The Minnesota Twins and Cleveland Indians meet Friday night as they battle for position in the AL Central, which happens to be MLB's most exciting division race.
It can be cliche or redundant to say division matchups are hotly contested rivalries, but that's so the case with these clubs in 2020. In seven prior meetings, no game has been decided by more than three runs, and all total scores were in the single digits.
Continue reading the remainder of abe Insights' preview for analysis of the primary betting lines, the best odds available upon publication, advanced stats to know and more information.
Date: Friday, September 11
Time: 8:10 p.m. ET
TV: SportsTime Ohio; Fox Sports North
Implied Probabilities: Indians 52%; Twins 50%
Spread: CLE -1.5 (+170); MIN +1.5 (-165)
Moneyline: CLE -107; MIN -100
Friday's run total may seem low, and that's because AL Cy Young Award front-runner Shane Bieber is on the bump for Cleveland. Bieber has a 7-0 record and 1.25 ERA this season, which is beyond transcendent and amazing. He'll need to be on his game, since the Indians offense is in a constant struggle to score.
It doesn't bode well for the visitors that Kenta Maeda is starting for Minnesota. The ex-Dodgers is having a fine maiden campaign with the Twins in his own right, with a 4-1 record and 2.77 ERA in eight starts.
.247 vs. .225: Let's start with a simple set of stats — the teams' batting averages. the Twins are disappointing at the dish in 2020 in ranking 15th, but the Indians are far worse, placing in MLB's bottom four.
10.7 vs. 9.0: In FanGraphs' defensive runs above average metric, Minnesota leads all of baseball with its rating, which is the first number. Cleveland isn't far behind in slotting in at third out of 30 teams. This suggests runs will be even harder to come by on the rare occasions Bieber and Maeda yield well-hit balls.
4.41 vs. 4.02: Whereas Twins relievers are tied for third with the Dodgers in Expected Fielding Independent Pitching, the Indians' bullpen lags a bit behind here. They're still tied for the 10th spot in MLB, but that means Bieber is going to be all the more leaned on to throw another scoreless outings, or close to it.
Making matters worse for the Indians' batting order is Jose Ramirez being out for Thursday's loss 11-1 to last-place Kansas City due to a hand injury. Ramirez is one of the few power threats Cleveland has, leading the club with nine homers on the year to go with 26 RBI. His absence was certainly felt versus the Royals.
It'd be shame for Bieber's sensational 2020 to go to waste, but at least when he's been on the hill, the Indians have lost only once out of nine starts, with Bieber getting a "W" to his record in seven of them. The only gem Cleveland squandered was, in fact, against Kansas City, when Bieber pitched six frames of one-hit, shutout ball.
Let's dive deeper into why Bieber has been so good. He's striking out 42.9% of batters, and forcing ground balls 50% of the time. In other words, the ball isn't getting airborne very often. Hardly at all. Imagine striking out almost every other hitter and forcing literally every other batter to chop grounders because that's all they can manage.
How does the Indians' ace do it? Well, per FanGraphs, Bieber throws a fastball with plenty of movement on it, a cutter that shaves off some velocity to keep batsmen off-balance, a nasty curveball on 25% of his pitches and a slider that gets a 13.5% usage rate. It's hard to figure out when Bieber will throw what when.
Maeda has strong ratios of K's (30.9%), and ground balls forced (49.1%) in his own right, yet those pale in comparison to Bieber's totals. Even though the Twins still have plenty of lineup firepower on paper from the order that set the MLB record for home runs in 2019, it won't do much good when Bieber has been this unconscious throughout the season.
The aforementioned anecdotes about this series being so tight and low-scoring isn't likely to veer from those trends with Bieber and Maeda as starters. Assessing the main betting lines, what seems easiest to figure is that more action will go on the Under run total.
As for the spread and moneyline, well, that's a little more difficult. It's hard to bet against Minnesota at home. Even without fans, the Twins boast an 18-5 mark at Target Field this year. However, Bieber is just too good, which should cause wagers to skew toward the slightly favored Indians' spread and moneyline.
Note: Odds current as of 1:35 p.m. ET on Friday, September 11.
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