Every game feels all the more important in a 60-game schedule, which means this week’s four-game series between the Cleveland Indians and Minnesota Twins could have a significant effect on how the American League Central Division plays out in 2020.
The Indians (4-2) are off to a hot start, led by incredible starting pitching performances from six different starters. The team could very well be sitting at a 6-0 record, but a late loss in extra innings in the second game of the season against the Kansas City Royals and a tough defeat on Wednesday night when the Chicago White Sox tagged Brad Hand for four runs in the ninth have left the Indians a half game out of first place, trailing only the Twins.
Minnesota (4-1) is no longer a surprise team in the American League and is instead one of the favorites for postseason consideration after their ascension to the top spot in the division last season. Reliant on a record-setting power display a year ago, the team added to that group and tweaked the starting rotation in the offseason as well, putting them in a good position to threaten again for a place in baseball’s expanded playoffs. The Twins are the top scoring club in all of baseball in the early going, averaging 7.20 runs per game (the Indians, by comparison, are 23rd with 3.67). The Twins have won three straight, opening the season with bookend wins over the Chicago White Sox before sweeping a two-gamer in Minnesota against the St. Louis Cardinals.
Bieber was about as good as one could be in his season opening combined four-hit shutout of the Royals. Bieber worked six innings and could have gone even further, but departed after six scoreless innings worked with four hits allowed. His 14 strikeouts were the most in an Opener in Tribe history and fell just one short of the Major League record. He has had good success against the Twins so far in his career, posting a 3-0 record in eight games (seven starts) with a 4.14 ERA and a 1.40 WHIP. Last season, he won two games, striking out 33 in 28 innings.
Berrios lasted just four innings in his season debut on Friday against the White Sox. He allowed five runs on seven hits, including one homer, striking out one and walking one on the day. The 26-year-old, who debuted against the Indians more than four years ago weeks before his 22nd birthday, has won four straight decisions against the Indians and is 5-2 in his career against them with a 3.92 ERA and a 1.03 WHIP. Last season, he was stellar in four starts against them, limiting them to seven earned runs on 16 hits over 24 2/3 innings while posting a 0.89 WHIP against them for the year. He went 14-8 a season ago, making his second straight American League All-Star team.
Friday, July 31, 8:10 PM ET
RHP Mike Clevinger (0-0, 2.57 ERA) vs. TBD
Clevinger became the first Tribe pitcher to pitch into the seventh inning with a strong season-opening start against the Royals on Saturday. He allowed a pair of two-out solo homers in the first inning but settled in to allow just two more hits over his final six innings of work, striking out six total batters over the course of the night. He went 2-1 with a 2.39 ERA and a 0.87 WHIP against the Twins in four starts in 2019 to improve to 4-3 in his career in 14 total games.
At the time of this preview, the Twins had not yet announced their rotation plans for the four-game weekend set beyond Berrios. Kenta Maeda (1-0, 3.60 ERA) and Homer Bailey (1-0, 3.60 ERA) are expected to see the mound during the series, but Rich Hill (1-0, 0.00 ERA) will not after pitching in Wednesday’s win. Jake Odorizzi, the other starter on the staff, is working his way back from an intercostal strain.
Saturday, August 1, 7:10 PM ET
RHP Carlos Carrasco (1-0, 3.00 ERA) vs. TBD
Carrasco made a triumphant return to the mound on Sunday, leading the Indians to another victory over the Royals with six-plus innings of work in his first starting nod in 14 months. He struck out ten, marking the 25th time in his Indians career that he reached double-digit Ks in an outing. He has had a tough time with the Twins in his nine years pitching against them, compiling a 7-10 record in 26 games with a 4.10 ERA and a 1.38 WHIP. He went 3-0 against them in three starts in 2017, but is just 2-4 since, including a loss in three outings against them last season.
Sunday, August 2, 2:10 PM ET
RHP Aaron Civale (1-0, 3.00 ERA)
Civale had a tougher time than some of the other starters to open the season, but he showed some true mettle by grinding out the challenging innings to work six total frames, allowing two runs while striking out a career-high nine batters. He faced the Twins twice last season, allowing just two runs on seven hits over eleven innings (1.64 ERA, 0.91 WHIP) in a pair of no-decisions, holding the opposition to a .179 batting average against.
TV: Fox (7/30); Fox Sports SportsTime Ohio (7/31-8/2), Fox Sports North (7/31-8/2), MLB.tv
Radio (all): Cleveland Indians Radio Network; WCCO 830, The Wolf 102.9 FM, TIBN
HEAD TO HEAD
The two teams were as evenly matched as possible a season ago. In the 19 contests between the two clubs, the Indians were victorious ten times and the Twins nine, with both teams scoring 79 runs in the season series. Cleveland performed well on the road, going 6-4 at Target Field, but went just 4-5 at Progressive Field in the remaining nine games with the Twins. With a chance to gain some ground on the Twins in September, the teams split the six games with three wins each, preventing the Tribe from advancing on the first place club.
The unbalanced schedule will send the Indians to Target Field twice this season for seven total games, while the Twins will come to Progressive Field for just one three-game series. The Indians will host the Twins for the first time in 2020 from Monday, August 24, to Wednesday, August 26. The two teams will face off for the final time in the regular season in another weekend series at Target Field from Friday, September 11, to Sunday, September 13.
TRANSACTIONS and INJURY NOTES
Delino DeShields (OF) – 10-day injured list (7/12); recovery from coronavirus
James Hoyt (RP) – designated for assignment (7/28)
Daniel Johnson (OF) – optioned to Indians Alternate Training Site (7/28); recalled (7/29)
Tyler Naquin (OF) – 10-day injured list (7/21); right big toe fracture
Roberto Perez (C) – 10-day injured list (7/29) – right shoulder strain
Beau Taylor (C) – contract selected from Indians Alternate Training Site (7/28)
TWINS’ KEY MOVES:
Additions: Alex Avila (C), Homer Bailey (SP), Tyler Clippard (RP), Josh Donaldson (3B), Rich Hill (SP), Kenta Maeda (SP)
Subtractions: C.J. Cron (1B), Brusdar Graterol (SP), Ryne Harper (P), Martin Perez (SP)
Rocco Baldelli has a lot to work with in Minnesota. The key will be the health of the starting rotation and the results that they can get after Berrios. The bullpen is relatively unchanged from a year ago, but the offense got a great upgrade with Donaldson, which added the former Indians third baseman to the power hitting mix in the Twin Cities. He has been slow starting out of the gate this season, hitting .176 with two singles and a double to his credit.
Nelson Cruz is not letting age slow him down. After five games, the 40-year-old leads the Twins in a handful of offensive statistics, including homers (3), doubles (3), RBI (11), hits (8), and runs scored (7) while posting a .381/.409/.952 slash overall. He hit .209 against the Indians last year with 21 strikeouts in 49 plate appearances, but did match his single-season career-highs against Cleveland with four homers and seven RBI.
Marwin Gonzalez has been an Indians killer at times in his career. The utility man played 13 times against Cleveland last year, hitting .317 with four doubles, two homers, and eight RBI.
Second-year man Luis Arraez is off to a good start at second for the Twins. He is hitting .400 (6-for-15) with six singles and three runs batted in. He hit .319 against the Indians in his rookie season, recording 15 hits over 13 games.
The slugging Miguel Sano has not done much of that this season. In four games, he is just 1-for-14 with a double and six strikeouts. He owns a .194 average in 72 career games against the Indians with 113 strikeouts in 301 plate appearances.
Outfielder Byron Buxton has been limited to just one game so far through five for the Twins while dealing with a left mid-foot sprain. He is 0-for-3 on the year, but has driven in a run and scored once.
Not surprisingly, the Twins have yet to attempt a stolen base in 2020.
TRIBE NEWS AND NOTES
Cleveland starting pitching will look to continue a nice streak to open the year, as the staff has fired six straight quality starts. Three of those pitchers reached double digit strikeouts in their first outings of the year.
Cesar Hernandez has been a pleasant addition atop the Indians lineup. He has hit safely in all five games that he has played in, posting a .368/.429/.421 slash with six singles, one double, and four runs scored. He has reached base safely twice in each of the last four games.
Carlos Santana has been a walking machine again for the Tribe, drawing six free passes in 24 plate appearances this season. Coupled with a .278 average, he has a healthy .458 on-base percentage to open the season after six games. He hit .271 against the Twins last season with four more home runs to push his career total to 29, the second-most that he has hit against any one team. He has thrived at Target Field, hitting 16 of his career homers there, second to Kauffman Stadium for his road performances.
It has been tough sledding in the first week for Francisco Lindor, who manager Terry Francona described as trying to “hit eight-run homers” at the plate. With eight strikeouts in his first 26 plate appearances and just five hits to his credit, the numbers seem to match up to that. When Lindor has put the ball in play, he does have two doubles and a home run to show for it. Last year, he struggled with the Twins, hitting .258 against them after posting a .301 average the season before.
Jose Ramirez had hit well against the Twins in four of his first five big league seasons against them, but had a tougher time a year ago while scuffling for nearly all of the first half. He hit just .235 against them on the year in 13 games to drop his career slash against them to .290/.352/.475 over 95 games. He is the team’s leading hitter through six games with a .435 average and .500 OBP with two doubles, two homers, and five RBI (all leading the team).
ON THE ROAD AGAIN
With their four-game trip to Minnesota completed, the Indians will continue their long stretch of 15 of 19 games on the road with a quick two-game stop in Cincinnati against the Reds. The two teams will continue the series in Cleveland for two more before the Indians head back out on the road to Chicago for three with the White Sox.
Minnesota will play a similar home-and-home set, hosting the Pirates for two before moving on to Pittsburgh for two more to start a three-city, eight-game road trip.
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