Underrated Indians Proving Everyone Wrong
When the Detroit Tigers signed Prince Fielder to a mega-contract the team will certainly regret later once it becomes a payroll albatross, the conventional wisdom was they would run away with the AL Central from start to finish.
Chief Wahoo's Tribe have other ideas.
As the two clubs begin an early season series this week in Cleveland, the scrappy Indians sit atop the AL Central, 2.5 games ahead of the pre-season darlings of the American League in Detroit.
The Indians are outpitching the Tigers.
Derek Lowe, yes I said Derek Lowe of all people is neck and neck with Tigers ace Justin Verlander in what is shaping up to be an American League Comeback Player of the Year type season if he keeps it up.
You just have to wonder where the Tigers would be without Drew Smyly or even what happens when the league adjusts to the rookie second time through and starts to knock him around a little bit.
Where would the Indians be if they got the performance they were expecting all along from Ubaldo Jimenez who has been a huge bust so far but is still young with a great arm.
I bring this up to show one very important factor in this race all of us who follow the game closely somehow missed.
While paying all the attention to the shiny new toy the Tigers bought their fans in the offseason, we completely ignored the simple fact the Indians were just as good.
All the Indians needed were a few things to break their way and that's exactly what is going on.
Lowe is pitching like it's 2004 all over again, bringing some stabilization to the rotation that Jimenez was supposed to bring but hasn't at this point while the Tigers are having all kinds of issues in their rotation as Rick Porcello and Max Scherzer are both struggling with ERAs above 5.00.
This, while bad enough, pales in comparison to the struggles going on with the Tigers bullpen.
Detroit has an astounding five relievers on the big league roster with ERA's above 5.00, including the closer Jose Valverde who has also blown two saves after such a tremendous season last year; four Tigers relievers have WHIP's over two.
Beginning to get the picture here.
The Tigers, while addressing their hole at 1st base with Prince Fielder, have major issues with their pitching staff and you simply cannot slug your way into the American League Playoffs. Not anymore.
The Indians meanwhile are getting solid work from Lowe and Jeanmar Gomez, who could give Cleveland just as good of a one-two punch at the top of the rotation that Detroit has in Verlander and Doug Fister.
No, Lowe isn't as good as Verlander, I haven't lost what's left of my mind here, but when it comes to dependability and winning ballgames, the Cleveland duo has the same potential.
Unless of course Lowe turns into a pumpkin.
The Indians are also getting some good relief from their bullpen with five relievers turning in ERA's less than 3.52; the highest WHIP among those five, 1.20.
Where the Tigers still have the edge is of course with the offense. Adding Prince Fielder to that lineup certainly pushes Detroit past the Indians. It's this difference in the two offenses that has kept Detroit in the race up to this point.
Going into play Tuesday night, the Tigers were 5th in the league in hitting with a collective batting average of .257; Cleveland is 9th hitting .245.
Tigers are 8th in the league in home runs with 40; Cleveland ranks 12th at 34.
However, one thing to keep an eye on in this race is the young hitters in the Indians lineup like Jason Kipnis who could turn this Indians offense into just as big a weapon as Detroit if they turn the corner and start hitting more consistently.
Cleveland can't match the Tigers in power, not even close, but they have a lot of potential in their lineup to become a slashing offense that can line the gaps and score runs in bunches.
We're approaching Memorial Day which over the years has been the biggest indicator as to where the races are heading, in fact take a look at the standings at the moment and expect your mind to be blown.
The AL Central will go into the holiday weekend as one of the most competitive races in baseball and if you believed any of the talk going into the season you'll think someone is playing a joke on you.
Well, it's not a joke. Far from it.
The Indians to their credit simply said we'll see about that and are making the race many expected to be the biggest runaway in baseball this season one of the most exciting to watch.
Ubaldo Jimenez turns it around and they get some more production from the younger players in their lineup and we may just have that runaway race, but the Indians will be doing the running, leaving Detroit behind to pick up the pieces.