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Series Preview: Tampa Bay Rays at Cleveland Indians

Tuesday, 7:05 PM: Andy Sonnanstine (3.99 FIP) vs. Josh Tomlin (4.71 FIP)
Wednesday, 7:05 PM: David Price (3.16 FIP) vs. Carlos Carrasco (3.28 FIP)
Thursday, 12:05 PM: James Shields (3.05 FIP) vs. Justin Masterson (2.85 FIP)

Who would've thunk it: the Rays enter Cleveland in the middle of May, and the Indians have the better record of the two clubs. Not only that, but the Indians are currently in first place in the AL Central and have the best record in the American League. Considering this was a team most preseason projections put around a 75 win club, the Indians have been one of this year's biggest surprises so far.

The question is, can the Indians keep this up?

Well, I don't think the Indians are going to finish the season with the best record in the American League, but I do think they have a decent shot at taking the AL Central title this year. Minnesota and Chicago have both struggled mightily so far this season (around a .370 winning percentage) and are 10 games back from the Indians, and the Central is a notoriously weaker division anyway. While Detroit is still a threat and Minny/Chicago could always get hot, the Indians have enough talent on their roster that they legitimately look like they can finish the year with a mid-80s win total.

Taking a look at the Indians' offense and pitching, it's tough to find a weak link. It's not that they're full of superstar players and have a stacked lineup; they're like the Rays in that they have a roster full of young players with upside, with a few legit stars sprinkled in. Their offense has been one of the best in the majors so far (.333 wOBA, 5th best), with the charge being led by a resurging Grady Sizemore (.412 wOBA) and Travis Hafner (.401 wOBA).  Matt LaPorta, Asdrubal Cabrera, and Michael Brantley have all been hot at one time or another and are producing above league average, and Jack Hannahan has had the small sample of his career (.350 wOBA, compared with his career .301 wOBA). Some of these players will cool off, but the Indians also should get more from Shin-Soo Choo this season, who has been hitting under the influence of suckiness (.297 wOBA)*.

*Ugh, that was a really poor attempt at a DUI joke.

The Indians' pitching has also been above average, with their ERA and FIP both ranking within the top 10 in the majors. While they won't stay this good, their rotation is full of young pitchers who may be developing and taking strides forward. Carlos Carrasco has performed much worse than his FIP suggests he should have (4.97 ERA, 3.28 FIP), and both Justin Masterson and Fausto Carmona are pitching like top of the rotation starters. 

Cleveland is a young team and things are falling into place for them, so I wouldn't underrate them going into this series. They'll be a tough team to beat (although the pitching matchups do seem to favor the Rays on paper). This has been a storybook season for the Indians so far this year; let's just hope the Rays can write in their own chapter.