This is part two of a series where we will see how the current Indians depth chart compares against the other teams in the AL Central. We will continue with the team that finished fourth in the AL Central in 2013, the Minnesota Twins.
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The Indians rode a strong record against the Twins and White Sox last season into a Wild Card berth, largely because of the big difference in starting pitching. Outside of Sam Deduno, the Twins seemed to have no one who could control the Indians and the Tribe took advantage. To end the season, the Indians won four straight games against Minnesota, outscoring the Twins 28-13 and propelling them to home field advantage against the Rays in the Wild Card play-off. Both teams made some major changes in the off-season, but will it be enough to shift the momentum?
The Twins felt their starting rotation was the weakest part of their team in 2013 and have spent the majority of the off-season rectifying this. Of course, while they have made many changes, it is questionable whether they have actually made any improvements. They will return their ace, Mike Pelfrey, who could have left as a free agent and added Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes as free agents as well. While Nolasco is a vast improvement over Scott Diamond, it is questionable whether Hughes will ever be better than anyone else in the league. With Kevin Corriea and Sam Deduno filling out the rest of the rotation, the Twins rotation is even more questionable than the Indians. Despite losing Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir, the Indians still have Justin Masterson, Corey Kluber, Zach McAllister and Danny Salazar and compared to the Twins, look like a solid Major League rotation.
The Twins will be returning All-Star closer Glen Perkins, making their bullpen immediately more stable than the Indians, who have had to replace not only their closer, but their number one set-up man in Joe Smith. In addition to Perkins, the Twins will be returning Casey Fien, Jared Burton and Brian Duensing, giving them a very good, but not great base to their relief corps. While the Indians could have an incredible bullpen with Cody Allen, C.C. Lee and Marc Rzepczynski, there is a lot more chance for risk due to the young age of the staff. If there is any part of the team that you would prefer to have stable, it is the bullpen, so while it is possible that the Indians will end up with a much better relief squad than the Twins, the pre-season look has to go for Minnesota.
After all the pitching changes, the Twins will largely be returning the same defense as in 2013. The biggest difference will be the departure of two players, Ryan Doumit and Justin Morneau. Both of these moves will improve the defense as Joe Mauer will take over first base with Kurt Suzuki taking the catching duties. Also, Josh Willingham will likely spend more time at DH, removing his defensive liability from left field. Position-by-position, the Twins are generally at least slightly better than the Indians defensively with the exception of where they have new players. Nick Swisher at first, Yan Gomes at catcher along with Michael Brantley and Michael Bourn in the outfield are all superior defensively to their Minnesota counterparts.
Here is the number one reason why the Twins will most likely be returning to their place as the fourth place team in the American League Central. Two of the Twins best three hitters from 2013, Morneau and Doumit, are not returning and they haven't been replaced. Outside of Brian Dozier, who will likely be the best offensive and defensive player for the Twins in 2014, Minnesota will be counting on Josh Willingham, who is coming off the worst season of his career. In 2013 the Twins finished 14th in the American League in runs scored with 614 and things look to be even worse next season.
The Twins have had the most confusing off-season in the division this year, scrambling to fill their starting rotation with questionable veterans while the rest of the team is no where near competing. In general, they seem to be right in the middle of a rebuilding session like the Indians were in 2010. If they can keep working on building internally, the Twins will likely have a pretty good team in a few years with Dozier leading the way, but they certainly aren't going to turn things around with pitchers like Phil Hughes.
As far as 2014 and the direct competition with the Indians, things should be even more skewed as the Indians have improved (even if it is ever so slightly), while the Twins seem to have regressed. It wouldn't be surprising to see the Indians win between 15 and 17 games against Minnesota next year. If they can, their success against the Twins and White Sox will go a long way to a return to the Central Division title.