Whenever a team outplays its projection like the Minnesota Twins have this season, people are eager to bury it.
And often, a team will fizzle but not these Minnesota Twins, not yet at least. The Twins lost three of five before the Indians swept them in four straight at Target Field two weekends ago. The Indians kept winning and when the Twins came to Progressive Field for a rematch this last weekend, there was a general feeling that Cleveland would begin to pull away.
Except that didn’t happen. The Twinkies held Cleveland to two runs in three games and won all three to regain first-place in the AL Central.
Now the second-best road team in baseball continues its trip with four at Fenway, starting Monday.
Jose Berrios is striking out as many batters this year as he was last; actually, he’s striking out about one per 20 innings fewer. The difference between is in all of those batters that he isn’t striking out.
Last season, whether he did or didn’t, Berrios was trying to strike everybody out. This season, he isn’t, which has nothing to do with ability and everything to do with approach.
When 2016 Berrios got behind, he put himself in a position where he had to throw three really good pitches to get the guy out and, far too often, that approach resulted in either a home run or a walk.
This season, Berrios has shown a willingness to abandon the strikeout in certain spots and pitch to contact. As a result, he’s replacing those HRs and BBs with weak contact. He’s walking less than half the number of batters he did last year (2.4 per 9 in 2017 compared to 5.4 in 2016) and giving up about a quarter of the home runs (0.5 per 9 vs. 1.9).
The approach is difficult for most young pitchers to accept and it must be even more so for someone with stuff like Berrios. But now that he’s embracing it, I don’t believe it’s an exaggeration to think Berrios will be one of the premier pitchers in the American League for the foreseeable future and I wouldn’t make Boston’s team total any more than 4.0 tonight.
Thing is, Berrios is still an underdog to Chris Sale, the only starting pitcher in the AL with a better WHIP (0.90) than he (0.91); and Sale has done it in twice as many innings. The opposition hasn’t scored more than three runs against the Red Sox in 12 of Sale’s 15 starts. So even if we give Minnesota a hook for nothing and make the team total 3.5, there is still a full run’s worth of value on the under. This one is a no-brainer.
Free Pick: Under 8.5 (-110)
Boston Red Sox • chris sale • jose berrios • Minnesota Twins