It’s hard to believe that just a few weeks ago it was all doom and gloom for the Toronto Blue Jays. They couldn’t buy a win against an American League East opponent, and despite a better than .500 record, they sat in last place in the division.
But the MLB season is a marathon, not a sprint. And the Blue Jays have quietly won four series in a row and seven of their last eight overall, which includes taking three of four from the defending World Series champion Houston Astros.
Tonight, they open a three-game series at home versus the team this turnaround started against, the Minnesota Twins. Can Yusei Kikuchi keep Toronto rolling against a Minnesota lineup that is struggling at the dish?
Twins vs Blue Jays odds
Twins vs Blue Jays predictions
Yusei Kikuchi has been a bit of an anomaly for the Blue Jays this season. The eye test says he is pitching better than he was in what was a disastrous 2022. But the advanced numbers say not much has changed.
The left-hander is pitching to a 5.40 expected ERA, compared to 5.63 from last year. The contact and hard-hit rates are also similar. The big difference? Kikuchi has massively cut down the walks. So, while he is still giving up his share of home runs, they have mostly been solo shots.
On top of that, his fastball still plays. His velocity is up a tick to 95.3 miles per hour, and it’s good enough to get him out of jams. As a result, he’s allowed two earned runs or fewer in seven of his 12 starts, and the Blue Jays keep winning the games in which he takes the ball (9-3 overall). If Kikuchi can keep the Twins in the park, he should have success tonight.
The Twins have leaned hard into the “swing for the fences, we don’t care if you strike out” mentality. They rank ninth in the MLB in home runs per game. But if they aren’t hitting home runs, they aren’t hitting, particularly vs. southpaws.
Minnesota ranks 26th in batting average, 28th in OPS, 26th in wRC+, and 29th in strikeout rate when facing left-handed pitchers this season (Side note: I also like Kikuchi Over 5.5 strikeouts).
Countering Kikuchi is Sonny Gray, who has been quietly one of the best starters in the American League this season. The veteran right-hander is pitching to a 3.69 xERA while limiting opponents to a .372 expected slugging percentage and striking out 9.5 batters per nine innings.
Toronto has a dangerous lineup, but they still have trouble coming up with that clutch hit at times. The Jays are hitting just .237 with runners in scoring position this season, which ranks 24th in the MLB.
Gray missed the Jays in their last series, but in one start against them last season, he shut them out over five innings on just one hit. He got a quick hook that day after giving up five walks.
I’m betting pitching is the story early on in this one, and taking the Under in the first five innings.
My best bet: Under 4.5 first five innings (+100 at SIA)
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Twins vs Blue Jays moneyline analysis
It feels a bit surprising to see the Blue Jays as favorites when handing the ball to Kikuchi. Even more so when you consider the Twins are countering him with very reliable Gray. But that’s exactly the case in this matchup.
Toronto opened this American League matchup as -120 home favorites and have moved to the -125 to -130 range as of Friday afternoon. While Toronto is 9-3 when Kikuchi starts this season, that has been due in large part to the fact they have been giving him a lot of run support. Usually, because he is lined up against the opposing team’s No. 5 starter. That’s not the case tonight with Gray.
Toronto also has a clear edge when it comes to the lineups, but there is almost a two-run differential between Gray and Kikuchi’s xERA. And with Kikuchi’s propensity to give up the long ball (17 in his starts this season), that means the Twins will have a shot.
It’s not an official play from me, but at +105 or greater, there is some value with the Twins as underdogs.
Twins vs Blue Jays Over/Under analysis
The total hit the board at 8.5, and that’s where it still sits as of Friday afternoon. I’m on the Under first five innings, so I’d lean toward the full-game Under as well.
What’s holding me back is that the Blue Jays do have a terrific offense that ranks fourth in batting average and eighth in OPS. And while I have confidence in Gray, he rarely pitches much more than five innings. Outside of Jhoan Duran and Brock Stewart, the Twins' bullpen has been inconsistent.
Twins vs Blue Jays game info
|Location:||Rogers Centre, Toronto, ON|
|Date:||Friday, June 9, 2023|
|First pitch:||7:07 p.m. ET|
Sonny Gray (4-1, 2.15 ERA): Gray has been outstanding for the Twins. He has a sparkling 2.43 FIP to go along with that ERA, and has yet to allow more than three runs in a game this season.
Yusei Kikuchi (6-2, 4.40 ERA): Kikuchi may not be pitching that much better than last year, but he at least has been giving some reliable work, and the Jays have managed to win nine of his 12 starts.
Trend to know
The Under is 6-0 in the Twins' last six games overall and 7-2-1 in the Blue Jays' last 10 games vs. a right-handed starter. Find more MLB betting trends for Twins vs. Blue Jays