AL Central

March 29, 2011

Predicted finish, records

White Sox Tigers Twins Royals Indians 92-7091-72*86-7672-9067-95

Pennants, wild cards since 1995: 4, 1.

Average payroll: $86 million (Fifth of six divisions).

Managers with World Series rings: Jim Leyland ('97), Ozzie Guillen ('05).

Players with MVP awards: Joe Mauer ('09), Justin Morneau ('06).

Pitchers with Cy Young awards: Jake Peavy ('07).

Possible high fantasy picks: Miguel Cabrera, Mauer, Victor Martinez, Shin-Soo Choo, Justin Verlander, Adam Dunn, Joakim Soria.

*-lose one-game playoff for wild card to Yankees

2011 awards

MVP: Paul Konerko, White Sox. He and Dunn should have monster seasons. Worth considering: Cabrera, Dunn, Mauer.

Cy Young: Verlander, Tigers. Pat Corrales compares him to Bob Gibson, and you wonder why it took so long to make the connection. Worth considering: John Danks, Jose Valverde, Fausto Carmona.

Rookie of the Year: Tsuyoshi Nishioka, Twins. While not nearly at the level of an Ichiro Suzuki, Nishioka is used to piling up hits. The second baseman will hit for a high average and could score 100-plus runs if Mauer and Morneau have good years behind him. Worth considering: Chris Sale, White Sox; Lonnie Chisenhall, Indians; Kyle Gibson, Twins.

Manager of the Year: Guillen, White Sox. He'll be fine if he can keep the focus on his players. He's the right manager to answer the bullpen questions that are coming.

Nine questions

1

How are the M&M boys? Despite pitching issues, the Twins would be division favorites if you knew they were going to get vintage performances from Mauer and Morneau. But Mauer's gimpy knees and Morneau's lingering concussion issues could limit them to a combined 220 games.

2

Is Cabrera going to drink or drive (in runs)? Baseball is a grind for a guy with a drinking problem, no matter how strong the support network.

3

Can Matt Thornton pretend he's pitching the eighth inning when the scoreboard says it's the ninth? Despite the attention paid Jake Peavy, the lack of a proven closer is the No. 1 issue for the White Sox.

4

Are the Royals the team of the future? They may have the deepest stable of prospects in the majors, with first baseman Eric Hosmer a potential difference-maker, but they'll take their lumps for at least one more year.

5

Who's still with the Indians? We asked that question a year ago, and it still applies. Grady Sizemore opens the year on the DL and Carmona is still in the rotation. There are guys to watch, however, in Choo and second-year catcher Carlos Santana.

6

Which newcomer will have the most impact? Dunn will win a lot of games with drives into the right-field seats at U.S. Cellular Field, but the Tigers' Martinez is in position to play a bigger role.

7

Which player not returning from 2009 will be missed the most? That's an easy question, although it has no bearing on the race. It's the Royals' Zack Greinke.

8

Why don't the Royals trade Soria? No answer for that one at this time. Check back in July.

9

Is Alexi Casilla really the Twins' shortstop? Yes. Ron Gardenhire has decided to move a defensively challenged second baseman to short, hoping he'll focus more. This is a big risk that could unsettle a team that rarely gives up cheap runs.

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