MLB 2009 - AL Central betting preview
The AL Central pennant race went right down to the wire last year as the Chicago White Sox and Minnesota Twins met in a single game play-off at US Cellular Field.
Eventually the White Sox progressed and met a rampant Tampa Bay Rays in the ALDS - losing three games to one in the best of five series.
Elsewhere, the Detroit Tigers were a joke for the most part and proved that big spending doesn't guarantee success as they slipped to dead last in the Central, but what will happen in 2009?
Chicago White Sox
Ozzie Guillen's White Sox were the beneficiaries of a weak Central last year and they are sure to be in the running again this year, if Carlos Quentin can follow up last year's stellar effort.
The rejuvenated outfielder was a sensation in his first season in Chicago and it was no surprise that once his MVP-type numbers were forced out of the line-up the Sox nearly slumped out of the play-off race.
There has been little movement of note in and out of US Cellular Field in the off season but they are still strong and great seasons can be expected of Alexei Ramirez and star pitchers Mark Buehrle and Jose Contreras.
Key Player: Carlos Quentin Prediction: 3rd Odds to win AL Central: 4/1
The Indians were a massive disappointment last year after putting together a serious World Series contender in 2007 and only time will tell how the rebuilding process affects their chances this season.
AL Cy Young winner Cliff Lee was the only highlight of 08 and it will be interesting to see whether he performs as well again. He should at least get more protection from Fausto Carmona who was unable to get going last season.
The batting line-up, like last season, looks very strong and the acquisition of Mark DeRosa is a very handy pick-up. Travis Hafner is the one person that needs to put up better numbers if Cleveland are to challenge.
Key Player: Travis Hafner Prediction: 2nd Odds to win AL Central: 15/8
The Tigers made some big moves in the off-season of 2008 but it proved to be disastrous with Miguel Cabrera, Edgar Renteria and Dontrelle Willis all performing well below expectations.
The Tigers now have to rebuild and as such there are several gaping holes throughout their line-up, including a rotation in which Justin Verlander is the only star.
The batting order has a lot of talent, Miguel Cabrera in particular could be set to post some great numbers, but I think Magglio Ordonez and co are in danger of another year of average-ness.
Key Player: Miguel Cabrera Prediction: 4th Odds to win AL Central: 3/1
Kansas City Royals
The Royals were surprisingly good last year despite finishing with a losing record yet again, and this season is shaping up to be very similar.
A lack of power in the line-up is a major flaw but, in Alex Gordon, Jose Guillen, Coco Crisp and more, they do have a number of solid bats that will produce several impressive performances.
The pitching again looks reasonable with Zack Greinke, Gil Meche and Brian Bannister in the rotation, while it will be interesting to see how Kyle Farnsworth throws in a low pressure environment. Joakim Soria remains an elite closer.
Key Player: Jose Guillen Prediction: 5th Odds to win AL Central: 10/1
Ron Gardenhire did a superb job with the Twins last year and was unfortunate to not qualify for the play-offs after stuttering form at the end of the season.
The acquisition of Joe Crede could be a great piece of business if, and it's a big if, the third baseman can stay healthy. Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau can also look forward to getting some protection with the return of Michael Cuddyer.
Pitching wise they should just about be ok if Baker, Liriano and Blackburn follow-up last year's efforts with more of the same. Pat Neshek's absence from the bull-pen again will be a massive miss.
Key Player: Joe Crede Prediction: 1st Odds to win AL Central: 11/4