At one point deep into the season, it looked like the Cleveland Indians’ three-year reign over the American League Central was doomed.
The rival Minnesota Twins had taken a commanding lead for first place early on and sustained it. Their hard-hitting offense, which remains on a historic pace for home runs in a single season, was showing no signs of slowing down.
Nevertheless, the Indians weren’t about to relinquish their stronghold on the Central that easily. Thanks to a 22-8 surge in their last 30 ballgames, Cleveland has cut most of the gap, sitting just four games out entering Tuesday’s action.
With the stage set, this weekend’s latest meeting between the two sides carries great significance. Let’s see how the new-look Tribe measures up for this series against the club they continue to hunt.
Adam Plutko vs. Kyle Gibson (Thursday): While it’s the bats that have generated most of the attention for Minnesota’s success, a lot of credit should also go to the team’s steady starters like Gibson. The seven-year vet, who has spent his entire career in the Twins organization, is second on the staff with 11 wins and also has etched an impressive 124-35 K/BB ratio.
Plutko has barely been in the league for more than a couple of years but is beginning to settle in as a major league starter. The UCLA product has surrendered more than three runs only twice in 10 starts this season. However, he continues to struggle on the road, as evident in his 5.31 ERA and 1.57 WHIP away from Cleveland. OVER
Shane Bieber vs. Devin Smeltzer (Friday): This year’s All-Star Game MVP has continued to dazzle since the Midsummer Classic. In fact, he’s pitched Cleveland into the sixth inning in all five of his outing so far in the second half, producing a quality start in four of them. He’s also racked up 41 strikeouts compared to only seven walks in 37 innings while holding opponents to a .203 batting average.
Minnesota will counter with a rookie, Smeltzer, which might seem like a mismatch at first glance. But the 2016 fifth-round draft pick has exhibited some potential in notching a solid 2.28 ERA, albeit in five games (three starts). One of those starts came opposite these Indians, and although he didn’t fare too well, Smeltzer has given up only two runs total since in his last 15.1 innings. UNDER
Aaron Civale vs. Jake Odorizzi (Saturday): This is a similar matchup to the previous night’s affair, except with the positions reversed. Minnesota has the established right-hander this time, that being Odorizzi, who — other than one bad outing — has continued his nice work in the second half. In his two meetings with the Indians this year, he allowed only two runs on four hits combined.
On the other end of the spectrum, Cleveland is starting a rookie in Civale, making just his third career start. Believe it or not, this 24-year dazzled in the first two, yielding just a single run and five hits total. It looks like Civale is ready to succeed on the big stage. UNDER
Zach Plesac vs. Jose Berrios (Sunday): The division leaders will be behind their best pitcher in the rotation, Berrios, in the series finale. The two-time All-Star will be seeking another quality performance opposing the Tribe, whom he’s 2-0 in three assignments against this season with a 1.93 ERA, 0.80 WHIP and 22-5 K/BB ratio. Being at Target Field, where Berrios owns a 2.10 ERA this year, only helps.
Another rookie gets the nod for Cleveland in Plesac. The right-hander has provided mixed results in his 12 starts, posting a desirable 3.41 ERA and .215 batting average against, but he’s also issued 25 walks in 66 innings compared to only 47 K’s. With him having served up 11 homers as well, this could be a matchup where the Twins make a statement. OVER
Last week: 3-0