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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

 

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.

If I recall correctly, Stengel's actual quote is "Good pitching will always stop good hitting and vice versa."

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mickeymental
May 10 2018 04:03 PM

 

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

hmm. you make an interesting point. i'm old enough that i still think of the astros as an nl team ...

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.


Romero has two starts. Not saying it can't continue.... But what are the odds?

Cleveland has been great for two years. I'm guessing they are a low nineties win team this year.

If I recall correctly, Stengel's actual quote is "Good pitching will always stop good hitting and vice versa."

I never knew Casey delved that deeply into the game? :). Frankly I wasn't quoting him as I had no idea he said that, or any part of it. The observation is age old, and I for one would always prefer to be the team with the good pitchers.