The Detroit Tigers open an important two-game set against the Cleveland Indians on Tuesday night, and it’s the Tribe that hold a surprising 2.5-game lead in the AL Central.
Of course, Cleveland also led the division at this point last season, only to fade as Detroit and Chicago fought it out for the title. Will history repeat itself this year? Or are the Indians a legitimate threat to Detroit’s hunt for a third consecutive division title?
Those are the questions posed to our writers in this week’s Detroit Sports Site roundtable …
Chris Burke: Well, based on the answers you’ll see below, I guess I’m in the minority (and maybe I’m being naive) but the Indians don’t concern me yet. Would I prefer the Tigers have gone wire-to-wire in the division? Of course.
But a tough Detroit series in Texas coupled with the Indians winning 18 of 22, including three straight pretty fortunate outcomes against Seattle, hardly has me panicking. I just don’t see any way that this Cleveland team maintains its pace with what is an average-at-best staff.
Ryan Raburn is not going to hit .300 all year; Mark Reynolds eventually will regress to the .190 free-swinging guy he’s always been. In other words, the lineup is pretty solid but stacked up against Detroit’s? No way.
Cleveland might take this series, maybe even open the division lead to five or six games. Come August, though, the Indians will be looking up at Detroit.
Max DeMara: As I said in the beginning of the year and reiterated a week ago in Talkin’ Tigers, the Cleveland Indians are definitely cause for concern. They probably shouldn’t be considered a serious threat to win the Central Division just yet, but they have enough pieces to give the Tigers a run for their money and steal plenty of games if Detroit isn’t careful. This looks to be a changed team mentally, which was the Indians’ biggest problem under Manny Acta. Now that they’ve figured out how to win, they’re getting a bit more dangerous as the season wears on.
They’ll have to prove they can stick around during the second half of a season in July and August which has been their recent downfall, but the Tigers should have plenty of attention affixed to Cleveland starting with this week’s series on the road. Another series loss by Detroit will provide plenty of reason for concern.
Rob Starrs: I guess the easy answer is yes, I am worried about the Indians. But I am more worried that the Tigers’ pitching staff won’t pick it up.
The offense will be there — Prince Fielder and Victor Martinez need to pick up the pace, but I don’t see that as a long-term issue. I am worried about the way things have been going. The Indians will have to prove that are deserving of their spot. They went on a nice streak early last season and fell off the ledge at a certain point. Can Cleveland keep it up? Can the Tigers fix their problems? Time will tell, but for now there is some cause for concern.
Andrew Tomlinson: I’m worried about everyone at this point. Detroit has established itself as a clear powerhouse in the American League, yet it has yet to really grab the reins and runaway with the lead in the division. This weekend in Texas, I’m willing to write off as a hot team catching the Tigers at the right team, but it still doesn’t help calm the fears about the Tigers being able to live up to potential.
This next series against the Indians could be a two-game set that outlines what at least the next few months will look like. Cleveland is a veteran team, adding guys like Michael Bourn and Mark Reynolds, that seems to know how to win. The biggest concern about the Indians is they keep getting healthier. Detroit has yet to really get hit with the injury bug, but the Indians already have had a slew of injuries and are still in first in the Central. The biggest question is: Can the Tigers keep up the pace when they lose a starting pitcher or another key bat?
Do I think the Indians will win the division? No, but the Tigers need to get the bats going or they could spend the summer in yet another pennant race.