Major League Baseball

AL Central preview
1. Detroit Tigers
uWhy they’re enthused: The Tigers got through a whole season — and to the World Series — without a key piece of their offense. Now, DH Victor Martinez is back and slots behind MVP Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder in the middle of the order. Justin Verlander leads a pitching staff that has 16-game winner Max Scherzer and a full season of 2012 acquisition Anibal Sanchez. It’s basically the same team that won a pennant — and then some. uWhy they’re worried: Nothing can undermine a good team more than blowing late leads. Hardthrowing rookie Bruce Rondon gets first crack at closing. But if he falters, it gets even less certain: Veterans Joaquin Benoit, Octavio Dotel and Phil Coke are uninspiring alternatives. uKid in play: The pressure on Rondon — not to mention manager Jim Leyland and GM Dave Dombrowski — will grow incrementally with every blown save. Command is the primary issue for the rookie, and he could have baseball’s tobacco police peering up the tunnel to see what Leyland’s hiding in his hand. uFollow this guy: @Justin Verlander. The best pitcher in the major leagues loves Taco Bell. uThe end game: Last year’s race shouldn’t have been as close as three games, and it took a late White Sox fade for that to happen. But Cabrera has been every bit as dominant this spring as in his Triple Crown 2012. The Tigers might not need it, but they have margin for error.

USA TODAY Sports’ Paul White and Ted Berg look at the American League Central, in order of projected finish:

uWhy they’re enthused: In Chris Sale and Jake Peavy, the White Sox think they have a top-ofthe-rotation combination that can compete with anyone. Add a young bullpen that was solid a season ago, and they have a pitching staff that should keep them in the race. They’re also enthused about the progress of left fielder Dayan Viciedo, who at 24 could emerge as a youthful cog in an offense that depends heavily on veterans Paul Konerko and Adam Dunn. uWhy they’re worried: Their depth is being tested early with starting pitcher John Danks beginning the season on the disabled list and right fielder Alex Rios dealing with back problems. They’re already counting on Tyler Flowers to step in as a replacement for longtime catcher A.J. Pierzynski, and other offensive players such as second baseman Gordon Beckham and shortstop Alexei Ramirez haven’t provided much. uKid in play: Conor Gillaspie, 25, a 2008 first-round pick, was acquired in a trade with the San Francisco Giants and could end up being a significant left-handed bat off the bench. He can spell new third baseman Jeff Keppinger and Konerko. uFollow this guy: @adamdunn_32. Dunn doesn’t tweet all that much, but when he does he really connects. Seems appropriate. uThe end game: A veteran team, it has savvy to outlast the rest of the division in the battle to be the best of the rest, but it will tougher to stay close to the Tigers.

2. Chicago White Sox

By Jake Roth, USA TODAY Sports

Kansas City’s Ervin Santana

Detroit’s Justin Verlander

By Jerome Miron, USA TODAY Sports

uWhy they’re enthused: They’re convinced they’ve finally found the pitching to complement an up-and-coming offense. Acquisitions of James Shields, Ervin Santana and Wade Davis provide hope this team can get over the .500 hurdle and before core offensive players such as Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas get swallowed up by the longtime losing culture. uWhy they’re worried: GM Dayton Moore is under contract through 2014 but displayed the urgency in play when he made the controversial trade that sent Wil Myers, their top prospect, and others to Tampa Bay for Shields and Davis. uKid in play: Reliever Donnie Joseph has the Royals thinking he might be future closer material after a strong spring. uFollow this guy: @TheRealJGuts. Pitcher Jeremy Guthrie goes heavy on pop culture, tweeting his favorite movie quotes every Monday. uThe end game: They will be better but not challenge the Tigers. Best case is winning what could be a competitive three-game race for the runner-up spot, but even with that, contending for a wild card would be a surprise.

3. Kansas City Royals

uWhy they’re enthused: New energy, from manager Terry Francona to the veteran influence of Jason Giambi, Nick Swisher and others to an outfield of three center fielders — Michael Bourn, Michael Brantley and Drew Stubbs. They should score more and defend better. uWhy they’re worried: Scott Kazmir made the rotation — a nice story after nearly two years out of the majors. But he’s part of a rotation full of questions, beginning with the gallingly inconsistent Ubaldo Jimenez. uKid in play: They’ll need Trevor Bauer before it’s over. The top pitching prospect, picked up from the Diamondbacks during the offseason, will begin the season in the minors but is the most obvious solution. uFollow this guy: @NickSwisher. Surprised to learn that Nick Swisher loved Wedding Crashers? If so, you’re not following Nick Swisher. uThe end game: Starting well won’t be as crucial as maintaining any momentum. This is a team that faded badly in the second half the last two seasons.

4. Cleveland Indians

uWhy they’re enthused: A solid — and healthy — spring from first baseman Justin Morneau has revived hopes he and catcher Joe Mauer again can be the core offensive stars around whom contending Twins teams were built. uWhy they’re worried: The Twins traded their two best center fielders — Denard Span and Ben Revere — to add pitching, especially the hard throwers the organization lacked. But the prospects they got aren’t ready, and the rotation must get by with the likes of Vance Worley, Mike Pelfrey and Kevin Correia as its top three. There’s certainly no ace in that group. uKid in play: Aaron Hicks has been the spring sensation and won the job in center. His defense will be an asset right away. How quickly he becomes an offensive force depends on whether his spring showing indicates he has eliminated the inconsistency he showed in the minors. He’ll get his chance from the leadoff spot. uFollow this guy: @Aaron Hicks31. Twins outfielder negotiates his first season of big-league play. uThe end game: Plenty has to go right just to avoid a third consecutive last-place finish. They’ll need another team to falter.

5. Minnesota Twins

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