Sean McAdam: Previewing the A.L. Central

Sean McAdam: Previewing the A.L. Central

By Sean McAdam
CSNNE.com

Over the last five seasons, four of the five teams in the A.L. Central have reached the post-season at least once, with three different teams winning the division title.

That demonstrates the parity the Central boasts, with three teams -- Minnesota, Detroit and Chicago -- viewed as potential contenders and a fourth -- Kansas City -- in possession of the best collection of prospects in the game.

Two teams added impact bats in the off-season, with the White Sox signing DH Adam Dunn and the Tiges landing catcherDH Victor Martinez.

The White Sox boast the best starting rotation and should be considered the favorites.

(IN ALPHABETICAL ORDER)
Chicago White Sox

ONE THING THAT HAS TO HAPPEN: Someone must emerge as Bobby Jenks' replacement in the closer role. Jenks was inconsistent for much of last season, but the White Sox will need someone to lock down the late innings if they're going to contend. Among the candidates: power lefty Matt Thornton or Chris Sale, drafted only last June.

ONE THING THAT CAN'T HAPPEN: Carlos Quentin and Gordon Beckham can't be as inconsistent as last year. If Quentin, who knocked in 100 runs in five months in 2008, or Beckham, a 2009 Rookie of the Year contender, rebound, the White Sox will have the division's best lineup to go along with the best rotation.

BIGGEST ADDITION: DH Adam Dunn
BIGGEST SUBTRACTION: RHP Bobby Jenks
ROOKIE TO WATCH: LHP Chris Sale
Cleveland Indians

ONE THING THAT HAS TO HAPPEN: The stars of the future must continue to develop. While dealing off established stars before they hit free agency (CC Sabathia, Cliff Lee, Martinez), the Indians have collected promising pieces in return. Now, it's time for for the likes of infielder Matt LaPorta, catcher Carlos Santana and outfielder Michael Brantley.

ONE THING THAT CAN'T HAPPEN: Grady Sizemore and Travis Hafner, limited by injuries in recent seasons, can't be hurt again. While the Indians wait for prospects to develop, the Tribe need some veterans to carry the present load.

BIGGEST ADDITION: OF Austin Kearns
BIGGEST SUBTRACTION: INF Andy Marte
ROOKIE TO WATCH: OF Michael Brantley

Detroit Tigers

ONE THING THAT HAS TO HAPPEN: The double-play duo of Carlos Guillen and shortstop Jhonny Peralta must show range and contribute offensively. They're both 35 and their best seasons are probabl behind them. But if they can make plays and contribute some offense, the Tigers might be a factor.

ONE THING THAT CAN'T HAPPEN: Young starters Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello can't be as inconsistent as they were last year. Justin Verlander is the staff ace, but Scherzer and Porcello need to reach double figures in wins to give the staff depth.
BIGGEST ADDITION: CDH Victor Martinez
BIGGEST SUBTRACTION: RHP Jeremy Bonderman
ROOKIE TO WATCH: LHP Andy Oliver

Kansas City Royals

ONE THING THAT HAS TO HAPPEN: Someone must emerge in a starting rotation
which lost both Zack Greinke (trade) and Gil Meche (retirement) in the off-season.
Former first-round pick Luke Hochevar is probably he best bet.

ONE THING THAT CAN'T HAPPEN: The Royals must resist the temptation to rush their prospects before they're ready. Bringing up the likes of can't-miss prospects like Mike Moustakas and first baseman Eric Hosmer before they're ready would only set the franchise back further.

BIGGEST ADDITION: SS Alcides Escobar
BIGGEST SUBTRACTION: RHP Zack Greinke
ROOKIE TO WATCH: LHP Tim Collins

Minnesota Twins

ONE THING THAT HAS TO HAPPEN: The Twins must rebuild their bullpen, which suffered major losses in free agency. No fewer than five relievers -- Jesse Crain, Brian Fuentes, Jon Rauch, Matt Guerrier and Ron Mahay -- bolted. On the plus side: closer Joe Nathan is expected back after missing all of last year with Tommy John surgery.

ONE THING THAT CAN'T HAPPEN: The Twins can't put too much pressure on Francisco Liriano. Other starters -- Carl Pavano, Scott Baker, Brian Duensing -- must help take the load off Liriano, who spent several seasons coming back arm surgery before regaining his dominance.

BIGGEST ADDITION: IF Tsuyoshi Nishoika
BIGGEST SUBTRACTION: SS J.J. Hardy
ROOKIE TO WATCH: RHP Kyle Gibson

Sean McAdam can be reached at smcadam@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Sean on Twitter at http:twitter.comsean_mcadam

Weird umpire replay mistake helps Red Sox to record-tying 20 Ks

Weird umpire replay mistake helps Red Sox to record-tying 20 Ks

BOSTON -- New York’s mistake helped the Red Sox, and they weren’t playing the Yankees.

The Red Sox struck out 20 in a game for the third time in franchise history on Thursday night, and they were able to do so only after MLB’s replay team — based in Manhattan — gave Craig Kimbrel an extra batter to strike out in the ninth inning.

A 6-2 win over the Rangers featured 16 strikeouts for Red Sox pitching heading into the top of the ninth at Fenway Park. Kimbrel came on for a non-save situation because he had five days off previously.

There’s always that outside chance for a four-strikeout inning, and it happened. Even for a four-strikeout inning, however, this was bizarre.

The first batter, left-handed hitting Nomar Mazara, swung and missed at a back-foot breaking ball for strike three — a literal back-foot breaking ball, because it hit him in that foot after he whiffed on the pitch.

On a swing and a miss with a pitch that hits the batter, the ball should be dead. He should not have been able to reach first base. But the umpires didn’t catch the ball hitting Mazara, and instead saw it as a wild pitch. 

Sox manager John Farrell asked for a review and the umpires went for one, but came back empty-handed. The crew was told, erroneously, that the play could not be looked at and the batter was awarded first base.

“It was just a swinging strike three, ball that go away and he obviously reached first base,” crew chief Alfonso Marquez told pool reporter Tim Britton of the Providence Journal. “The only thing that I can tell you, and the only thing I will say is, this was a replay issue. New York will come out with a statement.”

You could say it worked out just fine. Kimbrel went on to strike out the next three, and got the Sox to 20 Ks.

Kimbrel and Tim Wakefield are the only Red Sox pitchers to fan four batters in a single inning. Wakefield did it in the ninth inning on Aug. 10, 1999. 

Kimbrel did it once before as well, when he was with the Braves on Sept. 26, 2012.

No one has struck out five in a major league inning, although Kimbrel has as good a chance as anyone.

“The guy strikes out the world,” Matt Barnes said. “It’s ridiculous. … His fastball is seemingly unhittable. Complement that with the breaking ball he’s got, which comes right off that same plane, when he’s commanding it like he is, the numbers kind of speak for themselves. It’s kind of ridiculous. It’s fun to watch.”

The Sox have struck out 20 in a nine-inning game three times since 1913. Roger Clemens' two 20-strikeout games are the other two.

Red Sox tie strikeout record in completing sweep of Rangers, 6-2

Red Sox tie strikeout record in completing sweep of Rangers, 6-2

BOSTON - There's something about Boston Red Sox pitchers and 20-strikeout games.

There have been six major-league games with that many strikeouts and the Red Sox made the list for the third time, fanning that many Texas Rangers for a 6-2 victory Thursday night and a sweep of the three-game series.

Five Boston pitchers combined on the 20 strikeouts with starter Drew Pomeranz getting 11 in six innings and closer Craig Kimbrel getting four in the ninth when the leadoff batter reached on a wild pitch strike three. Boston's Roger Clemens twice reached 20 strikeouts by himself.

"His stuff is nasty. What he is doing right now I have never seen anything like that," Red Sox reliever Matt Barnes said of Kimbrel.

Kimbrel has retired 53 of the last 56 batters he has faced and right-handed hitters are on an 0-for-41 streak.

Xander Bogaerts and Deven Marrero hit their first home runs of the season helping Boston to its fourth straight win.

"A lot has been made about our home run totals or lack thereof," Red Sox manager John Farrell said. "Tonight was the first of what should be many more."

Pomeranz (4-3), who tied his career high with the 11 strikeouts, made it as far as six innings for the third time this season and beat Texas for the first time in nine career outings.

"Felt lost for a couple of starts and wasn't satisfied," said Pomeranz, who gave up four hits and walked one. "Tonight I felt more like last year."

Elvis Andrus homered and Nomar Mazara had two hits and an RBI for Texas, which has lost four of five overall and 15 of 21 on the road.

"The sweep is surprising," Andrus said. "But that's the beauty of baseball, I guess. You cannot take any team for granted. Even when you feel you're playing at your best, stuff like this can happen."

Andrew Benintendi and Mitch Moreland had RBI singles in the first inning as Boston got to Rangers starter Nick Martinez (1-3) early.

Bogaerts hit a two-run homer in the third to put Boston ahead 4-0. Despite finishing with 21 home runs last year, Bogaerts needed 46 games to connect for the first time this season.

"Good to get one over the wall and get it out of the way," Bogaerts said.

Mike Napoli struck out four times while Pete Kozma and Andrus went down three times each. Every Ranger starter struck out at least once.

"Pomeranz was throwing well," Rangers catcher Jonathan Lucroy said. "Obviously their bullpen came in and threw well also and they played better than we did overall tonight."

Marrero homered in the eighth off Alex Claudio.

Martinez gave up four runs in five innings and is winless in four starts against Boston with a 6.46 ERA.

Andrus cut Boston's lead to 4-1 in the fourth inning with the homer, snapping an 0-for-9 drought.

Moreland tied his career high by driving in at least one run for the sixth straight game and extended his hitting streak to seven games, batting .393 in that stretch.

Boston swept Texas for the first time at Fenway Park since 2008. Since 2009, Texas has the best winning percentage at Fenway Park in the major leagues at .600.

STRIKING SUCCESS

Pomeranz recorded his 500th career strikeout when he whiffed Napoli for the final out of the fourth inning, his eighth of the game.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Rangers: 3B Adrian Beltre will play in extended spring training games in Arizona the next three days after being sidelined all season with a calf strain.

Red Sox: 2B Dustin Pedroia was removed from the game after five innings for precautionary reasons due to left knee pain. He is listed as day to day. ... LHP David Price will make his season debut Monday in Chicago against the White Sox despite surrendering six earned runs in 5 2/3 innings over his last two rehab starts. ... 3B Pablo Sandoval is 3 for 13 in four rehab games.

UP NEXT:

Rangers: Will send RHP A.J. Griffin (4-1) in the opener at Toronto.

Red Sox: LHP Eduardo Rodriguez (3-1) looks to win his fourth straight decision when they entertain Seattle on Friday.