Cleveland Indians closer to first than third in 2020 AL Central race

Cleveland Indians (Photo by Ron Schwane/Getty Images)
Cleveland Indians (Photo by Ron Schwane/Getty Images) /

Despite all the gloom and doom talk about the Cleveland Indians, the Tribe is closer to first place, than third, in the AL Central race with the Sox and Twins.

In what was a quiet offseason, the Cleveland Indians did nothing but anger their fans as Francisco Lindor‘s name kept popping up in trade rumors. A deal never came to fruition, the constant talk of moving Lindor reminded that the superstar will be a free agent in two years and that the Dolans won’t pay him.

Yet as pitchers and catchers report for Spring Training, this day is a reminder that the Indians are closer to first place than third based off one major piece of a division winning formula: Their starting pitching is unmatched in the AL Central.

For all the Twins power and all the splash signings the White Sox made, Cleveland can go one through five in its rotation with Carlos Carrasco, Mike Clevinger, Shane Bieber, Aaron Civale and Zach Plesac.

Minnesota knew starting pitching was a priority, and tried to remedy the problem by signing Zach Wheeler. The free agent strung Minnesota along until his price hit the $100 million mark. He ultimately chose the Phillies.

On the bump, Jose Berrios is the Twins’ ace, while Jake Odorizzi is a good No. 2. After that, Michael Pineda has 39 games remaining on his 60-day PED suspension. Homer Bailey has a well documented injury history and a career 4.57 ERA. Injuries are a major concern for recently acquired Kenta Maeda.

At the dish, the Twins are good, but they’re not the 1995 Tribe. There was a study that showed how pretty much everything was breaking the Twinkies way in 2019, and it’s against the odds they’ll be that lucky again.

That said, the lineup is still good enough to win the division, especially by adding Donaldson.

As for their bullpen, Minnesota jumped all over the opposition last season and the bullpen regularly closed the door. They’re not that good on the back end, anymore. Minnesota signed Sergio Romo and former Indians Tyler Clippard. OK, but not scary. Romo’s 36, while Clippard wasn’t exactly an imposing figure coming of the bullpen in Cleveland.

The White Sox, like the Twins, bolstered their lineup, but their pitching still can’t go toe-to-toe with the Indians.

Lucas Giolito is an emerging ace, while Dallas Keuchel makes for an excellent one-two punch. After that, the Sox will lean on 36-year-old Gio Gonzalez. He threw just 87.1 innings a season ago.

For sports four and five, the White Sox will check out Daylan Cease, Reynaldo Lopez and Michael Kopech. Cease was 4-7 with a  5.79 ERA last year, while Lopez went 10-15 with a 5.38. At times, he looked brilliant. The problem, of course, was consistency.

Koepech is an unknown. He was once a highly regarded prospect, able to touch triple digits on his fastball. Unfortunately, he had to have Tommy John surgery and missed all of 2019, and while he still claims he can bring heat, he also said he doesn’t know if he’ll be that type of power pitcher again his career.

Chicago’s offense was upgraded thanks to the acquisitions of Edwin Encaracacion and catcher Yasmani Grandal. Throw those guys into a lineup that already has Tim Anderson, Yoan Moncada, Eloy Jimenez and Jose Abreu, and yeah…pretty potent.

That said, Luis Robert is expected to make the club and start in center, while Nick Madrigal is supposed to start at second.

The White Sox made headlines by giving Robert a multi-year extension before he ever made it to The Show. While he’s supposed to be good, keep in mind, the White Sox may have to rookies in the lineup with no experience.

That leaves the Tribe, and we all know about the outfield being the biggest hot-button issue. Expect Delino DeShields, Jordan Luplow and Greg Allen to get at-bats, while Franmil Reyes will get looks in Spring Training to see if he can be more than a DH.

For the Tribe to contend offensively, Jose Ramirez has to be the Jose Ramirez of 2016-2018 all year long, because if you start talking about a core of J-Ram, Francisco Lindor, Carlos Santana and Reyes, then the lineup will certainly be formidable.

Swap out Jason Kipnis for Cesar Hernandez, and that’s an upgrade, as Hernandez posted a 2.5 WAR last season, compared to Kipnis’ 0.5.

Meanwhile, the bullpen should get a boost from James Karinchak, the minor-league strikeout machine who made his debut at the end of last season. It’s still a wonder as to why it took so long for the Indians to promote him.

And, for as much as it’s easy to complain a two-time Cy Young Award winner for a reliever, Emmanuel Clase fills a big need for the Indians in that he’s someone who can come out of the pen and throw gas–and he’s got movement, from what I hear.

Next. How the Mets attempt for Lindor fell through. dark

The Indians aren’t without their challenges, but the other contenders in the Central have issues as well. Hopefully, the Arizona sun sheds some light on which direction the Indians are trending heading into the home opener.