Wait, WHO is Leading the Central???


The Indians and Royals both won again yesterday, to rise to 10-4.  They beat some good pitchers to do so, with the Royals getting to Felix Hernandex and the Indians knocking the stuffing out of Jeremy Guthrie.  As I write this, the Indians lead the O’s in the 9th – and with the way their bullpen has been pitching look likely to go to 11-4 soon.  Nobody, probably including the most diehard fan of the Tribe, expected the Indians to win the division this year.  KC was expected to endure an awful campaign on the way to the prospect-driven promised land.  That hasn’t happened so far this April, and we trail both by 3 and a half games.  The question I’m trying to answer is this – are these teams just lucky, or could they be for real?

Let’s start with the Indians:  Before the season we would have looked at a handful of players for the Indians, who needed to play well (and had a decent chance to do so) for the tribe to simply finish in fourth and win 70-75 games.  Shin-Soo Choo, Chris Perez & Fausto Carmona needed to play as well as they did last year, Grady Sizemore needed to come back healthy (and hit like his old self) and top prospects SP Carlos Carrasco and C Carlos Santana needed to make a splash.  Of those 6 key guys, only Chris Perez is really contributing to the Indians early push.  Sizemore just came off the DL today, Santana’s OPS is .533, Choo’s .647.  Carmona is 0-2 with a 6.11 ERA, Carrasco 1-1 with a 5.03 ERA.

So how are they winning?  They are getting great performances from guys with unfulfilled potential that we had pretty much written off.  Their other 3 starters are 7-0 with an ERA under 2.00 – including no-names Mitch Talbot and Josh Tomlin, but also former top-100 prospect Justin Masterson who was the key piece of the VMart trade.  The offense is being sparked by a renewed Travis Hafner and a renewed Asdrubal Cabrera.  Worse still, failed prospects Michael Brantley and Matt LaPorta are doing some of what was expected of them when the Indians acquired them as part of the Sabathia deal.

The Indians are beginning to concern me… it’s clearly early, but a number of the faint hopes that could make the Indians a contending team seem to be in the process of realization.  When they start cashing in on those blue chips… I can only hope that Tomlin and Talbot collapse completely.

As for the Kansas City Royals:  A lot of that record looks like luck, but they may still be better than we figured.  The big reason is Alex Gordon, who’s finally hitting like the big prospect he always was (at age 27).  They are getting good performances from the mediocre stopgaps they hired or rehired this offseason – Wilson Betemit, Jeff Francoeur, Jefff Francis and Bruce Chen.  But they aren’t giving much time to their prospects, and those that are playing – Kila Ka’aihue and Alcides Escobar – have been a drag on their offense.  Mainly, their WHIP (13th in the AL) looks worse than their ERA (6th) and they’ve been scoring more runs (1st in the AL) than their team OPS (4th) would suggest.  The Royals do not look like a genuine threat at this point.