Barring the crumbling Elvis Andrus predicted: the Cleveland Guardians will win their 11th AL Central title, more than any other in the division. In fact, it’s not particularly close. The runner up Minnesota Twins only boast of eight titles (about 25% fewer titles than Cleveland). By any reasonable definition Cleveland dominates our AL Central opponents. Since 1995: Cleveland has, by far, the most winning seasons, the most playoff appearances and division titles. Furthermore, Cleveland has simply won in more impressive fashion as well. Here are Cleveland’s best seasons v. Minnesota’s best seasons since 1995:
Cleveland 102 Wins, 2017 v. Minnesota 101 Wins, 2019
These appear eerily similar on the surface, both teams even lost to the New York Yankees in the ALDS. That being said, the 2017 Indians were a better team. Cleveland’s Pythagorean record of 108-54 compared to Minnesota’s 97-65 is not close at all, Cleveland won 22 games in a row. Heck the Indians even took the Yankees to Game 5, where the Twins got swept. The best Twins player on the ‘19 team was Jorge Polanco (bWAR of 4.7), where Cleveland had two players with a higher bWAR (Lindor at 5.7 & Jose Ramirez at 7), and on the pitching side nobody on the Twins roster was as good as Carlos Carrasco, let alone Corey Kluber. WAR is not everything, of course, but I think it’s fair to say that the Tribe was better at its best.
Running Tally: Cleveland 1, Minnesota 0
This one isn’t close. I seriously considered ranking 1995 first, but decided to give in and just go with raw win total for ranking. The ‘95 Indians team is one of the best in franchise history, and lost in the World Series. The 2006 Twins were a good team, with peak Johan Santana leading the club, who got swept by the Athletics in the ALDS. Not close.
Running Tally: Cleveland 2, Minnesota 0
This, again, is not a particularly fair comparison either. The ‘96 Indians were a really good team who got bounced early. The ‘10 Twins also got bounced early, but were simply not as good. Joe Mauer was the best player, and played well following his MVP season in 2009.
Running Tally: Cleveland 3, Minnesota 0
This comparison looks worse when you look at Pythagorean records. The 1999 Indians beat the 2002 Twins by seven games. The Indians offense scored over 1,000 runs which ranks 5th in the Modern Era (post 1901). Again, this is not particularly close.
Running Tally: Cleveland 4, Minnesota 0
One thing I will give Minnesota credit for: they appear to outperform their talent level fairly regularly in this list. The 2007 Indians were quite good, and also outperformed expectations by about 5 games. These teams are much closer. Johan Santana was at the peak of his powers, and Johan was a better pitcher at his best than Sabathia. Carmona/Hernandez was really good in 2007, overall the pitching is about a wash. Offensively though Cleveland boasted seven average to above average hitters, while Minnesota only had four.
Running Tally: Cleveland 5, Minnesota 0
I could continue. The next best team for Cleveland is the 2016 pennant winning team, with Minnesota putting up the 2000 Twins. Again, I don’t think it’s close, and frankly it doesn’t really look much better for Minnesota going down the line. The comparisons between Cleveland & the other franchises are even more lopsided. But this leads me to a question: how does this compare to other divisions?
It’s Common for a Team to Dominate
Perhaps unsurprisingly many other teams dominate their divisions as much or more than Cleveland; in fact Cleveland is not particularly close to being the most dominant team in a single division. The team with the most division titles since the Wild Card Era began in 1995 is the Atlanta Braves with 16 division titles (potentially soon to be 17), and next in second place is the New York Yankees with now 15 titles. In fact every division has a clearly dominant team in it, except the AL West where four teams (Houston, Los Angeles, Oakland and Texas) all have about the same number of titles. So although Cleveland has done well for itself in the AL Central: it is not an historic domination of any individual division.
Which of course does not make the accomplishment worthless: Cleveland ranks 5th in baseball in division titles since 1995, tied for sixth in pennants and 6th in playoff appearances. These are all impressive accomplishments; no team who’s performed better in those metrics has failed to win a World Series, and the next best team to not win a World Series is Oakland with seven division titles and 11 total playoff appearances (no pennants). So by any reasonable definition: Cleveland’s record in the regular season the past three decades is quite good. Even our postseason record is solid, and would look sterling had they translated one of ‘95, ‘97 or ‘16 into a ring (and they came quite close two of those times).
Division Domination Means Less
At the end of the day, what does dominating your division do for you anymore? With three wild cards plenty of non-division winners will make the playoffs, and an even higher percentage of wild card winners will also win the World Series. It is still the norm for a division winner to win the pennant. Since 1995 13 out of the 54 pennant winning teams were Wild Card winners (about 25%), and seven of those teams won the World Series (again, about 25%).
To let my grouchy old man side take over briefly: I really do not care for the wild cards, I think it cheapens the sport. Baseball is not like basketball & football where the best team almost always wins, it’s more of a slog. Adding a whole bunch of wild cards makes the regular season matter less, and the division races less exciting. Winning your division doesn’t matter much at all anymore; especially that they now eliminated the Wild Card game (where the two wild card winners were forced to play into the divisional series). The complaint is moot, there’s no way the owners will dilute their potential earnings by shortening the playoffs. If anything they’re likely to go the opposite direction and emulate the other sports even more. I do not think this will result in increased interest, but only time will tell.