The division that has produced the A.L. rep to the Fall Classic the last two years, could very well make it three in a row. The Central, if its not the best division in baseball, it is certainly the most competitive.
The Kansas City Royals will be the cellar dwellers in this division. The good news for the fans of KC is that it appears that smaller market franchises like the Royals are for the first time spending the luxury tax proceeds on talent (The signing of Gil Meche to mad levels of jack). So over time, that will get them to compete and back into the mix at some point - just not this year. With Meche as their number 1 starter, and Dotel as their closer there is not much else to look forward to. One bright spot is center fielder David DeJesus and that's about it. Last place again for these guys. Where have you gone George Brett?
The Chicago White Sox will extend last season's pass for under performance with another one in 2007. Maybe they were a fluke in 2005. The starting rotation's top three in Contreas, Buehrle, and Garland are inconsistent at best. The closer, Bobby Jenks has an ERA of 4 - not lights out by any means. On the plus side, they have a first class GM, and three ultimate players that anyone would love to have their team in the likes of Thome, Dye and Podsednic. The manager, the unpredictable Ozzie Guillen will be fired and the White Sox finish 4th in the division in 2007.
What can you say about the Minnesota Twins? If you love baseball, then you love their manager, Ron Gardenhire. In fact, when Torre's gone at the end of this season, I hope he gets an interview (a story for a different time). Conventional wisdom says the Twins will find a way to get it done and defy the odds yet again. Realism says they are over due for a regression back to their true talent level. Look, Santana is the man - there is no way around that and very few are in this guy's league. The Closer Joe Nathan is above average (no where near the best) but you need more than that in your pitching ranks to get the job done and have a realistic shot at the championship. Hunter is world class. Morneau and Mauer - who knows? And you know what? It doesn't matter as they are not enough to win in this division or the playoffs in 2007.
The Detroit Tigers are the easy pick to return to the post season heading into April. I don't trust Kenny Rogers as a number 1 starter but they have some young and already battle tested starters after him in slots 2 through 5. Bonderman, Robertson, Maroth, and Verlander are quality pitchers that know how to eat innings even if they are error prone in the field. In the bullpen they primarily have good and at best, questionable players. The good is the flame throwing Joel Zumaya. The bad is the closer, Todd Jones, like the Chicago closer he has an ERA closing in on 4 and that has to get better in order to take home the big prize. More though then just a solid starting rotation, the Tigers have the best shortstop in the league in Carlos Guillen. Craig Monroe is a budding superstar, and they have a pair of elder statesmen with championship experience in Ivan Rodriques and Gary Sheffield. This team and their odds, look good.
The Cleveland Indians have much to be optimistic about heading into 2007. The Tribe made late season pushes the last two years, but may have the lineup to get it done now. 4 of the 5 starters are durable veterans that will have given and will likely continue to give, 30 plus starts. The closer in Borowski is on par with the others in the division, and has veteran Roberto Hernandez to help out when he can't. The offense is good - not great. Josh Barfield will be the leagues next great second baseman and Grady Sizemore in center continues to improve. At the end of the day though, the difference maker is Travis Haffner - simply put the guy is an offensive machine. Albert Pujols he is not - but is damn close and is easily the front runner for AL MVP.
Final Prediction: This is a great division, and as long as its not the Royals, any other team winning it would not be a total surprise. The two that will pace the Central though is the Tigers and the Indians. There will be some meaningful games down the stretch between these two, that will be blown by the Tigers bullpen. The 2007 Central Division Champ will be the Cleveland Indians.