Two teams headed in opposite directions meet up tonight in Cleveland as the Indians host the Boston Red Sox in game two of a three-game series. Cleveland has had a remarkable turnaround after a slow start to the season, and after some aggressive moves at the trade deadline, they find themselves winners of nine out of their last eleven games. With the recent surge up the standings, the Indians have passed the Minnesota Twins for first place in the American League Central Division, coming back from what was once a double-digit deficit.
For Boston, the Red Sox stood pat at the trade deadline and have struggled ever since. It was always going to be a long shot to catch the New York Yankees for the AL East Division title, and the Sox decided they didn’t want to go all-in for a trip to the wild card round. Shockingly, the Red Sox are close to being under .500, and they are basically out of the playoff picture completely at this point as they trail New York by a whopping seventeen and a half games in the division and are even eight and a half games back of the second wild card in the AL.
Starting tonight for the Red Sox is Chris Sale (6-11 4.41 ERA), and for the Indians, it is Mike Clevinger (7-2 3.02 ERA). The game total over-under is set at eight runs. The game is currently an even-money pick ‘em as both teams are -105. First pitch is scheduled for 4:10 PM PST from Progressive Field in Cleveland.
If you were to take Chris Sale’s name off of his stats right now, I am not sure I could ever convince you he has been this bad this season. Sale has been the best pitcher the American League has had to offer now for several years and to see him struggle like this is shocking. And it’s not like he got old, the guy is still somehow just thirty year’s old, and should be in his prime. Instead, he is slogging through his worst season ever as a starter.
Sale still has flashes of his once-dominant self. Like in his last start where he pitched eight two-hit, no-run innings while striking out thirteen against the Los Angeles Angels. Or when he had back to back outings in early June where he tossed a combined sixteen consecutive shutout innings. But those performances have been few and far between for Sale this year, as for the most part he has been bad, really bad.
Sale has allowed five runs or more in a start seven times already this season! The strikeout numbers are still elite as he has racked up over two hundred of them, but the guy just hasn’t been the same this year. His 4.41 ERA is double what he posted last season and is a full run higher than any other year. It wouldn’t be an overstatement to say that right now, this guy is just trading on his name and living on his reputation. His eleven losses are one mess than he has had in his first two full seasons with Boston and the Red Sox are an abysmal 9-15 in games where he has started this year.
Mike Clevinger missed a big chunk of the season with an injury, and when he first came back, he was awful. After missing more than two months, Clevinger came back and posted an ERA of over seventeen in two June starts! But since then, this guy has really dialed things in. Since July 1st, his ERA is under two runs. He has been getting deep into games, pitching at least six innings in six out of his last seven starts, and the Indians have won six of those seven games.
And much like Sale, Clevinger is posting elite strikeout numbers. He has eighty-nine Ks in just sixty-two and two-thirds of an inning. Clevinger has won six straight decisions, and the only game the Cleveland lost with him on the mound since June, he allowed just one earned run in five innings, so it is hard to blame him too much for that one.
I absolutely hate to bet against Chris Sale. We saw in his last start that if he is on his A-game, he can still completely shut a team down. So, no matter how inconsistent he has been this year, he still has that top-level stuff that can take over a game. But to see this game at even money is just a bad number. The Indians are red-hot, they have the best record in the majors since June 1st, and the Red Sox are quickly falling out of contention.
And the fact that Clevinger has been nearly unhittable makes me like the Indians even more. This line opened up with Cleveland as small home favorites, and the public jumped on Boston, and the number has moved to even money now. It makes you wonder if this number will continue to move towards Boston as Sale’s name recognition tends to have a heavy influence on the public. And I get it, in the past, I am not sure I would ever pass up on getting Chris Sale as an underdog, it just doesn’t happen very often.
All that being said, I am looking to fade Sale and the Red Sox today. Cleveland is the much better team at the moment, they are ten games better in fact, and it wouldn’t be all that hard to argue that Clevinger is the better side of the starting pitching matchup right now. Maybe Sale goes out and throws seven shutout innings, and I look like an idiot. But maybe, he blows up again, and the Indians continue to roll. I’ll take my chances on Cleveland. Give me the Cleveland Indians at even money at home tonight in game two!