First-Place Indians Sweep Tigers (But Haven’t We Been Here Before?)

by Jason Epstein

This morning John Adams of the Los Angeles Times offered his readers a suggestion: “If a tree falling in a forest doesn’t make a sound, then the streaking Cleveland Indians in an empty ballpark must be just as insignificant.”

This afternoon the Indians edged Justin Verlander and the Tigers, 2–1, thereby completing a three-game sweep of their division rivals.

And the team won in front of 23,622 fans, including the seventh most walk-ups in the franchise’s long history: 6,433.

So after 44 games, the Indians lead the AL Central with a 26–18 record, whereas the Tigers are 20–4 and in third place.




Of course, our short-term memory reminds us that 2011 started out much the same way. As Dave Cameron of Fangraphs noted:

If they need motivation, the Tigers can point to this time a year ago, when they were in almost exactly the same situation. After 44 games, they stood 22–22 and trailed the Indians by six games — they went 73–45 the rest of the year and ran away with the AL Central title.

SB Nation’s Al Yellon highlighted why in Cleveland it may soon be déjà vu all over again:

The Indians, truth be told, are probably playing a bit over their heads. With the 2–1 win Thursday, they’ve scored 190 runs (seventh in the AL) and allowed 189 (also seventh). They’re about as league-average a team as you can imagine. Derek Lowe and Jeanmar Gomez have pitched extremely well, and once the Indians get a lead, they keep it — they’re now 10–2 in one-run games.

This is far different from the way the Tribe ran out to their big lead in 2011 — by the end of May, they were 10-8 in one-run games, but 9-5 in games won by at least five runs.

That was an illusion, obviously. This year could be as well; the Tigers still have a fine pitching staff and plenty of firepower in their lineup, though it hasn’t been much in evidence to date. Detroit has scored fewer runs than Cleveland (186 after Thursday’s loss), something they surely didn’t expect when they added Prince Fielder to a lineup that finished fourth in the AL in 2011 with 787 runs. With the weather warming up, more run-scoring seems destined to follow.So, Indians fans, enjoy this while you can. The Tigers are well-positioned to make the same kind of run they had in 2011.

Cameron is also pessimistic, albeit about Detroit’s chances:

Even if we didn’t adjust our expectations for this Tigers team down at all due to their slow start, asking them to play at a 93 win pace is no small task, and realistically, some of the struggles the team has had reveal flaws that suggest that Detroit isn’t as good as they were thought to be before the season began. Without Alex Avila and Jhonny Peralta hitting at All-Star levels, this offense just isn’t the juggernaut that it was expected to be, and the pitching is getting betrayed by lousy defensive support.

The Tigers can still win the AL Central, but the early advantage that the Indians have built suggests that they should no longer be expected to come out on top. Cleveland is now the team to beat in that division.

Both seem to agree that the White Sox, currently in second place, the Royals, and the Twins are not serious threats for the top spot.

Right Field

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