October 21, 2014

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Chris Assenheimer: Reasons why the Indians, er, Tigers will win the Central

If you believe the players and pretty much everyone else who is following the Central Division race, it’s going to come down to the Indians and Tigers.
The Twins are still in the hunt, but they have to make up ground on two teams, and barring a monumental collapse from Cleveland and Detroit over the final month of the regular season, that’s not going to happen.
Of course, with the way the woebegone Wahoos and the terrible Tiggers have been playing, it’s not impossible …
Before I change my mind, let’s play a little “The Indians/Tigers are going to win the division because …”   
The Indians are going to win the division because they have three guys — C.C. Sabathia, Fausto Carmona and Jake Westbrook — pitching like aces. Cleveland could conceivably have two 20-game winners in Sabathia and Carmona had its offense not sunk into a month-long funk that has stolen wins from both pitchers, while preventing the team from putting any distance between itself and the scuffling defending American League champs.
The Tigers are going to win the division because, even without Gary Sheffield, they have one of the best lineups in baseball, led by AL MVP candidate Magglio Ordonez, whom Indians manager Eric Wedge called “out of this hemisphere” during the team’s recent series in Detroit. The Tigers have experienced hitters throughout the order — Ivan Rodriguez, Carlos Guillen and Placido Polanco, to name a few. That’s a good thing when you’re in a pennant race.
The Indians are going to win the division because a lineup that scored the second-most runs in the majors last year and ranked among the top in the department through the first half of this season is going to start producing again. Though Cleveland hitters have shown little sign of emerging from their collective second-half slump, odds say they have to snap out of it some time, don’t they? The laws of probability are on their side, even if their top run producer the past three seasons, Travis Hafner, hasn’t been for much of the year.     
The Tigers are going to win the division because their bullpen, one of the league’s best, is healthy again. Detroit’s relief corps has been riddled by injuries for much of the year, but now has two of its most effective fireballers back in Fernando Rodney and Joel “Zoom Zoom” Zumaya. Todd Jones isn’t a lights-out closer, but by the time hitters get to him, they’re already seeing stars from Rodney and Zumaya, who, when healthy, hit 100-mph on the radar gun on a regular basis.   
The Indians are going to win the division because someone other than Rafael Perez, Rafael Betancourt and Joe Borowski is going to contribute out of the bullpen. That’s a shaky prospect since the other relievers, including Tom Mastny and Aaron Fultz, have been largely ineffective all season. Who knows, maybe when the organization’s top prospect, right-hander Adam Miller, gets here in September, he’ll fit the bill. Of course, Borowski still has to finish things off, and though he owns a respectable save-conversion rate, that’s been no guarantee on a number of occasions during his debut season in Cleveland.
The Tigers are going to win the division because Kenny Rogers is going to leave the disabled list and pitch like he did last year. Rogers, who produced a Cy Young-type season in 2006, leading the Tigers to the World Series, has been hurt all year. But if he can conjure up the magic again for the stretch run, along with Justin Verlander and Jeremy Bonderman, he gives Detroit three of the league’s top starters, with Nate Robertson and Jair Jurrjens pretty good fourth and fifth men.
The Indians are going to win the division because Grady Sizemore is going to take it to another level over the final month of the season. Yes, Sizemore has had a good year, but if, as White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen says, Cleveland’s center fielder is the best player in the division, he’ll give the Indians a little extra when it matters most. With the way they’ve been swinging the bats, they’re going to need it.
The Tigers are going to win the division because Jim Leyland is their manager. Leyland is considered one of the best ever with a lengthy playoff resume that includes two World Series trips — one win over the Indians with the Marlins in 1997 — to back up the assumption. He knows how to get his players going. As of yet, Wedge hasn’t shown the same ability, with no postseason trips and a choke in 2005 to back up the dubious claim.  
The Indians are going to win the division because they are due. Central rivals Detroit, Minnesota and Chicago have all made trips to the postseason the past two years, with the White Sox winning the world championship in 2005, the Tigers getting to the World Series and the Twins winning the Division last year. Cleveland hasn’t qualified for the playoffs since getting bounced by the Mariners in the first round of the 2001 Division Series.  
The Tigers are going to win the Division because they have a more favorable schedule than the Indians. Detroit plays more of its remaining regular-season games at home and against weaker competition than Cleveland.
The Indians are going to win the division because they’ve played better on the road than they have at home, anyway. After beginning the year as one of the majors’ best home teams, Cleveland has reversed the trend in the second half, losing more then it wins at Jacobs Field, while posting a winning record on the road.   
The Tigers are going to win the division because they have better fans, or at least more of them. Detroit ranks fourth in the American League in attendance to Cleveland’s 10th-spot and the sellout crowds at Comerica Park are filled with real-life Tigers fans, not ones that include more of the opposition’s zealots who drown out the hometown fans with cheers for the Yankees and Red Sox.
The Indians are going to win the division because they are better than the Tigers. Don’t agree? See below.
The Tigers are going to win the division because they are better than the Indians.   
Contact Chris Assenheimer
at 329-7137 or cassenheimer@chroniclet.com.