JP. O’Hagan (Sports Editor): Being that we are in Cleveland and baseball season has finally arrived, it just seems logical to debate who will win the American League (AL) Central. After two years of almost surprising post-season dominance, the Royals seem like they are the team to beat. However I just can’t see them rising out of the very strong division that is the AL Central. From the Twins and their young phenom Byron Buxton, to the White Sox and their ‘last year was a fluke’ mentality of having something to prove, and finally the Indians and their well-built team, I just see too strong of teams to ensure that the Royals will run away with it. Also despite a Tigers rebuild, they may still have the parts to make a postseason run if they get hot at the right time.
Billy Heyen (Staff Reporter): All right, let’s dismiss the Twins and their young phenom … He can’t hit and they don’t have pitching … The White Sox were not a fluke last year, and while I like the acquisition of Todd Frazier, I just don’t think there is enough there. The Tigers have the bats, but their rotation makes me nervous … Cleveland has the rotation, seems to have the bats and will give the Royals their best run … But can we please remember that the Royals just dominated the American League last year and won the World Series? They bring back almost everyone. Sure, Johnny Cueto and Ben Zobrist are gone, but the Royals were the best team in the AL before they acquired them last year. This team has been to the Series two years in a row. They aren’t a fluke, they have the best bullpen in baseball, and they haven’t fallen victim to the strikeout epidemic that has befallen the rest of the sport. Believe in KC.
O’Hagan: Buxton isn’t a great hitter but he has long shown potential, and after a full season he can easily be an above average hitter. Further, you can’t just dismiss the Twins. They were second in the division last year. I will give you the White Sox and Tigers; Sox are unproven since it, for all intensive purposes, is a very new core in Chicago and their rotation may be suspect. That’s why I said if the Tigers get hot, they are making a playoff run. The Royals didn’t dominate the American League last year though. They were a mere two games above the Blue Jays and were behind the Astros until early July. Even in the playoffs they weren’t dominant until they faced the Mets in the Series. They came back after going down two games to one to the Astros to win the ALDS, then did the same against the Blue Jays in the ALCS. With most of those wins being comebacks, I wouldn’t call that dominating.
Heyen: A win is a win. They led the AL. They didn’t dominate by winning 15-0, but they won baseball games, and that’s all you need to do. Their young core is still coming into their own … Yordano Ventura will be an ace this year, and everyone else will just continue to get better. A defending World Series champ who is pretty much the same team isn’t getting surpassed by a bunch of teams who barely improved.
O’Hagan: Sure a win is a win but that isn’t dominating a league. I would argue that most of the AL Central did improve, no huge moves but filled holes. Plus there are the intangibles, for example we can’t account for injuries and I would argue that the Indians are deeper than the Royals after their respective starting nines. I would also say that the Royals have a target on their back. Teams are going to go into each game against them looking to prove something. Further, the Royals would have to be an historic level team. Only one team has won back-to-back World Series since the beginning of the Wild Card Era, that is the 1998-2000 Yankees, who won three straight. The Royals aren’t that type of team and they have tougher competition. If Lindsor can hit at the same level he did the last month of the season, and Kluber proves why he won a Cy Young, the Indians are going to be good. In a division like this they have just as much of a shot as the Royals do of winning the AL Central.
Heyen: Like I said, I think the Indians are their toughest competition. I also didn’t say the Royals would repeat in the postseason. I just think they have proven that they will win and they will continue to do just that.
O’Hagan: Ok fine but even if they don’t repeat in the postseason, I would argue that you think they will win the AL Central, am I right? So I would argue that it is not as simple as they have proven they will win. To win a division you have to win most of the 76 games you play against your divisional rivals, that is just under half your season. I am not sure that the Royals will continue to win in their division, which leaves it wide open. Granted it could be argued that the entire AL is wide open, so if the Royals are competitive in their 20 interleague games and their 66 remaining AL games, then maybe it doesn’t matter. But what if it does?
Heyen: I think they win more in the division than any of the other teams. Nothing is going to stop them from using their same recipe for success. The only fear would be the pitching of the Indians, but their strikeouts are negated by the Royals’ contact hitting. It’ll be Kansas City yet again
O’Hagan: Sure, but it isn’t like the Indians and the Royals play each other 162 times and whoever wins the most wins the division. I, too, would argue that in that case the Royals’ hitting out-duels the Indians’ pitching. But does the Royals’ hitting beat out other teams pitching as much as the Indians’ pitching staff does? I doubt it. It just takes one or two players to slump and the Royals are no longer a threat day-to-day. If an Indians pitcher slumps, at worst the Indians are only competitive four out of every five days (the games he doesn’t pitch). At best Terry Francona realizes his guy is slumping and pulls someone up or out of the bullpen to start since the Indians are deep. Are the Mets starting five good? No. Do they need to be to win the AL Central? Absolutely not.
Heyen: The Indians have Josh Tomlin and Cody Anderson in the four and five slots. They won’t be causing anyone problems. The Royals have a bench and farm system full of players exactly like their starters. They won’t be having a problem; the AL central is certainly theirs to lose.