We’ve done “5 Reasons why the Cavs will win the Central”, well I am bringing in the big guns (myself) and cranking it up to 11. Okay, actually I’m cranking up to just 10 (reasons why the Indians will win the AL Central).
1. Detroit’s pitching has declined.
The 2014 Tigers rotation at its best, stacked up like this:
SP: Max Scherzer
SP: David Price
SP: Anibal Sanchez
SP: Justin Verlander
SP: Rick Porcello
Here’s what the 2015 Tigers rotation will look like (in all probability) on Opening Day:
SP: Justin Verlander
SP: David Price
SP: Anibal Sanchez
SP: Shane Green
SP: Alfredo Simon
Losing Max Scherzer is going to hurt any rotation, but the loss of Rick Porcello might be the most impactful. Porcello, playing with an above-average defense for the first time in his career, posted a career high 3.43 ERA. He was traded to Boston this offseason for Yoenis Cespedes. Justin Verlander seems to have lost a step over the past couple seasons. Since his MVP season in 2011, Verlander’s ERA has increased like this: 2.40 in 2011, 2.64, 3.46, and 4.54 in 2014. Verlander will cross the 2,000 innings pitched mark in 2015, and pitchers at the age of 32 don’t just rediscover their velocity.
Anibal Sanchez has all the tools to be a Cy Young contender, but he has never pitched 200 innings in a season, and his health is a question coming into 2015. Shane Greene had an impressive rookie showing with the Yankees, but his minor league numbers aren’t very pretty, with a 4.39 career minor league ERA. Alfredo Simon was a career bullpen pitcher until he took the first half of the MLB season by storm, but fell back into the pack in the second half. Simon will be 34 in 2015 and only has 51 starts to his name. To his credit, David Price is as steady as they come, but the Tigers still have their unsolvable bullpen issues.
2. Kansas City: lightning doesn’t strike twice.
After making it to the World Series, and coming up only 2 runs short of winning the whole thing, the Royals ownership decided to spend spend spend. The Royals 2014 payroll came in around $89.8 million, it has now skyrocketed to $111.6 million for 2015. However, none of that money went to rotation leader James Shields. The Royals decided to part ways with Nori Aoki, James Shields, and Billy Butler and have added Alex Rios (declining), Kendrys Morales (a question mark), Edinson Volquez (2 good seasons), and Kris Medlen (injury-prone).
The Kansas City bullpen might be even better than last year, Brandon Finnegan will be with the team on opening day, and Luke Hochevar is coming back from Tommy John surgery. The offense could be a problem, and it’s not like they lit up the league in 2014. They ranked 9th (out of 15) in the AL, but unless Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer, Salvador Perez, and Alcides Escobar play up to their potential (which they did not do last year) or unless Alex Rios and Kendrys Morales hold off father time, the offense might not be able to get a lead to the 6th inning.
3. The White Sox have no depth.
The White Sox increased payroll by $30 million this offseason, and while on the surface they might look like a playoff team, an injury or two could derail any hope of the postseason. Also, while Chris Sale and Jeff Samardzija make a great 1-2 punch at the top of the rotation, John Danks and Hector Noesi don’t make for a great 4-5. There really isn’t any depth at the starting spot either, unless you count 2014 1st round pick Carlos Rondon, who may show up in the second half of the season. Not to mention a bullpen led by David Robertson, and…no one else.
As the title suggests, depth is an issue, and the outfield of Melky Cabrera, Adam Eaton, and Avisail Garcia have played 692 out of a possible 1,458 games over the last 3 seasons. And we haven’t even mentioned the problem at second base, currently held down by Carlos Sanchez, a guy who has played 28 career MLB games.
4. Michael Brantley and Corey Kluber.
Corey Kluber won the 2014 AL Cy Young, while Michael Brantley finished 3rd in the AL MVP voting. Safe to say that the Indians have two of the best players in the league. Don’t believe me? Brantley and Kluber combined from a WAR of 14.1 in 2014, the next closest pair of teammates were Felix Hernandez and Robinson Cano, who combined for a 13.1 WAR. Mathematically speaking, had the Indians used replacement players instead of Brantley and Kluber in 2014, the Indians would have had a record of 71-91. Sure, some regression can be expected, but Kluber’s peripheral stats are actually better than his normal stats. Meanwhile, the Indians added protection in the lineup for Brantley, by trading for Brandon Moss.
5. 3-6 spots in our lineup.
If I were Terry Francona, this is what what my lineup would look like:
1: Michael Bourn
2: Jason Kipnis
3: Michael Brantley
4: Brandon Moss
5: Carlos Santana
6: Yan Gomes
7: Lonnie Chisenhall
8: Nick Swisher
9: Jose Ramirez
The 3 through 6 spots in that lineup are pretty impressive. The addition of Moss gives some much needed protection to Brantley and Santana. In 2015 the Indians will be able to boast a lineup where the middle four guys combined to average a .270 batting average, 23 home runs, 84 RBI, 30 doubles, 73 runs, and a .390 on-base percentage in 2014. If Michael Bourn and Jason Kipnis can both get on base, the Indians offense could be deadly. Speaking of Bourn and Kipnis…