Series Preview: You Come At The King, You Best Not Miss
Image courtesy of © Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY SportsBrief Overview:
The Indians were the favorites to take the AL Central again and spent their off-season actively attempting to trade some of their best pieces while remaining mostly silent in free agency. A cool first two months caused many to diagnose the Indians as a dead team but they have since clawed back in to the race thanks to a great June and a flawless July so far. Their record stands at 50-38 with a pythag W/L of 47-41 that is mostly thanks to back-to-back 13-0 roastings at the hand of Baltimore that killed their run differential but only counted as two losses in the book.
What They Do Well:
The Indians have great pitching, something that I am sure comes as a shock to none of you, but what is interesting is that their great pitching has been mostly in the bullpen. Their elite rotation has suffered some injuries so they have “only” been the sixth-best rotation by fWAR. Their bullpen however has the best ERA in baseball at 3.48, granted this comes with peripherals that suggest some regression. This is an impressive feat considering they’ve relied on guys like Nick Wittgren and the ghost of Tyler Clippard who have so far done well.
Their offense as a whole has been nothing to write home about but they do walk a lot as their team walk rate of 9.6% is the seventh-best in baseball. For reference, that rate is just a hair better than Brian Dozier’s Twins walk rate of 9.5%. Although the Indians offense as a whole has been just OK (their wRC+ on the year is just two points higher than Dan Gladden’s Twins wRC+ of 89), the Indians actually have had a slightly better offense than the Twins since the start of June as their team wRC+ since then is 113 and the Twins is 110. So expect a hot offense heading into the series.
What They Do Not Do Well:
Something interesting that may require more digging is that the Indians bullpen has the lowest WPA+ (win probability added) of any bullpen in baseball but they also have the lowest WPA- (win probability lost) of any bullpen in baseball, potentially meaning that their bullpen has not been put into many situations where they needed to be clutch and they have only been asked to just get the job done, which they have. An unproven bullpen could be a weakness for the Twins to exploit.
As mentioned before, their offensive numbers on the year have been pretty poor but their Jekyll and Hyde-like change has made them just below average on the year (91 wRC+) but great since the start of June (113 wRC+). The question that may decide whether the Twins have real competition for the division will be whether their recent stretch is a fluke or not... or at least to what degree have they improved since their ice-cold start that included a team wRC+ of 79 heading into June (Ben Revere’s Twins wRC+ was 77).
Individuals Of Note:
Carlos Santana made his return to Cleveland this year and has already almost set a new career high in fWAR (3.0 currently) and his work this year earned him the starting 1B gig at the All-Star game. He has enjoyed a career high BABIP of .311 so far this year that has helped him melt faces to the tune of a 149 wRC+, cool, how fun.
Quick, who is currently third on the Indians for position player fWAR? I’ll give you a few minutes ...
Correct, it is Roberto Perez, you guessed him, right? The catcher has been great at the plate to go with his already fantastic defense and he is close to setting a career high in fWAR while hitting over 40 points higher than his career wRC+. His .527 slugging % is seventh among catchers with at least 100 plate appearances (but lower than both Twins catchers, so ha!).
God saw that the Indians didn’t have enough starting pitching, so he blessed them with Shane Bieber who built on a strong rookie campaign last year and now has the 12th highest fWAR among starting pitchers in all of baseball. Yeah, that’s fair. Anyway, Bieber holds the seventh highest K/9 among qualified starters at 11.30 and an absolutely minuscule 1.84 BB/9 which is the 12th lowest among qualified starters. Somehow, he was the lone starter from the Indians rotation to make the All-Star game which would be an absolutely wild statement about four months ago.
Brad Hand has been as elite as elite can be, but Nick Wittgren has been the second-best reliever in the Indians’ bullpen, a solid feat considering he was a waiver wire claim over the off-season. He has struck out hitters at a good 9.45 K/9 clip while absolutely refusing to walk anyone as his 1.35 BB/9 is the eighth-lowest among qualified relievers in MLB.
The season series between the Indians and the Twins is tied as the Twins took two of three in the Opening Day series at Target Field and the Indians took two of three back when the Twins came into Cleveland in the most recent series from June 4 through June 6.
No team in the AL has more wins than the Indians since the start of June as they have won 22 games while losing only nine. The Twins have been solid during that stretch as they are 18-15 over the same time frame but that is a significantly lower winning percentage than their 38-18 stretch before the start of June.
This is the biggest series of the year so far and it really isn’t even close. The Twins will be assured the division lead no matter what happens, but said lead could be as little as 2.5 games or as large as 8.5 games. The Twins will be healthier than they were heading into the break and now have a chance to knock Cleveland down a peg instead of sitting around watching them beat up on the Royals and Reds of the world. Both teams will be sending their best starters to the mound and there will be no excuses on either side. I think the Twins will take two of three and my gut hasn’t been wrong in any prediction so far, so take solace in that.
- Oldgoat_MN, dbminn, MN_ExPat and 2 others like this