The Cleveland Indians are in Minnesota Saturday for game three of a four-game series with the Twins, with first place on the line. The last time that the Cleveland Indians had sole possession of first place in the American League Central was in April. But after this hot streak that has seen the Indians run up the best record in the majors since June 1st, the Indians are now tied with Minnesota for the division lead. At one point, the Twins lead was as many as eleven and a half games, and it looked like they would run away with the division.
But as the Indians have finally started to get healthy, while also adding some key pieces at the trade deadline, this Indians team looks poised to take over first place. Cleveland has won seven out of their last eight games, including the first two games of this four-game series in Minnesota. If the Indians win tonight, they will complete the huge comeback and stand alone atop the standings in the central division.
For Minnesota, they hit a rough patch in mid-July that saw them lose seven out of ten games before finishing out the month winning five out of their last six. August has not been as kind to the Twinkies as they have now lost four straight games and are just 4-5 on the month. Minnesota badly needs to stop this skid as they are all of the sudden at some risk of missing the playoffs altogether after leading the division for months.
Starting for the Twins Is Jake Odorizzi (12-5 3.61 ERA), and for the Indians, it is Adam Plutko (4-2 4.55 ERA). The game total over-under is set at ten and a half runs. The Twins are big -145 home favorites. First pitch is scheduled for 4:10 PM PST from Target Field in Minneapolis.
What a turnaround it has been for the Cleveland Indians. After looking dead in the water for much of the first half of the season, they are now in a position to take over first place. At the trade deadline, they got rid of team cancer Trevor Bauer and swapped him for two sluggers in Yasiel Puig and Frenmil Reyes. Puig is absolutely torching the ball as he is hitting .333 with a .495 slugging percentage since joining the squad. And while Reyes has yet to heat up, this kid has all kinds of power as he had twenty-seven homers in just ninety-nine games this year for the Padres before being shipped to Cleveland.
The big question mark for Cleveland was how would they react without Bauer in the starting rotation? They are already forced to play without Carlos Carasco who is battling leukemia and ace Cory Kluber has been out for months with a broken forearm. But, so far, at least in the short term, they haven’t missed any of those guys, as in August they have the second-lowest team ERA in the game at just 2.44, trailing only the stupidly talented Houston Astros staff.
And things are looking up for Cleveland as well as they expect to get both Carasco and Kluber back sometime fairly soon, and when they do, this team could just be a dark horse World Series favorite. Tonight’s starter Adam Plutko has done a solid job of doing his fair share while the rest of the rotation tries to get healthy. Plutko has allowed two runs or fewer in seven of his eleven starts.
His ERA may seem a little bit high, but that is more of just a function of not having enough innings pitched to balance out a couple of rough starts earlier in the year. The guy isn’t Carasco and Kluber, or even Bauer for that matter, but he has done a decent job of giving the Indians a chance to win when he is on the mound, and really that is all that you can ask of a guy that wasn’t even in the starting rotation until late May. The Indians are 8-3 in his eleven starts this season.
Jake Odorizzi looked like he had turned the corner in the first half of this season. After being a solid, but not spectacular middle of the rotation guy in his first six big league seasons, spread between the Tampa Bay Rays, Kansas City Royals, and Minnesota Twins, he looked different this year. At one point in early June, he had a 9-2 record with a 1.92 ERA and made the AL All-Star team.
But things haven’t been as good since. His 3.15 ERA before the All-Star break was one of the best in the league. His post-All-Star break ERA of 5.19 leaves something to be desired, to say the least. In July, he went 2-2 with an ERA of 7.43 in five starts, and the Twins went 2-3 in these games. He has been much better in his last two starts though as he pitched a combined eleven and two-thirds of an inning and has given up just two earned runs.
Baseball is all about statistics. And one of the most overlooked parts about those statistics is something called regression to the mean. What regression to the mean is all about is that in the long run, most things tend to balance themselves out. Baseball is all about the long run. We play 162 games for a reason, we want all the short term, fluky results, to even out. And that is what has happened for Jake Odorizzi.
While he surely isn’t as bad as he has looked recently when he gave up nine runs in four innings against the New York Yankees or when he gave up six runs in three innings against the Oakland Athletics, he also was certainly not as good as he looked when his ERA was sub-two runs early in the year. That is what regression to the mean is all about.
Odorizzi had a lifetime ERA of nearly four runs coming into this season. He didn’t just suddenly get a lot better in his age twenty-nine season with six full seasons under his belt. That tells me that there may be more struggles to come later in the year as these stats even themselves out.
To me, this is a very evenly matched game. You have the smoking hot Indians who are full of swagger right now and can taste first place after a season of playing from behind. And you have a Twins team that seems to be stumbling at the worst possible time and can’t seem to stop the bleeding. While Odorizzi, regression talk notwithstanding, is likely the better side of this starting pitching matchup, I think the Indians are the stronger overall team.
So, to me, that all adds up to a coin flip game. And when I see the Twins as heavy favorites in what should be a coin flip game, I have no choice but to jump on the value side and back Cleveland. And that is just what I will do. Give me the Cleveland Indians as bog road underdogs tonight in Minnesota at +135 in game three!