The calendar might say August but baseball in Minneapolis will have an October feel this weekend. While NFL action roars to a start, fans in the Minneapolis and Cleveland markets will be wearing out the ‘Last’ button on their respective remote controls. The Twins and the Indians will undergo a four game set in which they are jockeying for position as the top dawg in the American League Central.
The Minnesota Twins (70-44) hold a two game advantage over the Clevealnd Indians (68-46) with 48 games left on the docket. This weekend’s jaunt to Minneapolis will consist of four of the final ten meetings between the clubs, with three left in each city. According to FanGraphs, yesterday’s Indians doubleheader sweep coupled with a Twins getaway day loss caused the Indians odds at AL Central supremacy to spike by about seven percent. The Indians, having narrowed an 11.5 game lead to just 2 in the last couple months, have a chance to change that calculus even more.
The Pitching Matchups
Thursday, 8:10 EST:
- Mike Clevinger, CLE (RHP)
55.2 IP, 3.07 ERA, 2.82 FIP, 2.59 xFIP, 1.7 fWAR
12.93 K/9, 3.07 BB/9, 0.97 HR/9, 44.3% GB, 18.2% HR/FB
- Kyle Gibson, MIN (RHP)
123 IP, 4.02 ERA, 4.00 FIP, 3.63 xFIP, 2.5 fWAR
9.07 K/9, 2.56 BB/9, 1.24 HR/9, 49.3% GB, 19.1% HR/FB
Friday, 8:10 EST:
- Shane Bieber, CLE (RHP)
149.1 IP, 3.31 ERA, 3.16 FIP, 3.18 xFIP, 4.2 fWAR
10.97 K/9, 1.81 BB/9, 1.15 HR/9, 45.1% GB, 15.0% HR/FB
- Devin Smeltzer, MIN (LHP)
27.2 IP, 2.28 ERA, 4.59 FIP, 4.59 xFIP, 0.3 fWAR
6.83 K/9, 1.63 BB/9, 1.63 HR/9, 39.5% GB, 15.2% HR/FB
Saturday, 7:10 EST:
- Adam Plutko, CLE (RHP)
59.1 IP, 4.55 ERA, 5.85 FIP, 5.55 xFIP, 0.0 fWAR
5.46 K/9, 1.37 BB/9, 2.28 HR/9, 30.9% GB, 16.7% HR/FB
- Jake Odorizzi, MIN (RHP)
114.2 IP, 3.61 ERA, 3.95 FIP, 4.71 xFIP, 2.4 fWAR
9.42 K/9, 3.14 BB/9, 1.18 HR/9, 32.1% GB, 10.5% HR/FB
Sunday, 2:10 EST:
- Aaron Civale, CLE (RHP)
12.0 IP, 0.75 ERA, 2.05 FIP, 3.70 xFIP, 0.5 fWAR
9.75 K/9, 3.00 BB/9, 0.00 HR/9, 48.1% GB, 0.0% HR/FB
- Jose Berrios, MIN (RHP)
147.1 IP, 3.24 ERA, 3.76 FIP, 4.34 xFIP, 3.5 fWAR
8.55 K/9, 2.08 BB/9, 1.10 HR/9, 42.0% GB, 11.1% HR/FB
Nelson Cruz, MIN — Flirting with 40 years since birth, the former Texas Ranger and Seattle Mariner has been on an absolute mashing spree. His 239 wRC+ over the last 30 days is the best in baseball by a substantial margin. Any plate appearance that Indians fans can keep him in the park this weekend can be deemed a success.
Jose Ramirez, CLE — Jose, Jose, where have thou been? The star third baseman has finally righted the ship, alleviating concerns that lingered for nearly a full calendar year for Indians fans. Though his 166 wRC+ pales in comparison to Cruz’s mark, it is still an elite mark and has buoyed the Indians offense. The reincarnation of swagger of old has been a pleasant sight and makes one wonder how long Terry Francona can bury him in the fifth spot in the order.
The Key Factors
Cleveland Relief Corps… have been a dominant force all season, as indicated by their league leading 3.22 earned run average. The gap between that 3.22 mark and the second best team bullpen ERA (San Francisco Giants – 3.67) is the same distance as between the Giants and the tenth best team bullpen ERA. Though the Indians 4.7 fWAR out of the bullpen is a full win behind the first place Yankees (5.9), that is hardly indicative of an efficiency gap. In fact, because the Yankees bullpen has thrown 90 more innings, the innings pitched per WAR generated is nearly identical between the two clubs at just a hair over 76. For reference, the middle of the road bullpens have taken about 180 innings to generate a win above replacement.
Minnesota’s Mashers… have vaulted the Minneapolis squad towards the MLB record for homers in a season. Their 224 long balls are 21 more than any other team and should comfortably exceed the MLB record of 267, set by the 2018 New York Yankees. They have homered every 20 plate appearances, which essentially means every other time through the lineup. It takes the Detroit Tigers and Miami Marlins over 40 plate appearances to back into their next dinger.
This weekend’s series will not decide the AL Central, but will definitely lay the groundwork. Should the Indians take three of four, the race will be a dead heat for the final 44 games. Should the Twins take three of four, the Indians would find themselves in an improbable hole and likely a hotly contested wildcard chase. Baseball is a game of large samples sizes but division hopes can be thwarted or amplified in August.