Back to the Fifties For Cleveland

It will be a major upset if any team other than Cleveland wins the American League Central Division this season.  Terry Francona and his troops finished 17 games ahead of the pack last year and it would not be surprising if they did that well again. They have speed, defense, power, and, most of all, pitching. This is a pitching staff that brings to mind some of the all time best. Like the Indians team that won the pennant in 1954 and challenged the dominant Yankees for most of that decade, this version lacks only a left handed starter.  Back then, Herb Score came along to provide a southpaw presence for two years before his tragic accident but Bob Lemon, Mike Garcia, Early Wynn and Bob Feller did most of the work on one of the best staffs ever assembled. Now, with the help of standout lefty reliever Andrew Miller, Cleveland sends tough starters Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer, Mike Clevinger, and Josh Tomlin to the mound with confidence every game.

They have more weapons than that, of course. Shortstop Francisco Lindor  and third baseman Jose Ramirez will see Houston’s Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa and then raise them with first baseman Yonder Alonso and second sacker Jason Kipnis. They will no doubt miss the veteran leadership that Carlos Santana took to Philadelphia but all of the youngsters are veterans now. They have two fine defensive catchers in Roberto Perez and Yan Gomes. That’s a real plus as the season wears on. Outfielders Bradley Zimmer, Tyler Naquin, and Lonnie Chisenhall will get by well enough until Michael Brantley once again returns from injury, and the highlight of their season so far has been strong designated sitter Edwin Encarnacion‘s inside the park home run versus the Huntington Beach Angels.

The Minnesota Twins became America’s sweethearts in 2017 as they surprised most folks by improving by 34 wins from their last place finish the year before. They could be even better this year. They have added a quality starting pitcher in Lance Lynn, who was 11-8 with a 3.43 earned run average for St. Louis last year, and a slugging DH and backup first baseman in Logan Morrison. New (old) relief pitcher Fernando Rodney is sometimes effective and always entertaining. The Minneapolis- St. Paul team has good speed and defense all around. Joe Mauer is 34 and doesn’t play catcher anymore but is a premier first baseman and still hits well. Jorge Polanco is suspended for half a season but may not be missed, although Eduardo Escobar does better at third or second than at shortstop. Byron Buxton is exciting at center field and an offensive threat leading off and stealing bases. Brian Dozier hits for power and steals bases too. Jose Berrios is likely the new ace of the staff after going 14-8 with a 3.89 E.R.A last year. Paul Molitor got this team far last year and the natural assumption is that they can go farther now. With that Cleveland pitching, I don’t think so.

Ever since that 2005 World Championship, the White Sox seemed to be proceeding without a discernible plan. It now appears that they do but, once again, their pitching doesn’t  add up to success. It’s a solid lineup, though, with powerful run producers like first baseman Jose Abreu, right fielder Avisail Garcia, and new catcher Wellington Castillo, who produced 20 home runs and 53 runs batted in playing in hitter friendly Baltimore last year. They have youth that could develop further rather quickly as well, with shortstop Tim Anderson, third baseman Yolmer Sanchez, and the intriguing second baseman Yoan Moncada, obtained from the Other Sox for Chris Sale. Lucas Giolito leads a promising group of young hurlers but veteran James Shields, who was acquired to be the ace, has continued to disappoint. The South side of Chicago has hope for the future.

Kansas City won it all in 2015 and 1985. Royals fans may be wishing now that it won’t be another thirty years before they have a chance. The loss of stalwart catcher Salvador Perez for the next month and a half is only the capper to a bummer of an off season after an 80-82 campaign last year. They signed Mike Moustakas and shortstop Alcides Escobar but Lorenzo Cain and Eric Hosmer went bye bye. Alex Gordon switched to center field and is still a capable outfielder, but his offensive skills seemed to have vanished in 2017 as he plunged to .208 with 9 homers. The pitching staff, very good in the World Series seasons of ’14 and ’15, is mediocre at best this time.

What do the Detroit Tigers have in common with the San Francisco Giants. The good thing was that they met in the World Series not so long ago. The bad thing was that they both lost 98 games in 2017. Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez are both still there being their amiable selves, but they were shadows of their former selves last season, at ages 34 and 39 respectively. There is a a bit of talent on the roster, and new manager Ron Gardenhire is saying all the right things, but this is going to take a while.

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