As September approaches, the AL Central race is still up for grabs between two of the best.
Minnesota Twins (79-51, 1st Place AL Central, 3.5 Game Lead)
The Twins have exceeded expectations and are putting together a great season. Although their second half hasn’t been great, they still hold the lead in the division over the Indians by 3.5 games. They did hold a nine-game lead at one point, but that was erased earlier this month when the Indians actually took sole possession of first place. The division is heating up as September approaches in less than a week.
As I mentioned a couple weeks ago, the Twins pitching has held their own this season. Jake Odorizzi and Jose Berrios have pitched well enough for their offense to pick them up on a consistent basis. Odorizzi has a 3.57 ERA with a 1.24 WHIP. He has struggled in the second half with an ERA of 4.46 and a WHIP of 1.51. His K% has also dropped from 26.8% to 21.7% in the second half.
Berrios also had a strong first half of the season with an ERA of 3.00. His second half ERA of 4.89 is similar yet worse than Odorizzi’s. However, through all of this, his K% has gone up from 21.6% to 24.8% in the second half. While he is striking out more batters, his BB/9 has almost doubled in the second half compared to the first.
The Twins’ starting pitching problems in the second half of the season may be reflecting the teams’ 23-18 record in the second half, compared to their 56-33 record in the first half. With that, the bats remain hot in this young and power-filled Twins lineup.
The Twins remain first in the league with 253 home runs on the season, a baseball record for most home runs in a season by a club. Max Kepler and Nelson Cruz lead the pack with 35 and 33 homers, respectively.
With a little more than a full month remaining in the season, Nelson Cruz has already hit more home runs in the second half of the season than the first. His 17 home runs this half of the season are the most in baseball and he also has a .333 average and 1.238 OPS. There’s no doubt that the Twins are still hitting home runs, but their pitching needs to get sharper if they want to make a run in the postseason.
Minnesota hosted the Tigers in what should have been an easy series for the Twins. Jose Berrios was on the mound for the Twins, and he did not look good at all. Over his 5.1 innings he would allow five earned on ten hits and two walks. Despite the poor pitching, the power was there for the Twins. They blasted four homers, both of them coming in pairs from Miguel Sano and Jake Cave.
Ronny Rodriguez launched a grand slam for the Tigers in his 3-for-5 evening. Drew VerHagen picked up the win and the quality start for the Tigers, striking out eleven batters over his six innings. The Twins would drop Game One to Detroit, 9-6.
Kyle Gibson was on the bump for the Twins on Saturday, and yet again, the Twins starting pitching did not throw well. Gibson allowed four runs and ten hits over his 5.1 innings of work, similar to Berrios’ line the night before.
After trailing 4-1 after four innings, Miguel Sano came through yet again with a three-run homer that highlighted their five-run inning. The Tigers plated a run in the top of the 6th, but Jake Cave stepped up to the plate in the 6th and launched a two-run homer, his third in the last two games. Despite being out-hit by Detroit, the long ball won the game for the Twins as they would hang on to win 8-5.
Sunday’s finale was a similar outcome for Minnesota. Picking things up in the third inning, Nelson Cruz and Mitch Garver were both able to plate a run as the Twins took a 2-0 lead. In the fourth, CJ Cron launched a three-run homer down the line to extend their lead. The Tigers plated two in the top of the 5th, but the Twins were able to respond with a two-run homer off the bat of Jonathan Schoop.
Martin Perez was great on the afternoon as he gave up just two runs in his six innings of work that included five punch outs. He would lead the Twins to a 7-4 win.
Fangraphs is giving the Twins a 98.9% chance to make the playoffs, along with an 86.8% chance to win the division. We’ll see how things shake up as the Twins travel to Chicago to face the White Sox. Michael Pineda is slated to pitch for the Twins, as he will face Lucas Giolito on Tuesday night.
Cleveland Indians (76-55, 2nd Place Al Central, 3.5 GB)
The Tribe have been one of the most consistent teams over the last five seasons. After a massive move at the trade deadline where they shipped Trevor Bauer to the southern part of the state in Cincinnati, they brought in two big bats in Franmil Reyes and Yasiel Puig. While their lineup is known to be dangerous, their pitching is even better.
Shane Bieber and Mike Clevinger highlight this talented rotation. Bieber is pitching incredibly this season with a 3.23 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, and 11.04 K/9. While he is in contention for the Cy Young, his teammate is also putting together a great season. While Clevinger was on the IL for a while, his pitching line still remains one of the league’s best. He has a 3.00 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, and an absurd 13.04 K/9 ratio. The rotation is one of baseball’s best, and it gives the offense great opportunities to win games.
The Indians offense has been underwhelming this season. Carlos Santana and Francisco Lindor are having great seasons, but Jose Ramirez’s production this year does not even compare to what he’s done the last few seasons, as he’s hitting .254. It’s been a tale of two halves for Ramirez as he has hit .327 in the second half with 13 homers. His OPS also stands over 1.000 this half at 1.068. Unfortunately for the Indians, he was put on the IL this weekend with a fracture in his hand. The Indians are unsure if he will be able to return in the regular season, so if the team makes a playoff run, they should be able to expect him back in October.
The Indians hosted the last-place Royals for a three-game series this past weekend. The Tribe was backed by great pitching, as Zach Plesac gave up one run over his 5.2 innings pitched. He struck out five while walking two batters. Eight out of nine batters in the Indians lineup secured a hit. All four of the Indians runs came in the 2nd inning. Tyler Naquin plated two on an RBI single to right field, and Francisco Lindor came up two batters later to launch a two-run homer to extend the lead.
After the Royals were only able to plate one run in the game, which came in the sixth inning, Brad Hand came on in the ninth to pick up his 30th save of the season and help give the Indians a 4-1 victory.
The results were similar on Saturday night, as the Indians scored all four of their runs, this time in the third inning. Mike Freeman, who pinch-hit for Jose Ramirez as he fractured his hand this game, hit an RBI single to kick off the scoring in the third. Franmil Reyes came up later that inning and blasted a three-run homer to extend the lead. Mike Clevinger pitched well yet again, as he pitched 5.2 innings, striking out eight and allowing just one run. The Royals could only plate two runs in the game, and Brad Hand came in and secured his 31st save en route to an Indians 4-2 victory.
Sunday’s matinee was a wild one. The Royals were able to score two runs in the second inning. In the third, Ryan O’ Hearn launched a solo homer to extend Kansas City’s lead to 3-0. The Indians responded that inning with a two-run homer off the bat of Kevin Plawecki. The scoring would pause until the 7th inning, where Plawecki drove in another run on an RBI single up the middle.
With the game tied at three in the eighth, Jorge Soler launched his 36th homer of the season in two-run form, Nicky Lopez belted a double off the right field wall which plated two, and Alex Gordon scored on a wild pitch to complete a five-run innings for the Royals. In the bottom half of the inning, Franmil Reyes hit a solo homer to cut the lead to 8-5. In the bottom of the ninth, Reyes would step up to the plate again, this time blasting a game-tying three-run homer to tie the game at eight.
The game wouldn’t last long after that, as Ryan O’Hearn hit a go-ahead solo homer that the Indians didn’t respond to. The Royals got the best of Cleveland, 9-8.
The Indians will travel to Detroit in for a three-game series on Tuesday. This series is a great time for the Indians to make ground on the Twins. Adam Plutko is slated to pitch for the Tribe against Spencer Turnbull. The Indians currently have 13.2% chance of winning the division and a 76.6% chance of making the playoffs according to Fangraphs, so this series is a fantastic opportunity for them to increase their chances.
Waiver Wire Targets
Willie Calhoun, Texas Rangers (26.8% owned/ESPN)
Calhoun has had a couple impressive hot streaks this season. Most recently, over the last seven days, he has a .303 average with an OPS of .970 thanks to his four homers. Hitting .286 this season with 15 homers in his 200 AB’s, he’s a solid bench player who can squeeze in as a mid-tier starter for your team. His stock is going up as he’s being picked up in a lot of leagues recently, so make sure to pick him up as this hot streak continues.
Dakota Hudson, St. Louis Cardinals (35.6% owned/ESPN)
Over his last 12.2 innings pitched, Hudson has allowed no runs while striking out 11. In his last start against the Brewers, he allowed no hits through his 6.2 innings before getting pulled from the game. He has a 3.47 ERA on the season, which is currently trending downward in the right direction. He’s worth the roster spot as he faces the Reds in his next start on August 30th, where he will look to keep his scoreless streak alive.
Retired Little League baseball utility player.