Series Preview: Gold on the Ceiling
Image courtesy of © David Richard-USA TODAY SportsBrief Overview:
The ride of the season has brought these two teams back to face off against each other in the penultimate regular season series between them. The Twins are riding high after climbing higher in their division lead while the Indians have scuffled recently. Ever since the Indians took over sole possession of the division for exactly one entire day, it has been rough sailing for them as they have gone 9-13 while losing a few key pieces to injury.
What They Do Well:
Hey, the Indians have great starting pitching, shocker, isn’t it? Despite Corey Kluber being out for most of the year, Carlos Carrasco being out after being diagnosed with leukemia (but he has since returned as a reliever, which is amazing to see), and Trevor Bauer being traded, the Indians have the fifth-best starting pitching in all of baseball by fWAR. The secret sauce’s ingredients has been the development of Shane Bieber and Mike Clevinger into aces along with impacts from Zach Plesac and Aaron Civale. Although, peripherals suggest some regression for both of the latter arms. Nevertheless, the Indians’ starting rotation remains a force that will certainly test the Twins’ offense.
They not only can pitch, but the lumber in Cleveland is well brought as well. Ever since August (basically when they acquired Yasiel Puig and Franmil Reyes), they have been the ninth-best offense by wRC+ with a respectable 105 mark. I’m sure you want a frame of reference for that, so be aware that Doug Mientkiewicz held a wRC+ of 104 when he was with the Twins. The Indians have cleaned up one of the aspects of their game that was once a negative and the result has been a well-rounded team that can hold its own.
What They Do Not Do Well:
For months, I said that I didn’t think the Indians’ bullpen was that good and for months, I looked like a crazy man yelling conspiracies with a megaphone in downtown Seattle (it happens). BUT, since the start of August, the Indians have the 20th best bullpen by fWAR and their 4.86 FIP is the 13th worst in baseball over that time period. What happened? Well, the once reliable Brad Hand has a ghastly 7.15 ERA over that time period as his peripherals have also went down the toilet. Both Nick Wittgren and Tyler Clippard have great ERAs but they also both have peripherals that would make anyone blush (that is, in a bad way). Really, beyond them, there isn’t much in the form of a quality reliever that can be trusted for an inning no matter who the batters are, Tyler Duffey might be the best reliever on the Indians if he were there (thank goodness he isn’t).
This is going to be a strange one, but they really don’t play well against good teams at all. Take this stat from Andrew Simon:
Now, beating up on bad teams is pretty much the meta for the AL as a whole as there are many, many teams who would rather lose than win, but it is telling to see that they are bloated on the end of beating teams of poor caliber. The Indians are just 20-32 against teams at or above .500 which is the 19th best mark in baseball. The Twins are 28-32 under the same stipulation and the question for them is whether they can beat teams that are actually good, so the question remains even harsher on the Indians.
Individuals Of Note:
Mike Clevinger in 2019 so far has made the great decision to strike out more batters while walking a hair fewer, a pretty smart combo I must admit. The result has been an incredible 12.77 K/9 which would be the third-highest mark in MLB among qualified starters if he had the innings to qualify. On top of that (or more accurately, something that feeds into that), his average fastball velocity is up two ticks from 93.6 MPH to 95.8 MPH and his swinging strike % is in the stratosphere at a 15.5% rate. Basically, this is a long way of saying that he good, real good. Oh, and he is scheduled to start on Sunday.
I previously mentioned the Puig and Reyes deal in which they dealt from a position of strength to help a part of the team that was very weak, but Puig and Reyes have been sufficiently meh since the deal. Since the start of August, Puig holds a below-average 92 wRC+ and Reyes is at 111. Reyes’ defense (or lack thereof) knocks his value down and both players have been worth just .1 fWAR over that time period which spans over 120 plate appearances for both players. Baseball is naturally a streaky sport, but it seems like the Indians didn’t get the boost they were hoping for from both guys when they acquired them.
The Twins and Indians last played at Target field in early August. The Indians won that 3-1 and the Indians hold the season series by a tally of 7-6.
The Twins are 11-5 over their last five series while the Indians are 7-9 over their last five series.
Friday: Pineda vs Plutko
Saturday: Odorizzi vs Civale
Sunday: TBD vs Clevinger
The magic number for the Twins is currently 16 and this series will be a great opportunity to knock that number down a few pegs as each win counts as two towards the magic number. The pitching match-ups fall pretty decently in the Twins’ favor as they get their ace against the Indians’ worst starter and they get their All-Star starter against a rookie as well. The Sunday game may be interesting but now is the chance to show the Indians why you are the top team in the division. I’m feeling a 2-1 series in favor of the Twins and my mojo may be slightly regained after correctly calling the previous series, so watch out if you are an aspiring fortune-teller out there.
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