This is part four of a series where we will see how the current Indians depth chart compares against the other teams in the AL Central. This final report will see if anything has changed between the Indians and the 2014 AL Central Champion Detroit Tigers.
|CLE vs DET||4-15|
The Indians had winning records against every team in the Central except Detroit and it was a large part of them winning the Wild Card. Conversely, their terrible record against the Tigers was the only thing keeping them from winning the Central outright. This wasn't an issue of luck either as the Tigers scored at least five runs in 14 of the 19 games and combined with their tremendous starting pitching, won 11 of those games. It would take some major changes to turn things around completely and lucky for the Tribe, some major changes took place this off-season.
Despite having two time AL MVP, Prince Fielder, Victor Martinez and Jhonny Peralta hitting for them, in 2013, their starting rotation was their greatest strength. Only Rick Porcello finished with an ERA above 3.75 while two starters finished in the top four in the Cy Young voting (the Indians received no votes). The only difference between that rotation and the one in 2014 is that Doug Fister was traded to Washington. Of course, this may not be much respite as he will be replaced by ace reliever Drew Smyly. The Indians best chances are if both Anibal Sanchez and Max Scherzer see major regressions, because Justin Verlander will almost certainly be better than he was in 2013. On the whole, there is nothing that could happen that would allow the Indians five to match the Tigers starters.
Finally, the Tigers may have a weakness as their superstar closer, Joaquin Benoit, has moved on to San Diego and their top set-up man, Smyly, is joining the rotation. To replace these players, the Tigers have brought in aging closer, Joe Nathan and Indian punching bag Joba Chamberlain. There is no question that this is the weakest part of the team, but is it still better than the Indians. While Nathan is unquestionably better than John Axford (just look at their new contracts), Cody Allen is superior to Bruce Rondon and Bryan Shaw is better than Al Albuquerque. In fact, down the line the Indians are better at every level than the Tigers and have more depth if things go sour. Either way, the combination of Detroit's poor bullpen and great offense, no lead will be safe for either side once the starters exit.
Defense has always been an issue for the Tigers, but things have turned around since the trading deadline. Jose Iglasius will be replacing the short ranged Peralta, Ian Kinsler will be replacing Omar Infante and Nick Castellanos will be replacing Cabrera at third. With the moves, the Tigers have went from being significantly worse around the horn at each position to being significantly better at short stop and third. The two teams are about even at second and the Indians have the advantage at first with Nick Swisher over Cabrera. Catching goes for the Tribe as does left field, but the rest of the outfield has the Tigers with the benefit. While the teams are going to be similar, having the best players at the most important positions (short stop, center field and third base), makes this advantage obvious.
In order to improve their defense, the Tigers dealt from their offense. Prince Fielder went to Texas for Kinsler and Peralta was allowed to leave to be replaced by Iglasius (who came from Boston for Avasail Garcia at the trade deadline). This should be the biggest difference between the 2013 Tigers and the 2014 edition, but they should still have plenty of offense. The Indians best chance here is that perennial Triple Crown candidate, Cabrera, continues to struggle with lower back and leg injuries and Torii Hunter's age finally catches up with him. If that happens, the Tigers might only hit 20 more home runs and score 50 more runs than the Indians, who are absolutely devoid of real power.
Off-season changes completely benefit the Indians as the only real improvement made by the Tigers were to defense and their defense wasn't that bad in 2013 (just 51 unearned runs). Other, non personal changes also favor the Indians as for the Tigers getting older is a bad thing (Kinsler will be 32, Hunter 38, Cabrera 31 and Nathan 39), while for the Indians getting older is a good thing (Kipnis will be 27, Salazar 24, Santana 28 and Masterson 29). Because of this, the Tigers are all reaching the twilight of their career while almost all the players on the Indians are coming into their prime. The Indians record against the Tigers this year will go a long way to show whether the Indians with this roster can ever be truly competitive with the big spenders, so while they still will likely finish with a losing record, they should still shoot for at least seven to nine wins against Detroit.