Monday’s are always a bit slower for Major League Baseball, and while we only have nine games on the schedule today, we have several blockbuster matchups in store for you. The Tampa Bay Rays host the Toronto Blue Jays in a game between AL East rivals, with both team’s sights set on the postseason. The Reds and the Brewers hook up in a loser leaves town series, as both teams are barely hanging on in the NL wild-card chase, and whichever team loses this set, will be in a major hole, that they likely won’t have time to dig out of.
We have a similar series in the NL West, as the DBacks and the Rockies are both in freefall, and there won’t be room for both of them in the postseason, and this series is likely one that will separate the men from the boys out west.
The biggest game on the slate today is where we will focus our attention for our free daily betting pick, when the Cleveland Indians host the Minnesota Twins in game one of a three-game showdown, with first place in the American League Central on the line.
Minnesota Twins (19-10) at Cleveland Indians (17-11)
The Cleveland Indians and the Minnesota Twins match up this week in Cleveland with supremacy in the American League Central on the line. Entering play tonight, the Twins hold a scant game and a half lead over Cleveland for first place. Minnesota has won eight out of their last eleven games and will be looking for their fifth consecutive series win this week in Cleveland.
For Cleveland, the Indians have adjusted well to losing two of their starting pitchers, as Zack Plesac and Mike Clevinger both violated team rules when they broke COVID-19 quarantine and were sent to the team’s alternate training site. Cleveland has won seven out of nine games since seeing their rotation get decimated.
Starting tonight for the Twins is Kenta Maeda (3-0 2.27 ERA), and for the Indians, it is Aaron Civale (3-2 2.91 ERA). The game total over/under is set at eight and a half runs. The Twins are small -115 road favorites. First pitch is scheduled for 4:10 PM PST from Progressive Field in Cleveland.
We all knew that the Minnesota Twins were going to be able to hit the baseball this season. Minnesota hit more home runs last year than any team in Major League history, and by all accounts, looked to bring in even more power for 2020. And while the Twins have hit their fair share of home runs, they are currently 7th in the majors in long balls, its actually been the pitching staff that has carried the Twins to their first-place record so far this season.
The Twins retooled their rotation when they brought in Homer Bailey, Kenta Maeda, and Rich Hill in the offseason, and made reliever Randy Dobnak a regular in the rotation. The only incumbent was ace Jose Berrios, and many expected this staff to be greatly improved. And that has been the case, as Dobnak has been lights out with a 5-1 record and a 1.78 ERA and Kenta Maeda is 3-0 with a 2.27 ERA.
All told, the Twins went from one of the worst rotations in baseball last year, to a pitching staff that is now top five in the Major Leagues in ERA, WHIP, and batting average against. In 14 of their 29 games this season, the Twins have allowed two runs or fewer in a game. That is nearly 50% of the time that this team just doesn’t allow runs, and they are 13-1 in those 14 games.
Kenta Maeda (3-0 2.27 ERA)
Kenta Maeda went out and nearly threw a no-hitter in his last start, as he held the Milwaukee Brewers hitless most of the night. He finished his day by allowing just one run on only one hit while striking out 12. And that type of performance has been fairly typical for Maeda this year, as he has allowed fewer than three hits per start through his first five starts as a Twin.
Against these very same Cleveland Indians, Maeda worked six innings, did not allow even a single run, and only gave up one hit. While some might be surprised to see Maeda pitching so well, I’m not, as I always felt he was an underrated arm for the Dodgers in his four-year stint with the Boys in Blue.
Maeda failed to stand out on a pitching staff with guys like Walker Buehler, Hyun-jin Ryu, and Clayton Kershaw, but his career numbers in LA of a 47-35 record and a 3.87 ERA tell me that he has always been a quality starter, despite the lack of attention.
When the Cleveland Indians decided to option Clevinger and Pleasac to their alternate training site for breaking team rules and then lying about it, things did not look great for the Indians postseason chances. They were barely above .500 at 10-9 on the year, and they were one of the lowest-scoring teams in the game. They had only one way to win games, and that was by not letting the other team score more than a run or two.
And while the Indians aren’t exactly tearing the cover off the ball, they have found a way to score more runs recently. After scoring two runs or fewer in 12 of their first 19 games, the Indians are scoring five and a half runs a game during this recent run since losing Clevinger and Plesac.
One guy that has really helped the Indians figure things out at the dish has been Flanmil Reyes. Through the first 12 games of the season, Reyes was hitting just .163 with only 1 home run a 4 RBI. But since then, he has started to turn things around as he has 5 homers, 10 RBI, and 8 multi-hit games in the Indians last 15 games. He is now slashing an impressive .293/.349/.505 on the season.
Aaron Civale (3-2 2.91 ERA)
One of the reasons that the Indians have been able to survive with 40% of their starting rotation missing is the production they have received from Aaron Civale. Civale impressed last season as a rookie when he made ten starts and posted a 2.34 ERA. He has been even better so far in 2020, as his strikeouts have gone up, and he quite literally, never walks anyone.
Civale has only walked 3 batters in 34 innings worked, and his K/9 ratio is an absurd 10.67. In his last start, Civale pitched a complete game against the Pittsburgh Pirates, giving up just one earned run on 5 hits and no walks. Getting deep into games has been a signature trait for Civale this year, as he has pitched at least six innings in each of his five starts.
Who Do I Like?
Both of these pitchers are pitching well right now, and both are coming off of their best performance of the year. I would lean towards Maeda as being the better side of this starting pitching matchup, but it is close, and I would listen to an argument that Civale is just as good. So, for this bet, I’ll chalk up the starting pitching matchup as a wash.
One area that is certainly not a wash, though, is at the plate. The Twins can hammer the baseball, and while things are looking up a bit recently for the Indians, they are still 29th in the majors in batting average and 30th in slugging. When it comes to the ability to hit the baseball, these teams are on completely different levels right now.
When these two teams matched up in their first series earlier this year, the Twins won three out of the four games with a combined score of 10-3. Kenta Maeda picked up a winning decision, and Aaron Civale was charged with a loss. All of the games were competitive, and neither team gave up much, but the Twins were better then, and I see them as being better now.
Interestingly enough, the only teams that are able to beat the Twins this year, are bad teams. I guess maybe they aren’t able to get up fully for games against the likes of the Pirates, Royals, and Brewers? Against those three cellar-dwelling teams, they are just 12-8. When they have played strong competition, teams like the Indians, Cardinals, and White Sox, they are 7-2.
I see the Twins as finding a way to eke out a close victory tonight in game one. Neither team is likely to light up the scoreboard, but I see Minnesota getting the job done. I’ll call it as a 4-3 Minnesota final score. Give me the Minnesota Twins tonight in game one on the road, laying -115!