8:10 PM EST – Line: Twins -105, Over/Under: 9
A potential Playoff Preview is on tap tonight in Minneapolis, as the struggling Tampa Bay Rays look to get back on track against the American League-leading Minnesota Twins, in the second leg of a Three-Game Series from Target Field. In hindsight, the Rays (45-33, 2nd in AL East) picked a poor time to lose their momentum, particularly in regards to the American League East, where just a week ago, they were neck and neck with the New York Yankees in the race for the division lead. However, in a crucial Three-Game Series with their AL East Rivals, they were swept in brutal fashion, trounced by a combined score of 21-4, punctuated by a 12-1 thrashing in the Finale. At the moment, Tampa finds themselves sitting a whole Five Games out of First Place, which has coincidentally dropped them to the First Wild Card in the American League. Indeed, with New York getting healthier by the day, and the Boston Red Sox figuring to mount an assault during the second half of the season, one can only describe the position of Kevin Cash’s charges as tenuous at best. Fortunately, it’s not all doom and gloom for this team, which in this year of the Home Run has something that most of their competition lack: quality pitching. Coming into tonight’s contest, the Rays lead the American League in Team ERA (3.20), Runs Allowed (274), and Home Runs Allowed (73), with four-fifths of their Starting Rotation possessing an ERA of 3.00 or lower. Let’s take a moment to consider that they’ve yielded an ERA of 3.20 in a season in which the league average has sored to 4.78, which is the highest the Majors have seen since 2007. Furthermore, let’s also consider that in offering up just Seventy-Three Homers, Tampa has relinquished less than half of the amount of the league’s greatest offender, the Baltimore Orioles (156). Taking the mound tonight for Cash will be his ace, Charlie Morton (8-1, 2.31 ERA, 16 GS, 93.2 IP, 63 H, 24 ER, 7 HR, 33 BB, 113 K, 1.025 WHIP), who has really settled in after signing with the club as a Free Agent over the Winter. The veteran Righthander earned his first All-Star Selection in 2018 with the Astros, and certainly appears poised to be heading back to the Midsummer Classic as the headliner of the American League’s most effective Pitching Staff. The 35-Year Old is enjoying a banner campaign across the board, posting career-highs in a slew of categories, including ERA (2.31), WHIP (1.025), Strikeouts per Nine Innings (10.9), and Strikeout/Walk Ratio (3.42), and is on pace to set career-bests in both Wins and Strikeouts. However, the Rays will need him to set them back on track, for as we stated earlier, the team has fell on hard times, dropping nine out of their last fourteen games, including each of Morton’s previous Two Starts. Over those last Two Starts, he’s certainly done his part, relinquishing Five Earned Runs on Nine Hits, including Three Home Runs, over the duration of 12.1 Innings, logging Fifteen Strikeouts in comparison to permitting just Four Walks. When we last saw him, the 2017 World Series Champion departed from a meeting with the Oakland Athletics after 6.1 Innings of quality labor, with the score squared away at One Run apiece, only for the Bullpen to collapse, allowing Four Runs in as many Innings of the 4-5 defeat. Despite their torrid performance from the Plate, perhaps an affair with the Twins is precisely what he, and by extension, the Rays need; Morton is 2-0 with an ERA of 4.58 in Three Career Starts versus Minnesota, having already gotten the best of them in a 14-3 victory back on May 30th, in which he shut their potent Lineup down, striking out Six and yielding just Two Earned Runs over Seven Innings of work.
Meanwhile, it’s safe to say that now that we’ve reached the midway point of the season, we should finally see the real Twins (50-27, 1st in AL Central), who after slugging their way to the best record in the Majors has fallen back to the pack. With both the Houston Astros and New York Yankees gradually returning to full strength, Minnesota has otherwise traveled in the opposite direction of late, dropping five of their last eight outings, and as a result have seen their sizable lead in the American League shrink to just a Half-Game over the Yankees. Rocco Baldelli’s charges have ascended to this stage largely on their historic tear from the Plate, where in bashing a league-best 147 Home Runs, are currently on pace to shatter the Single-Season Record set by the Yankees last season (267) by the widest of margins. The Twins are also on pace to reach their first 100-win campaign since 1965, which coincidentally also saw them advance all the way to the World Series. That’s a far cry from the team that just three years ago LOST 103 games. Seven different players have belted at least Eleven Home Runs and driven in at least Thirty Runs, lead by a trio of youngsters including the likes of Eddie Rosario (.269 BA, 73 G, 81 H, 49 R 13 2B, 20 HR, 57 RBI, 14 BB, 45 K), Max Kepler (.274 BA, 70 G, 75 H, 51 R, 19 2B, 19 HR, 51 RBI, 33 BB, 48 K), and C.J. Cron (.281 BA, 69 G, 73 H, 34 R, 16 2B, 17 HR, 50 RBI. 21 BB, 55 K), with veteran Designated Hitter Nelson Cruz (.266 BA, 51 G, 51 H, 30 R, 12 2B, 13 HR, 36 RBI, 24 BB, 37 K) providing further power in what can only be looked at as a shrewd Free Agent Acquisition for the club. As a whole, Minnesota ranks tops in the Majors in Runs (440), Home Runs (147), Runs Batted In (424), Batting Average (.271), Slugging Percentage (.502), and OPS (.840). Indeed, if you’re looking for a posterboy for this season’s offensive exploits, then the Twins have you covered. However, as their opponent tonight can certainly attest to, pitching still matters a great deal, and Minnesota has by no means been a slouch from the mound either, ranking Fourth in the American League in Team ERA (3.97), while permitting the second-fewest Home Runs (90) and Walks (219). Granted, they’ve absolutely benefitted from the wellspring of Run Support that they’ve received throughout the term, but the fact remains that this Pitching Staff is very balanced, with a solid Rotation bolstered by one of the most consistent Bullpens in the Majors. Stepping up tonight will be a familiar face, as Jake Odorizzi (10-3, 2.58 ERA, 15 G, 80.1 IP, 61 H, 23 ER, 6 HR, 25 BB, 87 K, 1.071 WHIP) starts against the franchise with which he spent five years of his career, the Rays. From 2013 to 2017, the Righthander made 124 Starts for Tampa Bay, earning a 40-37 Record with a 3.82 ERA and 1.215 WHIP, before arriving in Minnesota as a Free Agent two Winters ago. At the age of Twenty-Nine, Odorizzi has really found a home in Minneapolis, and is in the midst of a career campaign that could suggest that the veteran is very much a late-bloomer. Seriously, you can’t chalk all of these figures up to a mountain of Run Support, folks; he’s already logged the most Wins in the Majors (10), while also posting personal bests in ERA (2.58), WHIP (1.071), Hits per Nine Innings (6.8), Strikeouts per Nine Innings (9.7), and Strikeout/Walk Ratio (3.48). When we last saw him, he lost his first Start in a dozen appearances, exiting after just 4.0 Innings in a 1-4 Loss at the Kansas City Royals, getting touched up for all Four Runs on Eight Hits, striking out just Two Batters in comparison to yielding One Walk. Odorizzi has faced his former employers just twice over the past two seasons, including once already in 2019, a 9-7 victory back on June 2nd in which he received the Victory after tossing Six Scoreless Innings, allowing just Three Hits and striking out Nine opposed to issuing a single Walk.