We all love new things. They’re shiny, fun, and they give life some much-needed change at times. But the thing about new things is that the excitement of “newness” drowns out the old and leads us to believe that the new is better when the old is still perfectly good.
Where is this analogy going? Well, the storyline for the offseason was how many upgrades the up-and-coming White Sox made, and how they now appear to be serious threats in a rather weak AL Central. The signing of Josh Donaldson knocked those narratives down a peg but I do still feel as if there’s one team that is getting overlooked in all of this.
That old thing would be the Cleveland Indians. They just watched as their reign in the AL Central came to a close thanks to the Twins and their efforts (or lack thereof) recently led to a number of stalwart players leaving. Gone are the days of being terrorized by Corey Kluber and Trevor Bauer. Behind us are the worries of thinking about facing Andrew Miller and Cody Allen late in the game. And thank the lord that the dastardly Michael Brantley is now making a mockery of AL West pitching for a change.
The Indians will still boast a number of highly talented players who could come together and threaten the Twins’ efforts to win their second division title in a row. Mike Clevinger and Shane Bieber have taken over the titles for “Cleveland pitcher who is annoyingly good” and Francisco Lindor and José Ramírez remain strong MVP candidates. One could make an argument that the Indians have the four best players in the division even when considering the recent Josh Donaldson signing.
Beyond that, the Cleveland factory of pitching remained as strong as ever as two dudes named Aaron Civale and Zach Plesac put up ERAs of 2.34 and 3.81, respectively, over fairly substantial sample sizes last season. Their peripherals tell a less optimistic story but a pitcher not completely falling on his metaphorical face to start his MLB career is noteworthy and they both possess the kind of stuff that can get them outs at the major league level.
Throw in the strikeout machine James Karinchak, and the newly acquired Emmanuel Clase, and it looks like the Indians are in prime condition to consistently fool hitters all summer.
Of course, there’s a reason why Cleveland is still mostly considered behind the Twins at this point. Their offseason major league signing has been literally just César Hernández, and their lineup depth beyond the two stars on the left side of the infield leaves much to be desired. The Twins should easily out-slug this team as they could legitimately have a 30 home run hitter batting ninth. While Cleveland will likely have Greg Allen, which is like comparing the original Star Wars trilogy to the prequels.
Even with this lackluster offense, Cleveland has two other tricks up their sleeve that will prove to be crucial in the division race. Carlos Carrasco had a poor 2019, and it was eventually revealed that he had been diagnosed with Leukemia. A full healthy season from the typically reliable starter would push the Cleveland starting rotation to a higher level. If this happens, it will also show just how far behind the Twins are when it comes to their starting rotation.
The other trick is another bounce-back candidate in Ramírez who, much like Carrasco, had a worse showing in 2019 than many expected. Ramírez basically had two different seasons as his first half wRC+ of 68 would make even the lightest hitting of catchers blush. But he found his groove again in the second half as he scorched the ball to the tune of a 176 wRC+ and even came back from an injury that should have ended his season. If Ramírez is also back to being normal, then the Twins will really have some problems to deal with.
Altogether, I still believe that the Twins have a better squad on paper, but there’s a reason why they play the games, and anything can happen. As long as Cleveland has their high-end talent and incredible pitching development, they will be an immediate threat to the Twins, and we should be prepared for that.
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