Tribal Uprising? Can The Cleveland Indians Win The AL Central?

CLEVELAND – Thanks in part to a day-night doubleheader sweep of the (13-17) Chicago White Sox, the (17-11) Cleveland Indians—not the defending AL Central champion (14-14) Detroit Tigers—sit comfortably atop the AL Central, during the first full week of May.

In a division, that features a legitimate World Series contender in Detroit, who has a dominant pitcher in AL MVP Justin Verlander and slugger Prince Fielder, the fact that the upstart Indians are ahead of the veteran Tigers is not only a surprise, but one of the best stories of the young 2012 baseball season.

Outside of 19-year old rookie phenom Bryce Harper and the Washington Nationals hot 18-10 start, Cleveland may be the best young team in baseball that no one is talking about.

The Indians, who would take two out of three from the two-time defending AL champion Texas Rangers, would outscore the powerful Rangers, 15-7 and hand Japanese import Yu Darvish his first MLB loss, 4-2.

Cleveland would also take two out of three from Albert Pujols and the Los Angeles Angels.

Cleveland would sweep Chicago, 8-6 in the first game and 3-2 in the nightcap, to pull three full games ahead of Detroit—who would lose to the Seattle Mariners, 3-2—are beginning to turn heads due to timely hitting, solid pitching and strong defense.

Cleveland’s All-Star shortstop, Asdrubal Cabrera ranks fifth in the AL with a .356 batting average—which is also ninth in baseball.

Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis and third baseman Jack Hannahan—who are currently batting .287 and .280 respectively—rank among the top 50 hitters in the American league.

While Cleveland boasts the sixth lowest team batting average of .243, the Indians secret to their early success may come from the mound in the form of their starting pitching and bullpen.

Led by 38-year old Derek Lowe, Cleveland’s pitching rotation of Ubaldo Jimenez, Justin Masterson, Josh Tomlin and Jeanmar Gomez have helped give the Tribe the ninth best ERA in baseball of 3.98.

Lowe’s ERA of 2.39 is tied for fourth in the AL in wins with four.

Cleveland’s bullpen, known affectionately in Northeast Ohio as “The Bullpen Mafia”, has done a solid job of setting up the Indians All-Star closer Chris Perez and his AL-leading 11 saves.

If there is one area that is underrated about the Tribe is their defense.

Cleveland boasts the fourth best fielding percentage of .988 and thru the first 28 games have committed the fourth fewest errors in the AL with 13.

While Cleveland does not have the luxury of playing in a major media market like Washington, or being able to sign high-profile free-agents such as Darvish and Pujols, The Tribe and their strong start shows that Cleveland may have found it’s own formula of success.

While it may be the first week of May and not the last week of September, if first impressions mean anything then Cleveland may not win the AL Central, but at the very least give the Tigers a run for their money.

Follow me on Twitter, @RobertCobb_76

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