September 16, 2014

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Chris Assenheimer: Indians vs. Tigers …. which team has the edge?

With the Indians and Tigers duking it out for Central Division supremacy — two-time defending champion Detroit holding a half-game lead over Cleveland — it seems like an appropriate time to take a look at how the two teams match up:

FIRST BASE
Nick Swisher (Cleveland) vs. Prince Fielder (Detroit)
The edge: Tigers
The reason: Swisher, one of the Indians’ top offensive weapons, is the better defensive player and clubhouse guy, but Fielder is an elite run producer who changes games with one swing on a regular basis. It’s not even close, so, No-H-I-O cigar for the former Buckeye star.

SECOND BASE
Jason Kipnis (Cleveland) vs. Omar Infante (Detroit)
The edge: Indians
The reason: This is closer than some would think … at least some Tribe fans. Kipnis is considered a rising star, but he has yet to produce over an entire season, while the veteran Infante entered this year with a respectable .277 lifetime batting average.

SHORTSTOP
Asdrubal Cabrera (Cleveland) vs. Jhonny Peralta (Detroit)
The edge: Indians
The reason: Cabrera, a two-time All-Star, is the reason Peralta is no longer in Cleveland, so it stands to reason that he gets the edge. He’s also the better overall player.

THIRD BASE
Mark Reynolds (Cleveland) vs. Miguel Cabrera (Detroit)
The edge: Tigers
The reason: Though Mega Mark stayed right along with Miggy through the first month-plus, at least where power numbers were concerned, this isn’t even close, and Reynolds would tell you the same. It’s not his fault. Cabrera is in a class by himself.

CATCHER
Carlos Santana (Cleveland) vs. Alex Avila (Detroit)
The edge: Indians
The reason: If this were 2011, an All-Star season for Avila, then the Tigers would get the edge. But Santana has produced the better body of work and, at 27, the Indians are hoping he’s just getting started.

RIGHT FIELD
Drew Stubbs (Cleveland) vs. Torri Hunter (Detroit)
The edge: Tigers
The reason: Hunter has lost a step in the outfield — the speedy Stubbs hasn’t — and he’s not the hitter he was, but I’m going on track record here. Hunter has one. Stubbs really doesn’t.

CENTER FIELD
Michael Bourn (Cleveland) vs. Austin Jackson (Detroit)
The edge: Indians
The reason: Detroit thinks it has a good one in Jackson, but Bourn, a Gold Glove-caliber defender and productive leadoff hitter, is the better player right now.

LEFT FIELD
Michael Brantley (Cleveland) vs. Andy Dirks (Detroit)
The edge: Indians
The reason: Brantley, nicknamed “Dr. Smooth” by a member of the Cleveland media, appears poised to have a breakout season. He is the more talented player in this matchup.

DESIGNATED HITTER
Yan Gomes (Cleveland) vs. Victor Martinez (Detroit)
The edge: Tigers
The reason: When healthy, Martinez is a professional hitter, capable of driving in runs with the best of them. Gomes looks like an offensive weapon, but he’s young and is getting his first taste of regular big league playing time. Who knows if he’ll be around two months from now?

ROTATION
Justin Masterson, Ubaldo Jimenez, Zach McAllister, Brett Myers, Scott Kazmir (Cleveland) vs. Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Rick Porcello, Doug Fister, Anibal Sanchez (Detroit)
The edge: Tigers
The reason: This one doesn’t take much thought. Detroit has a talented staff, headlined by MVP and Cy Young winner Verlander. Cleveland’s staff was a big question mark heading into the season and nothing has changed.

BULLPEN
RHP Chris Perez, RHP Vinnie Pestano, RHP Joe Smith, RHP Bryan Shaw, RHP Cody Allen, LHP Rich Hill, RHP Matt Albers (Cleveland) vs. RHP Jose Valverde, RHP Joaquin Benoit, RHP Drew Smyly (Detroit), LHP Darin Downs, RHP Jose Ortega, LHP Phil Coke, RHP Luke Putkonen
The edge: Indians
The reason: Though it hasn’t shown it much lately, Cleveland’s relief corps has been one of the American League’s best over the past two seasons. Detroit’s began the year in disarray and without their closer, Valverde, who is just working his way back.

BENCH
Jason Giambi, Mike Aviles, Ryan Raburn, Lou Marson (Cleveland) vs. Matt Tuiasosopo, Brayan Pena, Don Kelly, Ramon Santiago (Detroit)
The edge: Indians
The reason: Cleveland is the clear-cut winner here, with two of its three players — Aviles and Raburn — capable of winning starting spots somewhere else.

MANAGER
Terry Francona (Cleveland) vs. Jim Leyland (Detroit)
The edge: Even
The reason: Both guys are championship managers, so there isn’t an advantage here, since neither can win without talent anyway. If there is anything, Leyland is at the end of his career, while Francona is restarting his and could have more energy.

Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7136 or cassenheimer@chroniclet.com.
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