Peavy can sidestep injury concerns and reestablish the reputation he had in the NL. However, John Danks leads a starting five that is deep and has Chris Sale, a young lefty with filthy stuff, waiting in the wings to prove his mettle while Peavy heals. The bullpen is in transition, however, after cutting loose their ninth inning man with a bloated salary (and physique), Bobby Jenks. While they seem to lack depth, there are several quality arms still in the pen lead by power lefty Matt Thornton.
Meanwhile, the Twins have a number of question marks. The pitching staff that seems to be dependable year in and year out will look quite different after numerous free agent departures. Carl Pavano, their number two starter, may well be headed to a different team via free agency as well. It remains to be seen if Justin Morneau can return to form after a severe concussion. It also remains to be seen if Joe Mauer is the guy that hit 28 homers in 2009 or the one that hit 53 in the rest of career, including a paltry total of 9 in 2010. It is this uncertainty, coupled with a some moves to improve the offense on the South Side, that points to a new Central Division pecking order in 2011.