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AL Central preview: Royals, Indians also poised to give White Sox headaches

Starting the season with a closer by committee might suggest the Detroit Tigers aren’t all that after all.

They’re still the defending American League champs, though, and they have Victor Martinez back from the disabled list, free-agent acquisition Torii Hunter beefing up the outfield and a lineup that includes Austin Jackson at the top and MVP Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder comprising maybe the best 3-4 tandem in baseball. The Tigers look like the team to beat, but the White Sox won’t know first-hand until July 9 when they play them for the first time.

The Kansas City Royals and Cleveland Indians finished behind the second-place Sox last season but are better on paper, the Royals where it counts most — in pitching. They took a chance on trading their No. 1 prospect, Wil Myers, for pitchers James Shields and Wade Davis and traded for former All-Star Ervin Santana.

The Indians brought in Terry Francona to manage a team that spent $117 million on free agents, including Nick Swisher, Michael Bourn, Drew Stubbs, Mark Reynolds and Brett Myers. But their pitching remains a question mark, and that makes the Indians questionable.

The Sox did much less in the offseason, although they brought their No. 2 starter, Jake Peavy back, and filled holes left by Kevin Youkilis and Brett Myers with Jeff Keppinger and Matt Lindstrom. They’re banking on better years from Gordon Beckham, Alexei Ramirez and Dayan Viciedo and betting that catcher Tyler Flowers is a capable replacement for A.J. Pierzynski.

the breakdown

• Key additions: Shields, Royals; Hunter, Tigers; Bourn, Indians.

• Key departures: Pierzynski, Sox; Shin-Soo Choo, Indians; Denard Span, Twins.

• Best-case scenario for Sox: Chris Sale vies for the Cy Young, John Danks returns to health, bolstering a strong rotation for second half; Alexei Ramirez, Gordon Beckham and Dayan Viciedo hit for higher average and on-base percentage; and GM Rick Hahn adds a needed piece or two at the All-Star break to make a pennant push.

• Worst-case scenario for Sox: Alex Rios retreats on his alternate year and doesn’t back up 2012 with a consecutive strong season, Tyler Flowers isn’t up to every-day catching duty and Danks needs more time to be a factor.

AL CENTRAL ORDER OF FINISH

1. Tigers

2. White Sox

3. Royals

4. Indians

5. Twins

AL PLAYOFFS

Central: Tigers

East: Blue Jays

West: Angels

Wild-card game: Rangers vs. Orioles



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