Indians join big boys

MIKE GANTER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:45 AM ET

Victor Martinez won't talk about his own status among the best catchers in the game, but he doesn't hesitate when asked about his Cleveland Indians chances in the evenly matched AL Central this season.

"Don't be surprised if we win it," the normally humble Venezuelan catcher said yesterday. "I wouldn't be. We have a lot of good young talent here and we've added."

In a division that could go to any one of four teams -- Cleveland, the Minnesota Twins, Chicago White Sox or the improving Detroit Tigers -- the Indians upgraded their bullpen and added a legitimate No. 1 pitcher to their rotation in Kevin Millwood.

The Twins won the division last year with 92 wins, nine more than the White Sox and 12 more than Cleveland.

Millwood took his lumps yesterday against the Blue Jays, giving up five runs in an inning in an eventual 12-9 loss.

Martinez, though, isn't the only one talking up the Indians.

John McDonald, the Jays utility infielder obtained in a trade from Cleveland in the offseason knows the organization well, having played there the past six seasons.

Like Martinez, he is expecting big things from the Indians this year, but he is also expecting big things from the division as a whole.

"I highly doubt this is going to be a one-team show,"McDonald said. "I think you have at least two teams (the Twins and Indians) who are going to win a lot of games."

McDonald likes the upgrades many of the Central teams made, but particularly the Indians' re-vamped bullpen, especially the re-signing of closer Bob Wickman.

"It secures the back end of that bullpen," McDonald said. "They've now got two lefties back there -- Scott Sauerbeck (healthy after a missed season) and Arthur Rhodes (obtained in the Matt Lawton trade with Pittsburgh) to go with (Bob) Howry and (David) Riske and (Rafael) Betancourt. They have some guys that proved themselves last year by pitching well in the big leagues."

At the same time, the Twins took their lumps in the off-season, losing the left side of their infield to free agency in third baseman Corey Koskie and shortstop Cristian Guzman, but return a solid young nucleus.

The White Sox took a hit in the power department, losing Carlos Lee and Magglio Ordonez, but added speed with outfielder Scott Podsednik and Japanese infielder Tadahito Iguchi.

In Detroit, the gains are both in the bullpen and at the plate with former Angels closer Troy Percival signing on, as well as outfielder Ordonez.

McDonald says the days of the Central being considered the weak sisters of the American League are over.

"The Indians have a good pitching staff and the Twins have a good pitching staff," McDonald said. "It's not a lot of easy games for anyone to win.

"The Yankees aren't going to roll over any of these teams."


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