The Cleveland Guardians and Minnesota Twins are now tied atop the AL Central standings. Who would’ve thought this isn’t the White Sox’s division any more?
The Guardians have been hot. Winners of eight of their last 10, they’re now 14-4 in June. Cleveland’s erased a 5.5-game divisional gap in the process.
After an 18-12 May, the Twins’ 8-10 record this month has erased any goodwill they built up during the early season. Minnesota desperately needs a home-series victory.
Can the Twins get a win here?
Let’s dive into the starting lineups, betting odds, and my prediction for this Thursday’s matchup.
Cleveland Guardians vs Minnesota Twins Odds
Devin Smeltzer has been a great find for this Minnesota rotation. He’s helped eat innings that went formerly un-eaten.
As a result, the Twins are pretty big favorites on Thursday in Minneapolis.
But you cannot overlook the red-hot Guardians. Specifically, don’t overlook their offense. Driven by Jose Ramirez, Cleveland has built one of the more dangerous lineups in baseball.
But the Twins are in the same boat, as Byron Buxton is driving an offensive renaissance in Minnesota.
As such, the total for this game is high, sitting at 9.5 across the market.
Cleveland Guardians Starting Lineup
Z. Plesac R
2-4 4.41 ERA
CF M. Straw R
SS A. Rosario R
3B J. Ramirez S
DH F. Reyes R
1B O. Miller R
RF O. Gonzalez R
2B A. Gimenez L
LF E. Clement R
C A. Hedges R
Cleveland Guardians vs Devin Smeltzer
Smeltzer is a pure pitch-to-contact guy. He strikes out less than five batters per nine innings and ranks in the bottom 5% of qualified pitchers in whiff rate.
As such, his FIP and xFIP are extremely high. But because he’s so effective at avoiding hard contact – specifically barrels – he’s kept his ERA and xERA in the mid-3.00s.
Smeltzer just gives the Twins the chance to win games. He has failed to pitch less than four innings in a start, has pitched at least six in three of his seven, and averages close to 5 ⅔ per start. And with that Minnesota offense, his sub-4.00 ERA is welcomed.
But can he limit the Guardians to only soft contact?
Honestly, yes. The Guardian offense thrived on smart hitting in the early part of the season, but they’ve never been a hard-hitting lineup. The Guardians rank dead last in MLB in barrel rate, hard-hit rate, and avg. exit velocity.
Over the past month, the Guardians are still striking out at the lowest rate but their walk rate has dropped to 25th. That’s resulted in a .656 OPS and a 96 wRC+, both numbers that rank among the bottom-10 teams during this recent stretch.
If it weren’t for Jose Ramirez and an underrated pitching staff, the Guardians might be a lot worse than their current record.
Minnesota Twins Starting Lineup
D. Smeltzer L
3-1 3.52 ERA
2B L. Arraez L
CF B. Buxton R
SS C. Correa R
RF M. Kepler L
C G. Sanchez R
1B A. Kirilloff L
LF T. Larnach L
3B G. Urshela R
DH J. Miranda R
Minnesota Twins vs Zach Plezsac
Over the past month, the Guardian bullpen is first in ERA (1.80), fourth in FIP (3.13), and first in xFIP (3.01). This relief core has done a brilliant job during the Guardians’ recent run of excellence.
The starting pitching staff… not so much.
It has to do with the back-half of the rotation because the top-three starters have respectable ERAs. That buck starts and stops with Plesac.
Plesac can’t get it together this year. The only thing worse than his 4.41 ERA is his monstrous 6.44 xERA. He doesn’t miss bats and then allows tons of hard contact. His Baseball Savant page looks like an iceberg.
Image credit: Baseball Savant
As a result, the Twins are 5-7 in Plesac starts this season. He pitches a decent number of innings, but he has allowed more than four earned four separate times this year.
It’ll be fun watching Minnesota attack that. The Twins have posted a top-10 wRC+ and OPS over the past 30 days, and they’re one of the only lineups that can keep up with the Yankees in terms of batted ball statistics (top-four in avg. exit velocity, hard-hit rate, and barrel rate).
Buxton now has 19 home runs in just 51 games this season. He’s posted a 151 OPS+ behind a whopping .570 SLG. His bat-to-ball discipline isn’t elite (54 K, 18 BB, .312 OBP), but he’s an overall effective hitter.
Luis Arraez is having an unprecedented breakout season. He leads MLB in average (.362) and OBP (.442). His 165 wRC+ means he’s 65% better than the average MLB hitter at producing runs, but he does not hit the ball hard and has mustered a ridiculously low .095 ISO.
Instead, Arraez walks (11.8%) more than he strikes out (8.3%) and whiffs fewer than any player in baseball. It’s some combination of Nomar Garciaparra’s batting skills and Barry Bonds’ pitch recognition but without any of the power.
Cleveland Guardians vs Minnesota Twins Pick & Prediction
My picks: Minnesota Twins F5 ML (-160 or better)
I’d rather not mess with the bullpens given the Guardians have such a big advantage there, but this is a clear lay-the-juice spot.
Smeltzer is a control freak, walking less than 7% of batters faced while hitting his spots in the zone. The Guardians can’t discipline themselves past Smeltzer, and will instead have to rely on their poor batted ball skills.
Plus, Cleveland’s numbers drop across the boards against southpaws, and they walk way less against that side. Smeltzer should cruise through five innings.
In the meanwhile, I don’t trust Plesac to down this hard-hitting Twins lineup. Expect Arraez to get on base and Buxton to drive him in, and that should be enough to cash this first-half bet.