Who will emerge on top of the AL Central?

Updated: March 28, 2007, 2:33 PM ET

A healthy Travis Hafner could grant the Indians' playoff wishes.

There's probably no division in baseball more competitive than the AL Central.

With the exception of the hapless Royals, who remain a few years away from even approaching respectability, the AL Central is loaded with potential World Series contenders, each able to attack opponents from a variety of angles.

Pitching aficionados will find a number of young fireballers making their mark on the Twins (Johan Santana, Francisco Liriano) and Tigers (Justin Verlander, Joel Zumaya). The division boasts some of the best sluggers in the game, with Travis Hafner (Indians), Jim Thome (White Sox), and Gary Sheffield (Tigers) blasting home runs all over the midwest.

Those who perfer small ball and defense to power may find the Ozzie Guillen-led White Sox and Torii Hunter-inspired Twins to their liking. The division also features two of the most dynamic young stars in the game, with AL batting champ Joe Mauer and Grady Sizemore ready to make the leap.

With all this talent, it's a shame that no more than two teams will get a chance to compete in the playoffs. Which teams will make it?

What They're Saying

Jayson Stark: "It's strange to say a World Series team is being undersold or underrated, but the Tigers are. Yeah, that's a great division. And yeah, I think the Indians are a team to watch. But the Tigers are loaded. They have the best collection of arms around, and they just added Gary Sheffield to the lineup. So watch out."
March 9, 2007
From Jayson Stark's weekly chat


Rob Neyer: "If the White Sox really want brutal stats, they'll give the job to Gavin Floyd, who boasts a 6.96 ERA in 109 'major league' innings. But he's young, has great stuff, and pitched well last season in the International League.

"Just not as well as Charlie Haeger. What happens to him when one of the guys with the fastball wins the job? Haeger's obviously a wonderful insurance policy if somebody gets hurt. But I hope somebody makes Kenny Williams an offer that he can't refuse. Because Haeger's the best knuckleballer we've seen since Tim Wakefield, and he has absolutely nothing left to learn in the 'minors.' "
Mar. 23, 2007
A battle worth talking about


Jerry Crasnick: "If there were any further doubts about [Gil] Meche's good fortune, they were dispelled in December when the Kansas City Royals rewarded him for six seasons of major league mediocrity with a five-year, $55 million contract.

"There's no getting around it: The signing received worse reviews than Eddie Murphy's performance in 'Norbit.' Media critics either characterized Meche as a payroll bandit-in-waiting or torched Kansas City general manager Dayton Moore for spending so extravagantly on a starter with a 55-44 career record and a 4.65 ERA in a pitcher-friendly ballpark."
Feb. 24, 2007
Royals put their money on Meche

The Rundown: Who to Watch

Joe Mauer has established himself as the best catcher in baseball.
Chicago White Sox
Key returning players: Jim Thome, Paul Konerko, Jermaine Dye
Key additions: Darin Erstad
Key losses: Freddy Garcia, Brandon McCarthy
X-factor: Brian Anderson
Big Question: Will the White Sox recover their 2005 mojo?

Cleveland Indians
Key returning players: Grady Sizemore, Travis Hafner, Victor Martinez
Key losses: Kevin Kouzmanoff
Key additions: Josh Barfield, Trot Nixon
X-factor: Jhonny Peralta
Big Question: Can Cleveland finally live up to its potential?

Minnesota Twins
Key returning players: Johan Santana, Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau
Key losses: None
Key additions: None
X-factor: Francisco Liriano
Big Question: Can Minnesota break through in the playoffs?

Detroit Tigers
Key returning players: Justin Verlander, Ivan Rodriguez, Magglio Ordonez
Key losses: Humberto Sanchez-
Key additions: Gary Sheffield
X-factor: Kenny Rogers
Big Question: Will Detroit's now-experienced squad have a playoff hangover?

Kansas City Royals
Key returning players: Zach Greinke, Mark Teahen, Mike Sweeney
Key losses: Doug Mientkiewicz
Key additions: Gil Meche
X-factor: Alex Gordon
Big Question: Can the Royals begin the long, hard trek out of the cellar in 2007?