Cleveland Indians Open Pivotal Series against Minnesota Twins

CLEVELAND, OH - JULY 17: Jose Ramirez #11 and Jason Kipnis #22 of the Cleveland Indians celebrate after scoring on a double by Greg Allen #1 off Zac Reininger #26 of the Detroit Tigers during the eighth inning at Progressive Field on July 17, 2019 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Ron Schwane/Getty Images)

Cleveland Indians Open Pivotal Series against Minnesota Twins

On June 1st, the Cleveland Indians trailed the first-place Minnesota Twins by 10.5 games. The Twins looked to have the division in the bag. The Indians, meanwhile, were clinging onto Wild Card hopes.

Now, everything has changed. Cleveland has cut the division lead to two games. Today, the two teams will face off in game one of a pivotal four-game series. Here’s everything you need to know about how the Indians have put themselves in a position to claim first place in the AL Central.

Cleveland Indians Rolling in the Second Half

The Twins had an incredible first half of the season, going 54-33. They haven’t necessarily struggled in the second half, but have gone 14-11. The Indians, on the other hand, have gone 18-8. The Twins have a run differential of +18 in that span. Cleveland has outscored their opponents by 52 runs.

The Indians have taken advantage of playing weak teams, going 16-4 against the Tigers, Royals, Blue Jays, Angels, and Rangers. However, they dropped two of three to both the Twins and Houston Astros. This series is essential for Cleveland to prove they deserve to be ranked among the best teams in the AL.

Bounce Back Bats

Early on in 2019, the Indians were hurt by struggling veterans. Jose Ramirez looked like a completely different player, Jason Kipnis continued his post-2016 decline, and Leonys Martin was DFA’d. What was once a strong core was now a weakness.

But now, all of that has changed. Ramirez has been hitting like a mad man since the All-Star break. He owns a .330 average and ridiculous 1.067 OPS since the midsummer classic. He’s also hit nine homers in 26 games since the break. He had all but seven homers in 85 games prior.

Perhaps the most surprising resurgence has been Jason Kipnis. The veteran second baseman has struggled to find any consistency at the plate since 2017. However, in his past 15 games, he’s batting .333 with four home runs and 16 RBI. Overall, he’s batting .310 with an .888 OPS since the break.

With Ramirez and Kipnis returning to form, the Indians’ lineup is now powered by the iconic infield of Carlos Santana, Kipnis, Francisco Lindor, and Ramirez. Opposing teams should be terrified.

The Newest Cleveland Indians

The Indians shocked everyone when they dealt Trevor Bauer in a three-team trade that brought Yasiel Puig and Franmil Reyes to Cleveland. By offloading some of their pitching depth, Cleveland also added some much needed right-handed pop to their lineup.

While it’s too small of a sample size to judge each player’s immediate impact to the team, there is certainly plenty to be excited about. Puig is hitting .292 with two doubles and two stolen bases in seven games. Reyes has struggled so far, striking out 10 times in 24 at-bats. The 24-year-old does bring 27 homers to the lineup, and if he gets going, the Indians could have a lineup that matches up with the best in the league.

Studs in the Rotation

Many questioned why the Indians would trade Trevor Bauer in the middle of a division race, but even without him, the Cleveland rotation remains one of the strongest in the league. In the second half, the Indians have the third-lowest starter ERA at 2.96. So far in August,  they lead the league with a 1.63 ERA.

We’ve written before about how Shane Bieber has evolved into the staff’s new ace, but the 24-year-old has reached a new level. In his past three outings, he’s thrown two complete games while striking out 26. He also went seven strong innings against Houston, allowing just two runs.

Mike Clevinger, Zach Plesac, Adam Plutko, and rookie Aaron Civale have also contributed strong outings. Civale specifically has a 0.75 ERA and 13 strikeouts in 12 innings since joining the rotation. Fans should only get more excited as Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco near their returns.

The Indians are firing on all cylinders heading into their most important series of the year to date. After struggling for most of the first half of 2019, they have become a legitimate contender in the American League, and are poised for a serious playoff run.

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