MLB Regular Season

Matchup: Kansas City Royals at Cleveland Indians

Date/Time: September 17, 7:10 p.m. ET

Pitching Matchup: Yordano Ventura (11-8, 4.42) vs. Corey Kluber (8-13, 3.41)

MLB Betting Odds From BetDSI Sportsbook

Moneyline: Cleveland -130

Total: 7

Things are suddenly getting very interesting in the AL Wild Card race. As the Houston Astros continue to falter, the Minnesota Twins, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, and Cleveland Indians are all trying to make up ground. The Indians can take three out of four from the Kansas City Royals with a win on Thursday night. They’ll get ace Corey Kluber back from an extended stint on the sidelines with a strained hamstring. The Royals, who have lost 10 of their last 15, counter with Yordano Ventura.

The Indians are four games back in the wild card, but trail by only three games in the loss column. The Astros are at risk of getting swept in a four-game series on Thursday night by the Texas Rangers. If the Indians can close the gap to three games with 17 to play, it starts to get very interesting. The Royals have had the AL Central locked up for a while, but they do seem to be hitting a wall after playing into November last season. Either that or complacency has set in with a huge division lead. With four games left against Cleveland and three games with Minnesota, the Royals will have a lot of say in the Wild Card standings if Houston keeps losing.

Yordano Ventura has a 4.42 ERA on the season, but he has pitched better than that traditional metric would indicate. Ventura has a 3.85 FIP and a 3.72 xFIP on the season. Sequencing issues are really the reason why Ventura’s ERA is up. His strikeout rate and ground ball rate have both improved from last season. Last season, batters hit .206/.279/.314 with men in scoring position with a 2.53 K/BB ratio and a .241 BABIP against. This season, batters are hitting .258/.321/.445 with a .321 BABIP against. Ventura’s K/BB ratio is better at 3.50. It’s surprising to see such a big drop-off given the Royals defense, but Ventura’s increased home run rate does suggest a drop in command from last season.

Ventura had a 4.73 ERA entering the All-Star Break and has a 4.09 after it, but a nearly identical slash line against. He has struck out more than a batter per inning in the second half, so the stuff seems to be a little bit sharper. He’s struggled a bit over his last two outings, with eight walks, eight runs, and 16 hits allowed over 11 innings. The Indians have faced Ventura once this season and he gave up five runs on six hits in 5.1 innings with four walks and just one strikeout.

The Indians are doing what they have done under Terry Francona in each of his three seasons at the helm. They’ve started slow and finished strong and that’s the case once again this season. The Indians have won 16 of 24 to claw back into the wild card race. Their ace returns to the rotation on Thursday as Corey Kluber makes his first start since August 29. Kluber was not placed on the disabled list because of expanded rosters in September, but the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner was out of action with a strained hamstring. That might explain his rough month of August, in which he gave up eight home runs in 43.1 innings of work.

Kluber is one of the game’s top pitchers and he should benefit over the long haul by the team’s vastly-improved defense. Kluber’s biggest problem this season has been out of his control. The Indians have scored 3.46 runs per game in his starts and just 2.7 runs per game while he has been the pitcher of record. His strikeout rate is down a tad, but it’s still at an elite level along with most of his other numbers.

MLB Prediction: Cleveland Indians

It’s unclear what pitch count will be slapped on Kluber, and the Indians bullpen has been shaky at times, but lefties own a .437 SLG and a .331 wOBA against Ventura on the season and the Indians are going to throw quite a few left-handed bats at him on Thursday. The Royals don’t have the same sense of urgency that the Indians have and the Tribe should get a bump from having their ace back.