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How Good is Cleveland, Really?

We're six weeks into the season and we still don't know what to make of the Minnesota Twins, who have shown the ability to cruise when it all clicks and spiral when things go awry.

We also don't know what to make of the Cleveland Indians, who have failed to take advantage of Minnesota's slump and build any kind of comfortable lead in the AL Central.

What we can say, with relative confidence, is that only one one of these teams is going to make the postseason.
Image courtesy of Adam Hunger, USA Today
The Yankees springboarded off their four-game sweep of the Twins – they've won 10 of 11 games since, and that only ties them with Mookie Betts and the dazzling Red Sox for first place. It'd be a staggering upset if the loser in that AL East slugfest didn't procure a wild-card berth. Toronto is even looking like a factor early on.

In the West, the Astros and Angels are living up to their billings. Both are currently on track for around 100 wins, and there's not much reason to view the success of either club as a mirage (though the Halos could become vulnerable if MIke Trout or Shohei Ohtani were to go down). Seattle looms as a credible threat there as well.

Meanwhile, Cleveland leads the Central by a game with a ho-hum 18-18 record. While the Twins have generated some doubt early on, they have also had a number of key contributors – Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano, Ervin Santana, Jorge Polanco, and now Jason Castro – miss time.

The Indians have mostly had their stalwarts on the field, minus Andrew Miller who's been sidelined by a hamstring injury.

Fans in Cleveland are probably fretting more right now than those in Minny, and reasonably so. The Twins have shown their warts, to be sure, but the pervasive ineptitude that haunted them for two weeks doesn't seem reflective of any crippling long-term weakness. The offense and pitching staff both look capable, and have shown it enough to inspire some confidence.

As for the Indians?

Their offense has scuffled even with Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor hitting well. Jason Kipnis, who hasn't been a significantly above-average hitter since 2015, sports an OPS 90 points lower than Logan Morrison's. Edwin Encarnacion (.696 OPS) will probably come around, but then again, he is easily their oldest regular, at 35.

In the rotation, it's true Danny Salazar has been amiss, but the Indians might need to grow accustomed to that reality. And besides, his replacement Mike Clevinger has given as much (2.76 ERA, 1.07 WHIP) as you could hope to get from Salazar. In the bullpen, even Miller's absence can't come close to excusing the woes that have haunted Cleveland recently.

In terms of direct points of comparison, the Twins and Indians appear quite evenly matched. They played neck-and-neck during their two games in Puerto Rico, with the second stretching for 16 innings before a victor emerged.

Just as Minnesota suffered a demoralizing sweep at Yankee Stadium, so did Cleveland this past weekend, getting walked off twice in three days. And while the Twins have pulled themselves out of a dreadful early-season slump, the Indians are now trying to steer clear of a lesser one – Wednesday's victory over Milwaukee was just their fourth in 12 games.

Of course, slumps happen. I'm not going to cast judgment or draw conclusions in the middle of one for Cleveland, especially after the Twins just showed us how quickly things can turn around. But whereas this upstart Minnesota club was expected to have its flaws, setbacks and tribulations – especially early – the defending Central champs were supposed to run like a well-oiled machine.

While the other bona fide AL contenders have all solidified their top-tier statuses, Cleveland sits with the league's seventh-best record as the season's quarter-point approaches. They're still the division favorites but the Indians appear far less formidable than many feared.

If winning the Central is Minnesota's only path to the postseason, at least it looks eminently surmountable. This is shaping up be a fun and competitive race that twists and turns throughout the summer. Both teams will have the advantage of copious matchups against the White Sox, Royals and Tigers, so it may very well come down to who takes care of business.

The Twins did so in Chicago over the weekend, and will get their first looks at Kansas City and Detroit later this month. The four-game set between Minnesota and Cleveland coming up in three weeks is already one worth circling on the calendar.

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29 Comments

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Cap'n Piranha
May 09 2018 07:28 PM
Let’s hold off on anointing the angels just yet. They have 5 wins over Oakland, 3 over Texas, 3 over KC, and 3 over Baltimore. That’s 14 of their 22 wins over teams that are a combined 53-93–essentially the 2016 Twins. They have 6 wins against teams above .500, including 2 against Houston.

They have played 3 against both BOS and NYY, getting swept by the Red Sox 27-3 and the Yankees 17-5; both series were in Anaheim.

Trout and Ohtani are formidable to be sure, but there’s a lot to suggest the Angels are benefitting from a weak early schedule, and the Twins can certainly catch them thanks to 52 games remaining against the dregs of the central, as well as returns from important players.
    • Dantes929, ThejacKmp, h2oface and 8 others like this
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Nick Nelson
May 09 2018 07:35 PM

 

Trout and Ohtani are formidable to be sure, but there’s a lot to suggest the Angels are benefitting from a weak early schedule, and the Twins can certainly catch them thanks to 52 games remaining against the dregs of the central, as well as returns from important players.

You may be right, but accounting for the Mariners and Blue Jays as well, I just don't like the Central's chances of nabbing a WC slot.

 

And the more important thing is that, in order to have hopes of playing in the ALDS, the Twins probably need to win the division regardless. The thought of another play-in game in the Bronx sounds nightmarish.

    • brvama, Platoon, howieramone2 and 3 others like this
True, the Angels haven't played the toughest schedule. But, what about the Mariners? They're also looking pretty good, and are a real contender for that second wildcard.

When it comes to Cleveland, they'll find their stride. A healthy Brantley (which is a huge question mark) to go along with Ramirez, Lindor, Encarnacion is a legit high-end 1-4 (not in that particular order). Kipnis, Gomes, and Alonso are nice secondary peices. They will start scoring runs.

When it comes to pitching, Kluber is one of the best. Corrasco is very good, and they'll get a healthy Salazar back. They still have Allen and Miller in the bullpen.

Remember last year? There was a window open, seemingly, when the Twins had an opportunity to catch the Indians. It last about 5 minutes before Cleveland went on one of the most prolific, dominating win-streaks in MLB history. They are a veteran team that knows how to win baseball games. I fully expect that they will hit the throttle at some point and leave the Twins in a cloud of dust.
    • mikelink45 and Platoon like this

 

You may be right, but accounting for the Mariners and Blue Jays as well, I just don't like the Central's chances of nabbing a WC slot.

 

And the more important thing is that, in order to have hopes of playing in the ALDS, the Twins probably need to win the division regardless. The thought of another play-in game in the Bronx sounds nightmarish.

 

I agree with both the article and with this comment--playing for a WC game against the loser of the Boston/NY scrum doesn't seem too palatable, although that AL East race could be exciting to watch if it goes to the wire, and those teams might have to expend a lot of late season energy...but then again, we have a long season to go, so I'm not ready to anoint anyone just yet.

 

But to the larger point of the article, is Cleveland really that good?  They just don't seem that fearsome on paper right now, particularly lineup wise.

    • Dantes929 likes this
I like out total lineup better than Cleveland, but Cleveland Haack an ace and probably Carrasco, whom are probably better then any of our starters. Besides Miller and Allen, their bullpen makes ours look like the 1998 Yankees, just putrid. They brought Allen in with 1 out in the 8th against the Yanks the last game. Getting Ervin back should be a big boost for us. I still really like our chances

The Twins could have a rotation of riches.

 

The Twins have people who will be free agents and NOT coming abck to Minnesota. Hopefully they play well enopugh to generate off-season interest. Hopefully some generate in-season interest.

 

The Twins do have replacement parts. Be nice if they get some exposure, but if you are competitive, can you afford to play? Right now, yes...they are showing that a 5th starter can shine. Too bad they haven';t elevated a temporary shortstop of the future to play 80% of the games for a short spell. Same with the outfield. Give the playing time to a LaMonte Wade, if nothing else. Quit having lovefests with people who MAY NOT be ehre next year, especially for short spurts.

 

The bullpen is a mess and could be musical chairs all season.

 

The Twins need to get some control of the K's and moving runners and getting clutch hits et al. I thought the offense would be much more consistent, better than it has been.

 

But we still have a lot of games to play.

 

But please, front office, take advantage of giving rookies time to shine. Garver should be catching anyone who will be in the rotation of the future, not Bobby. Please.

    • h2oface, woolywoolhouse, mikelink45 and 1 other like this
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TheLeviathan
May 09 2018 09:43 PM

Last year the Indians caught fire, but I'm just not sure they have the offensive firepower to do it again.

 

And if they aren't a clear playoff threat....do they start selling off some of their guys due for FA?

When Salazar comes back, Cleveland might run away.

Look at the ERA of their top 4 starters:

Bauer 2.53
Kluber 2.62
Clevinger 2.76
Carrasco 3.61
    • h2oface likes this
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Cap'n Piranha
May 09 2018 10:04 PM

You may be right, but accounting for the Mariners and Blue Jays as well, I just don't like the Central's chances of nabbing a WC slot.

And the more important thing is that, in order to have hopes of playing in the ALDS, the Twins probably need to win the division regardless. The thought of another play-in game in the Bronx sounds nightmarish.


The Mariners might be even iffier than the Halos—17 of their 20 wins are against teams at or below .500 (they’ve won 5 of 7 against Cleveland). Their wins against teams with winning records is 1 of 2 against SF, 1 of 4 against Houston, and 1 of 2 against Toronto.

This isn’t to say the Twins will get a wild card spot for sure, I just think it’s way too early to have a Central-or-Bust mindset. And while I agree I want no part of a one game play-in in NY or Boston, even if we win the central, assuming a Yankee/Sox victory in the play-in game, we’re getting the Yankees, Sox, or Stros in the first round.
    • Dantes929 and Platoon like this
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KirbyDome89
May 09 2018 11:01 PM

 

And if they aren't a clear playoff threat....do they start selling off some of their guys due for FA?

They're 2 seasons removed from a WS berth, 1 season removed from winning 100+ games, and the team is for the most part still intact. IMO Given their recent success and the outlook of the division, Cleveland would have to be truly awful from now until almost the deadline for them to even consider a sale.  

    • wsnydes and bighat like this
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TheLeviathan
May 09 2018 11:05 PM

 

They're 2 seasons removed from a WS berth, 1 season removed from winning 100+ games, and the team is for the most part still intact. IMO Given their recent success and the outlook of the division, Cleveland would have to be truly awful from now until almost the deadline for them to even consider a sale.  

 

Well, do you see them resigning Cody Allen and Andrew Miller?

 

I'm not saying a sell-off is likely, but the guys coming up on free agency are the types you might be able to get a lot for at the deadline if you see yourself as out of serious contention.

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KirbyDome89
May 10 2018 01:23 AM

 

Well, do you see them resigning Cody Allen and Andrew Miller?

 

I'm not saying a sell-off is likely, but the guys coming up on free agency are the types you might be able to get a lot for at the deadline if you see yourself as out of serious contention.

I seriously doubt Miller is resigned.

 

I just don't see Cleveland being so far out of the race for the title in arguably the worst division in baseball that they're selling by mid-late July. It would be shocking to say the least. 

    • tarheeltwinsfan, puckstopper1, Platoon and 1 other like this
Generally teams with better pitching are more consistent, and play games closer to the vest. Teams built on offense are more streaky. And they didn't invent the phrase "good pitching beats good hitting" for no reason. Over the long haul I always go with pitching and defense. When the Twims are hitting like the last few games they will punish teams. But they continue you their recent history of being an all or nothing offense. When they get rolling everyone hits, but when it's a bleak day they really do not seem to have someone to pick them up. I know some of that is just basebal, but they seem to have perfected it.
    • tarheeltwinsfan likes this

I wouldn't exactly call anybody with a negative WAR, in this case Castro, a "key contributor".

 

I'm not sayin. Just sayin.

 

    • mikelink45 and bighat like this
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puckstopper1
May 10 2018 06:43 AM

I agree with what most of the posters have stated.Prior to the season I felt that the Angels or Mariners, and the Red Sox/Yankees runner-up were going to get the AL Wild Cards.

 

Cleveland's uneven early season does give the Twins some hope, but the Twins need to continue to play well and hope the Tribe does not figure it out.Thus it is possible that the Twins can win the division, but not probable IMHO.

 

I hope I'm wrong.

Not giving up on the Wild Card. The Twins have an easy division and can beat up on the Tiggers, Royals and White Sox all year long while teams in the AL West and East will slog through games against better teams.

 

The Twins are bound to get healthier and get Polanco back for the second half too. I fully expect the Twins to be in the Wild Card hunt in August/September while also chasing down Cleveland.

 

I wouldn't exactly call anybody with a negative WAR, in this case Castro, a "key contributor".

 

I'm not sayin. Just sayin.

 

SSS. It's been 63 at bats. His OPS+ since 2012 has been 97, which is great for a catcher. I imagine that number will creep higher this year if he's being rested against lefties because he's got a more capable caddie in Garver.

 

My only worry is that meniscus seems bad for a catcher. The Twins don't seem worried but if Castro goes down, the cupboard is bare. Not sure who they could trade for - Gimenez maybe?

    • howieramone2 likes this
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Nick Nelson
May 10 2018 09:32 AM

 

SSS. It's been 63 at bats. His OPS+ since 2012 has been 97, which is great for a catcher. I imagine that number will creep higher this year if he's being rested against lefties because he's got a more capable caddie in Garver.

He was also playing through the knee injury for a couple weeks before going on the DL, which no doubt affected his production. 

As I read this and the comments all I can think about is that at this stage we should not be playing for a WC.We should be thinking championship.I think we have a Berrios, Romero, Gibson start to a good rotation and a Gonsalves to call up.We hope to have Buxton come back and its time to move to talent like Wade for the 4th outfield spot and not Grossman/LaMarre.Garver is our number one catcher and we have talent all around, except on the bench where Wade and Gordon would be a better pair with more upside.

 

​The BP is the challenge and hopefully we can sort it out, but we have talent throughout regardless of who is on the DL and Cleveland is just another team that we can and should pass to make this season a success. 

 

I read this quote from Boone on the Yankees and I think this sums up how the Twins should be thinking, “They expect to be really good. They expect to be a really good team. And they come to work,” Boone said. “It was just that we were going to approach every single day, every single pitch, every single inning in a very workmanlike way, and they’ve continued to do that, all the while having fun playing the game of baseball, which always comes out, which I love.”

    • DannySD likes this
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TheLeviathan
May 10 2018 10:26 AM

 

I seriously doubt Miller is resigned.

 

I just don't see Cleveland being so far out of the race for the title in arguably the worst division in baseball that they're selling by mid-late July. It would be shocking to say the least. 

 

Maybe not a full firesale...but I could see them blowing up that bullpen.

 

But yes, you're right, it would be shocking.But shocking teams sell off at the deadline every year, let's hope it's our top rival this time, :)

    • KirbyDome89 likes this
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tarheeltwinsfan
May 10 2018 10:43 AM

 

When Salazar comes back, Cleveland might run away.

Look at the ERA of their top 4 starters:

Bauer 2.53
Kluber 2.62
Clevinger 2.76
Carrasco 3.61

Ouch! Point made.

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Nick Nelson
May 10 2018 11:38 AM

 

When Salazar comes back, Cleveland might run away.

Look at the ERA of their top 4 starters:

Bauer 2.53
Kluber 2.62
Clevinger 2.76
Carrasco 3.61

This is good context, and helps substantiate how consistent and excellent Cleveland's rotation has been. But I'll add this nugget:

 

Cleveland Starters by FIP:

Clevinger - 2.95

Bauer - 3.17

Carrasco - 3.32

Kluber - 3.95

Tomlin - 9.71

 

Minnesota Starters by FIP:

Romero - 2.82

Gibson - 3.11

Berrios - 3.56 

Lynn - 5.46

Odorizzi - 5.55

 

Not the hugest disparity, and the Twins still have Erv, Gonsalves and May in the offing. The Indians don't really have those kinds of reinforcements on deck. Personally I have very little confidence Salazar is going to return with any kind of effectiveness for Cleveland this summer; his shoulder is messed up. 

 

    • howieramone2 likes this

From the post:

"Their offense has scuffled even with Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor hitting well. Jason Kipnis, who hasn't been a significantly above-average hitter since 2015, sports an OPS 90 points lower than Logan Morrison's"

 

If you're an Indians fan, this should scare the living daylights out of you

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mickeymental
May 10 2018 02:57 PM

what would scare me if i was an indians fan is that the twins lost 11 of 12 and are still only one game behind the defending american league champs.

what would scare me if i was an indians fan is that the twins lost 11 of 12 and are still only one game behind the defending american league champs.


Unless the last year was all a dream, I think the Astros are the defending AL champions.