Cleveland Indians: An early breakdown of the AL Central

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Cleveland Indians

(Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)

Detroit Tigers

Last year’s last-place club is destined for another lost season, with the silver lining being that a handful of their more highly regarded prospects may get the call-up to the big leagues at some point in 2020. Hope may loom on the horizon for the Detroit Tigers, but they are still looking at a bottom-rung finish in the AL standings this year.

Detroit landed some veteran free agents in infielders Jonathan Schoop and C.J. Cron, and right-handed starter Ivan Nova, which should allow them to be marginally more functional at the MLB level. The nature of the one-year deals to which all three players agreed suggests the Tigers are hoping there’s some midsummer trade value, as none of them have the firepower to spearhead a franchise turnaround.

The X-factor in Detroit’s season will inevitably be lefty Matthew Boyd, whose trade value may have reached its pinnacle in the first half of 2019. Prior to the All-Star break, Boyd posted desirable numbers in strikeout rate (32%), ERA (3.87), FIP (3.57), and xFIP (3.35). All of those metrics deteriorated significantly in the second half, and Detroit may have missed its chance to send him away for a long-term haul.

If Boyd is able to recapture the pleasantly surprising mound presence he displayed in the first few months of 2019, don’t expect the Tigers to stand pat in trade negotiations this time around.

As far as the Indians are concerned, there is no aspect of the Tigers’ 2020 roster that matches up well. Cleveland has the superior offense, defensive alignment, and pitching staff. Will the Tribe finish 18-1 against Detroit again in 2020? Probably not. But if the Indians show up to play in head-to-head competition against the once-proud Tigers, this is not a season series that should be up for grabs.

Kansas City Royals

If the 2019 Chicago White Sox were the thorn in Cleveland’s side–which is to say, the team the Indians should’ve been able to handle but didn’t, for whatever reason–the Kansas City Royals could be that headache in 2020.

The Royals are likely staring down another rough season in terms of starting pitching, as their rotation will presumably be headlined again by Brad Keller, Danny Duffy, and Jakob Junis. On offense, however, Kansas City possesses just enough peskiness and thump to give the Indians a hard time.

Salvador Perez will return to the fold behind the plate after missing the entire 2019 season, which figures to be a sizable positive both offensively and defensively. Whit Merrifield remains one of the more unheralded leadoff hitters in the game, but the Indians know all too well what kind of issues he can give a pitching staff.

In the middle of the Royals’ lineup will reside Jorge Soler and Hunter Dozier, who combined for 74 home runs in 2019. If young shortstop Adalberto Mondesi takes a significant step forward, the Royals are looking at the kind of lineup that can play spoiler throughout the season.

The Indians went 12-7 in head-to-head play versus the Royals in 2019, and this season should ideally yield much of the same. Like the Tigers, the Royals simply don’t have the pitching to stand toe-to-toe with the Indians over the course of a full season. Offensively, the Indians are also markedly more well-equipped, but the gap is much narrower with the Royals than it is with the Tigers.

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