The Detroit Tigers have been the rulers of the AL Central for the past three seasons. Their biggest competition has been the Cleveland Indians; and they aren't even that intimidating. But with the Indians taking some steps back this off season, it seems unlikely that the team will able duplicate their 2013 success.
Scott Kazmir and Joe Smith signed elsewhere this off season, it seems unlikely Ubaldo Jiminez is going to sign back with the club, and a Justin Masterson trade seems possible as he is taking the team to an arbitration hearing. The team has also expressed interest in shopping SS Asdrubal Cabrera. All in all, the Indians are losing some of their main components from last season with even more possibly departing. With these players gone, it would be very difficult to be in playoff contention this coming season.
Unlike their AL Central counterpart, the Kansas City Royals have quietly been making their way up the baseball ladder and might just give the Tigers a run for their money. And now, we will examine how the two teams really match up against each other....
It looks as though the Royals are going to lose Ervin Santana this off season which is a giant blow to their starting rotation and it seems likely that Jeremy Guthrie will take a step back after posting a 15-1w record last season (career high in wins). And while Guthrie will regress a bit, he is still a key component to this Kansas City rotation. The signing of Jason Vargas is beginning to look like a smart move as he is an innings eater (217 IP in 12', 150 IP in 13') and can put up decent numbers. James Shields had a down year(for being James Shields, that is) but still up respectable numbers. That leaves former third round pick Danny Duffy, who has the potential to be an impact starter, in the four hole and manager Ned Yost stated that "I think we're going into it with Bruce having one of the five spots." Veteran pitcher Bruce Chen will be rounding out the rotation and as hard as it is to admit, Bruce Chen is a Tiger killer.
As for the Tigers rotation, we all know what Verlander, Scherzer, and Sanchez are capable of. But who will do what this year? It seems unlikely that Scherzer will match his Cy Young season, though he could win 15-17 games and place in the top three in the AL in SO's. Anibal Sanchez was the 2013 AL ERA champ and seems to be aging like wine, so expect great things from Anibal Sanchez this season. Rick Porcello will be assuming his role as a starter this season, and having Ian Kinsler and Jose Iglesias behind him will only improve his numbers as Porcello is a ground ball pitcher. Drew Smyly will make the transition from the bullpen to the rotation, but he is no stranger as he started 23 games for the club back in 2012 with a 4-3 record and 3.99 ERA. And now we come to Justin Verlander. Even though last season was full of inconsistencies, it is predicted that Justin Verlander will bounce back to his old self and be the player we all expect. The only thing stopping him from that is his recent surgery, though manger Brad Ausmus has said he has no concerns with Verlander's health.
Verdict: The Tigers have the far superior pitching staff as it is one of the best in all of baseball, but there isn't a whole lot of depth within the club's pitching. Outside of the starting five, things are sparse. A few young arms lie in team;'s farm system, but to hand them starting jobs is a questionable. As where the Royal have quite a few options in their bullpen with Luis Mendoza and Wade Davis, both familiar with starting. And even though there is depth, it's not certain what type of seasons Jason Vargas and Jeremy Guthrie will have: and will Danny Duffy finally be what everybody predicted him to be? There are questions for both teams, there is just no topping the Tigers pitching staff.
Projected Starting Lineups
1. Ian Kinsler, 2B
2. Andy Dirks, LF
3. Miguel Cabrera, 1B
4. Victor Martinez, DH
5. Alex Avila, C
6. Austin Jackson, CF
7. Torii Hunter, RF
8. Nick Castellanos, 3B
9. Jose Iglesias, SS
1. Norichika Aoki, RF
2. Omar Infante, 2B
3. Alex Gordon, LF
4. Billy Butler, DH
5. Eric Hosmer, 1B
6. Salvador Perez, C
7. Mike Moustakas, 3B
8. Lorenzo Cain, CF
9. Alcides Escobar, SS
The Tigers have made the ALCS the past three seasons; obviously there is not a whole lot wrong with their lineup. For the past two seasons, they had the best 3-4 punch in recent memory with Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder. But Fielder is now gone after being traded to the Texas Rangers. While many view it as a good thing (including myself, only because of the money aspect), Fielder's production will be missed. But on a more positive note, the team finally has a solid leadoff hitter in Kinsler and the Cabrera/ Martinez combo will be one of the most revered in baseball. What the rest of the team does becomes a little trickier. Jackson, Dirks, and Avila lost their footing last year and their production is vital to team success. If Dirks or Jackson begin to faulter, it's likely that Rajai Davis will come off the bench from time to time and occasionally start. Nick Castellanos is something to wonder about; he has been hailed as a top prospect, but until his production busts out into the major league scene, being a prospect means nothing to the team. Outside of the starting lineup, there is a bit of versatility as Don Kelly can play just about anywhere and newly acquired Steve Lombardozzi is quite versatile in the infield; Davis is also there as an outfield option.
As for the Royals, looking at the past few seasons, it's obvious that this team has yet to find their footing. The Kansas City lineup is very young (Aoki is the oldest player at 32 years old). But age has not been the problem for this team; living up to the hype and promise has been the problem. Players such as Mike Moustakas (once ranked the 11th best prospect in all of baseball in 2009) has had a difficult finding his groove at the plate as he sported a .242 BA in 12' and a .233 in 13'. If the Royals want to be successful, Moustakas needs to start producing. Eric Hosmer began to look like a future All Star in the second half of the 2013 season, and Salvador Perez was in the All Star Game last season. If these three young players can get it together, Kansas City has the ability to become a powerhouse. Throw a rejuvenated Billy Butler in the mix, along with the ever talented Alex Gordon and speedsters Lorenzo Cain and Alcides Escobar, there is a recipe for success in KC. Also, signing Omar Infante improved the team more than people realize as he was one of the most consistent hitting 2B in 2013 with a .318 BA. His production will be msised by the Tigers and enjoyed by the Royals.
Verdict: While many might believe there is an obvious winner here, it's closer than you might think. Sure, the Tigers have Miguel Cabrera, whom is the best hitter on the planet. Then there's Victor Martinez and Torii Hunter, whom both had great a season in 13'. But outside of those three, there isn't really anybody I would quiver in fear at when they stepped up to the plate. Austin Jackson, Alex Avila, and Andy Dirks can be great at times, but lack the consistency. Expect great things from Ian Kinsler as he has been one of better hitting 2B the past few seasons. There are nine players in a lineup and three or four players cannot carry a team in the game of baseball. As for the Royals, Hosmer's .289 BA is the highest in the lineup. If you throw in Infante, he'd have the best BA. Yet, many of these young players can turn into great power hitters this season. There isn't such a noticeable gap in talent on this ball club as all players are quite similar, which might give Kansas City the advantage. I think the Royals have more promise than the Tigers but that's only if everybody begins to play as expected. Detroit has the experience, the names, and the flashy numbers, but KC has promise. It's a bit of a toss up, but if I had to pick the better lineup, it's Detroit, purely because of their experience and consistency.
Disregard the other three teams in the AL Central, when the Royals and Tigers are playing, make sure to pay attention. These two clubs will soon become rivals and it might just be one of the more exhilarating match ups in baseball this coming season.If the Royals can live up to their potential and the Tigers can continue to roll, these series will not be ones to miss.