The Minnesota Twins were leading the division by 11 games as the calendar turned to June. It seemed the Cleveland Indians were being exposed for winning a weak, uncompetitive division in the past three seasons since their World Series trip. But that has helped Cleveland – it made them become a team nobody wants to face. Even the Twins.
The time has come for us to learn the big answer to the question “Are the Indians going to complete one of the greatest comebacks in Divisional Era history?” with the two rivals engaging in a four-game series at Target Field starting with August 8th’s 7-5 win for the Indians.
Really, If you think about what was the important thing that changed for Cleveland to be able to challenge not just the sensation of 2019 but an actually solid and consistent club like Minnesota, the answer for me is the return of so many starting pitchers. All of which have proved they can lead the team. That was the case with Mike Clevinger on Friday, allowing just two runs in seven innings and striking out nine.
And the brilliance of Shane Bieber and Clevinger will not go unawarded with former 2-time AL Cy Young award winner Corey Kluber due back in the end of the month. The same goes for Carlos Carrasco. The Indians have had top-level starting pitching for some time now so they’re not a fluke.
It really shouldn’t be a surprise – Cleveland was top 10 in starters ERA in each of the last three years and each season at least one member of that staff had a somehow shaky campaign. It’s just now that the rotation has reached its full potential.
But do not expect Indians starting pitching to easily silence that Twins offence. Even though there are hotter offenses right now, the Twins have once again stayed consistent in what they did the best in the first half – score runs and hit home runs. They’ve scored the fourth-most runs since the All-Star break and have hit the most home runs in that span. Which leads to a follow-up question about why the Twins haven’t won more games.
The answer to that question probably can be found in the Braves series, in which the Twins lost two games while scoring 7 runs. That has been the trend in each of their last three losses, which put the brakes on a four-game winning run.
But the 2019 edition of the rivalry is still must-watch for two reasons. On the one hand, even with the Indians being on the bigger upswing and having difficulties finding anyone to stop them, it’s been a pretty interesting season series with both sides having won five with nine more spread across three series, including in the middle of September at Progressive Field.
On the other hand, we have two top units in their department, the Indians starting pitching and the Minnesota offence, going head-to-head.
Very few teams had as successful a trade season as the Indians had. Yes, they might’ve lost Trevor Bauer, but got two reliable bats in Yasiel Puig and Franmil Reyes. And the latter, though having started his Indians days 2-for-24, is the game-changing power bat Cleveland was looking for. And Bauer hasn’t proved to be a huge loss – Indians starting pitching has the second-best ERA since his departure and has had the most innings pitched by starters.
Cleveland has scored 40 runs in nine August games, less than only five American League teams. Minnesota’s pitching, though, has been in the bottom 15 since the break.
Indians clearly, due to the incredible way they’ve played lately, have the thin advantage. But whatever the outcome of the remaining three series is, the battle for the American League Central Division crown will be much deeper than the head-to-head comparison. It all might even come down to the last weekend of the regular season – Minnesota at Kansas City and Cleveland at Washington.