Despite having one of the best records in baseball during the first half of the season, the Texas Rangers stumbled into the All-Star Break, losing seven of their last ten games. With the break now over the second half set to begin, the Rangers will look to return to form as they play host to the Cleveland Guardians for a three-game series. We’ll preview the opening game before going over which side I’ll be backing.
The Guardians finished the first half of the season with a 45-45 record, yet they sit in first place in the AL Central by a .5 game. Cleveland’s style of play this season is very similar to what it has been for the past couple of years, which is spotty hitting with limited power numbers to go along with a stellar rotation and bullpen. That’s made clear when you see they ranked 27th in runs per game and 8th in ERA.
Tonight Cleveland will hand the ball to one of the most experienced arms in their rotation with right-hander Aaron Civale. In 52.7 innings and nine starts, Civale boasts a 2.56 ERA with 44 punchouts and 16 walks. The Northeastern University product went into the All-Star break with some momentum, too, as he turned in a seven-shutout inning performance with nine strikeouts in his most recent start.
Civale’s last start came against the Royals, but tonight he will need to take on a Rangers team that was an offensive juggernaut in the first half. Even with finishing 3-7 over their last ten games and entering the break after losing a series to the Nationals, the Rangers still ranked first in average runs per game and had a (+148) run differential. Those last two stats are a big reason why the All-Star Game was littered with Rangers players.
As the team looks to hit the refresh button and start their second half like they started the first, they will send right-hander Jon Gray to the mound. The right-hander racked up 93 innings across 16 stars while pitching to a 3.29 ERA. If anyone could have used some time off, it was Gray, as he took the loss in his last three starts, allowing a combined 16 hits in his last 12 innings.
In a battle between two first-place teams, the Rangers are currently favored on the moneyline at (-135), and I’ll be backing them for my play. Their play entering the break was less than inspiring, but Texas still produced a lot of offense in their home ballpark over the past month. With Civale’s expected numbers showing he’s likely due for a negative regression, I think the Rangers can come out of the break with a win.
While Civale may be sporting a 2.56 ERA, his xERA is currently sitting at 3.70, and he is also in the 40th percentile in expected batting average. One of the most significant factors here is Civale also had a 4.59 xFIP when pitching on the road, and now he’ll take on a rested Rangers lineup that ranks 5th in wRC+ and 4th in OPS against right-handed pitching at home over the past month.
Cleveland’s offense ranks 15th in those categories when facing a right-hander on the road in the same span. Gray’s numbers show he gets better as the game goes on, so if he can keep the Guardians offense, who ranks 29th in average runs per game in the first five innings, at bay, then this team should be able to give him a lead to work with.
Texas Rangers (-135)