You heard it here first. I’m calling it now. It’s time for a bold prediction. The Cleveland Indians will win the American League Central.
I hear you. The Indians are in 4th place in a division with three of baseball’s hottest teams through the first couple of months of the season, the surprising Twins, the Royals and the Tigers. They’re below .500 and have been the second worse defense in baseball in terms of efficiency. Their closer has an ERA over 5, their Cy Young winner got off to a terrible start and their catcher is hitting .143.
I know all that. I remain entrenched in my position. Watching baseball over the weekend a stat came up that got me thinking. Stats come at you left, right and centre in this game. They’re unavoidable. Some are useful and informative, some make you want to throw a brick at the screen as they have absolutely no context or sample size. Yet, this one grabbed me. The top 3 starting pitchers in K/9 (strikeouts per 9 innings) all came from the same club. Yep, the Tribe. The three guys, Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco and Danny Santana.
That’s scary. What if that rotation ‘gets hot?’
We always knew the Central was going to be an unstable, competitive division. And so it’s proven.
However, the Indians have won 10 of their last 13 games. The Tigers have cooled off, so have the Royals to some point and nobody can really believe in these Twins can they?
Behind a historic month of May from Jason Kipnis and a return to form from that Cy Young winner, Kluber, the Indians are winning, even if nobody has noticed.
With Lebron James and the Cavaliers going for an NBA title, it’s been easy for many even in North East Ohio to ignore the Tribe’s hot May, they were fourth in MLB for the month in run differential.
It’s a surge that has also largely been overshadowed by the Minnesota Twins, who climbed all the way to the top of the division with an amazing May. Still, the Indians are as hot as any team in baseball now.
So why did Cleveland start off the season so poorly? A lot of this can be put down to luck. In April, they had a BABIP against of .352, 18 points higher than the next team in the league. Sure, there is some defence that factors in here but that is a big difference. With so many strikeouts in the rotation, the defence should not come into play as much as with some teams.
The hitting was poor also. Some of that has begun to right itself. They now lie 8th in the majors in OPS. Kipnis had over 50 hits in May and scored 30 runs, only the third time this has ever been achieved. Michael Brantley was ailed by a bad back at the start of the season and is now healthy and Yan Gomes is just back from the DL to slot into the middle order.
It is Gomes’ return that gives me the most certainty in my belief that Cleveland is going to be the team to beat in the AL Central. Last season he ranked third in MLB in defensive WAR amongst catchers. That the rotation has had to cope without such an important asset through the first part of the season, makes them all the more dangerous.
Cody Allen, too, after a shocking April, has returned to much more like his normal self at the back-end of the bullpen.
This is a deep club, able to throw out a competent lineup regardless of whether facing a right or left hander. They take walks. They can hit home runs. They have a manager acknowledged as one of the best in the game. They haven’t really put it all together yet.
And then they have THAT rotation, the strikeout kings of MLB.
Watch out! The Tribe are coming.