Who will be feeling the heat in the American League Central this season?
Not the White Sox. Few outside of Camelback Ranch are giving them a chance to win the division. Their off-season theme song? “The Sound of Silence.” No one is talking about them. Few are even thinking about them. They seem to like it that way.
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Nope, the real pressure is on two teams that lost a combined 184 games last season, but made the most moves this winter, and are now expected to compete with the big boys for the first time in a long time.
Cleveland and Kansas City, pick up the white courtesy phone. Your time has come.
Easier said than done. Just ask new Indians manager Terry Francona, who might already be feeling the pressure.
“I hope we got better. We’ve got our work cut out for us,” said Francona when I recently asked him about the flurry of deals the Indians made this offseason.
Besides hiring Francona, they added outfielders Michael Bourn, Nick Swisher and Drew Stubbs, third baseman Mark Reynolds and former White Sox pitcher Brett Myers, among others.
“I think Chris [Antonetti, Indians GM] had a great winter and now it’s our responsibility -- the guys in uniform -- to see how good we can make these guys.”
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For a team that went 68-94 last season, they’re going to have to be plenty good to really turn this ship around.
Then there’s the case of the Royals, a team that hasn’t made the playoffs since 1985 and has lost 90 games or more in eight of the last nine seasons. This winter, they made headlines by adding starters James Shields, Wade Davis and Ervin Santana. They already had a dangerous offense; now they’ve got pitching.
The White Sox were supposed to do that in 2011. We all know how that worked out. The Tigers would have suffered the same fate in 2012 if it wasn’t for their late-season push and the White Sox ugly September collapse.
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“It’s a real comforting feeling knowing that for the first time, we have a real chance to compete every single day,” said Royals manager Ned Yost. “We’re going to have five starters who we feel can take the mound everyday and give us a chance to win ballgames. We feel really confident about our team at this point.”
On paper everything looks great, especially here in February. Everyone’s talking about the Indians and Royals, taking notice of their flashy moves.
The White Sox? They added infielder Jeff Keppinger and reliever Matt Lindstrom. The signings barely made a peep. For a team that was in first place for 117 games last season and now gets a healthy John Danks back in their rotation, they are so off the radar, they’re practically invisible.
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“This game is so weird. You just don’t know,” Francona said. “Last year at this time, I don’t think anybody was picking Baltimore. No one was picking Oakland. I think teams that not only get out of the gate, but sustain it for awhile, you get confidence, and it can blossom and some really cool things can happen.”
The fear in the Central Division is that -- unlike last year -- this will happen to the Tigers. They get off to a great start, take an early lead and never look back. It’s very possible.
“I think it’s stating the obvious when you say Detroit is the cream of the crop,” Francona said. “They’ve been there, they’ve done it and they probably got better, which is disturbing.”
The Tigers added Torii Hunter. Victor Martinez is back. They might be stronger than ever.
Now win. Again.
It’s not as easy as it looks.