As many of us remember, last year the Cleveland Indians got out to a hot start, but frittered away their advantage. However, what happened a year ago doesn't mean much for the present, and in 2012, the Indians are off to another hot start. Thursday afternoon, the Indians wrapped up a three-game sweep of the Detroit Tigers, who were supposed to be the runaway favorites to win the AL Central.
The Indians now hold a four-game lead over the White Sox, and a six-game lead over the Tigers. What does this mean for them and their competition? Tell us, FanGraphs:
However, [the Tigers] are climbing now an uphill battle, and one that won’t be easy to win. If the Indians just play .500 ball the rest of the way, they’ll finish with an 85-77 record. To win the division by just a single game, the Tigers would have to finish 66-52, a .559 pace over the rest of the season. Can they do it? Sure – most people thought the Tigers were a 90+ win team headed into the season, so it’s not an unreasonable projection. But it’s also quite possible that the Indians play better than .500 ball over the rest of the schedule, forcing the Tigers to need to play .575+ baseball in order to close the gap before the end of September.
The Tigers can still win the AL Central, but the early advantage that the Indians have built suggests that they should no longer be expected to come out on top. Cleveland is now the team to beat in that division.
It's all about probability. The Indians might not be the best team in the division. The Indians probably aren't the best team in the division. But they don't have to be the best team in the division the rest of the way - they just have to be better than four games worse than the White Sox, and better than six games worse than the Tigers. They've built an early advantage and that matters a great deal. At this point, as Dave Cameron writes, the Indians probably have the best odds of winning the AL Central. The odds might not be overwhelming, but they're a hell of a lot better than they used to be, when it looked like the Tigers were going to win it with ease.