Twins, Rangers nice surprises

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Two of the American League’s most surprising clubs in 2019 will meet for the first time this year, and shockingly, it will be one of the most high-profile series around baseball this weekend before the first half of the season wraps up.

The Minnesota Twins, of course, have garnered plenty of attention for their offense, en route to holding a commanding eight-game lead in the AL Central — the largest such divisional deficit in the league.

Specifically, Minnesota has been drilling the ball out of the park at a record pace. In fact, they’re on pace to crank out more than 300 homers, which would shatter the record for most home runs in a season, set last year by the New York Yankees with 267 long balls. They also have the highest team batting average (.270) and are second in all of baseball with 5.71 runs scored per game.

Well, they may be about to meet their match when the Texas Rangers — another pleasant surprise in the AL this season — come to town for, believe it or not, a potential playoff preview. As always seems to be the case, the Rangers are right up there with the Twins in scoring, plating 5.43 runs per game to rank fifth in the Majors.

Now that leaves us to wonder: Will the scoring continue when these two high-octane offenses hook up, or will the pitching come through? Let’s explore the probable matchups.

Adrian Sampson vs. Michael Pineda (Friday): When a team is overachieving, that means they’re getting some notable contributions from surprising players you wouldn’t expect. For the Rangers pitching staff, Sampson unquestionably has helped in that regard, being 6-5 with a respectable 4.16 ERA. Not bad at all for a guy who began the year in the bullpen, and he’s been even better as of late after logging a 3.65 ERA in six June starts.

Going for the Twins in the opener is Pineda, who may not sport the most desirable line on the season (5-4, 4.78 ERA), but he has looked much better since a tough opening month. Since the beginning of May, the 30-year-old has posted a much more respectable 4.06 ERA. However, this will be one of his toughest challenges to date as he continues to try and regain his old form. Sampson, meanwhile, is due for a regression. OVER

Jesse Chavez vs. Martin Perez (Saturday): The Rangers probably regret not holding onto Perez, who will be squaring off with his ex-team for the first time. The eight-year veteran spent his first seven seasons in Texas — and the current campaign has been his finest to date. Perez’s 4.15 ERA and .243 batting average against are both the lowest-such marks of his career.

Chavez has benefited from the southpaw’s departure, getting a chance to start again for the first time in two years. Like his teammate Sampson, though, Chavez seems more likely to see a drop in performance, as illustrated by his 4.00 FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching), which is more than a full run higher than his 2.97 ERA. Combine that with Perez’s recent decline and the runs could be aplenty here. OVER

Mike Minor vs. Jake Odorizzi (Sunday): Funny enough, these two hurlers will be teammates on the All-Star team next week. A couple of days prior, however, they’ll be opponents, collectively having the most potential to pace a low-scoring game in this series.

Both pitchers are in their second seasons with their respective clubs. Odorizzi is 10-3 and easily on pace to set new career-best marks in ERA (2.73), WHIP (1.07), BAA (.211) and K/9 (9.88). Minor has been excellent in his own right, sitting at 8-4 with a 2.40 ERA while holding opponents to a minuscule .221 average. Look for this pair of veteran starters to cap off their delightful first halves just right. UNDER

Last week: 1-1

Season: 20-21

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