MLB Season 2012 Preview: AL Central Favorites, Sleepers And More

The 2012 MLB regular season begins Wednesday, as the St. Louis Cardinals visit the Miami Marlins at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN -- yeah, we don't care what Japan says, tonight is the start of the baseball season! Last week, SB Nation New York delivered its National League East preview, while today we're showcasing the whole American League.

For a complete rundown of each division, check out this AL Preview StoryStream. Meanwhile, here's a preview of the AL Central:

Favorite: Detroit Tigers

When you ink a slugger like first basemen Prince Fielder to a nine-year, $214 million contract and added him with, maybe, the best hitter in the game, third basemen Miguel Cabrera, and last season's AL CY Young and MVP Award winner, pitcher Justin Verlander, your team should be considered the favorite to win your division.

On paper, the Tigers are stacked and ready to complete now with the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox and Anaheim Angels, but what's going to get Detroit over-the-top is its young pitcher.

Verlander is going to be Verlander, however, from No 2-5 there are question marks like: Is Max Scherzer a real No. 2 starter? Can Rick Porcello have a bounce-back season? Can rookie pitcher Andrew Oliver figure things out in the minors and be ready for the big time by the playoffs?

The Tigers will make the playoffs, especially in this re-building division, but what they do after that is, well, a question mark.

Sleepers: Kansas City Royals, Minnesota Twins, Chicago White Sox

In my other division previews, I featured an "in the hunt" category, however, I couldn't with the AL Central. That's because Detroit is the odds-on favorite to win this rebuilding division, and if somebody else wins it, then, it would shock the baseball world.

With that said, yes, the Royals are a sleeper to win the Central this season. According to Baseball America, Kansas City owns the rights to five of the top 19 best prospects in baseball, and two of them -- first basemen Eric Hosmer and third basemen Mike Moustakas -- debuted last season. Add that long-time, top-prospect Alex Gordon (.303, 23 home runs, 87 RBI in 2011) has finally come out of his shell, the Royals actually have something cooking.

However, the excitement for Kansas City fans ends there, as Bruce Chen (3.77 ERA, 1.30 WHIP in '11) is expected to be the No. 1 guy. That fact alone tells you the story on the Royals pitching staff.

As for the Twins, I like their chances. But a lot will need to go right for Minnesota to contend with Detroit.

First, catcher Joe Mauer and first baseman Justin Morneau need to be 100-percent healthy, and that's asking for a lot. Currently, the Twins have a lot of expectations and dollar bills tied up into those two franchise players, who just have had a lot of bad luck in the past few seasons.

Second, young hurlers need to step-up. Carl Pavano has found new life in the Twin Cities, but Francisco Liriano, and Nick Blackburn haven't despite a lot of patience from the organization. The hope is, newly aquired Jason Marquis can bring some stability and veteran leadership to the staff, while closer Matt Capps and set-up man Glen Perkins can anchor the bullpen.

Meanwhile, the White Sox are the only other team having a shot at the division crown and even that is stretching things.

There's no doubt that Chicago has the talent, but a lot of that talent -- i.e. Adam Dunn, Alex Rios, Jake Peavy, Gavin Floyd, Phil Humber -- is extremely inconsistent. And in baseball, inconsistency doesn't pay dividends over a 162-game season.

Not a chance: Cleveland Indians

For Cleveland to battle with Detroit, it will need for outfielder Shin-Soo Choo to have a bounce-back year, catcher Carlos Santana to have a break-out year, shortstop Asdrubal Cabera to have a MVP-like year and pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez to have a CY Young-like year.

Can it happen, well, yes. However, it more than likely will not.

For a complete rundown of the American League, check out this SB Nation New York StoryStream.

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