Far too often, the game doesn’t live up to the hype when 2 ace-of-the staff pitchers match up against each other. Last night, Twins ace Kenta Maeda matched up aganst Cleveland’s Shane Bieber on a wet September night at Target Field in the opening game of the series. Maeda improved to 5-1 while Bieber lost his first game of the season. Bieber’s record is now 7-1.

Bieber pitched a strong game, giving up only 5 hits and 2 walks over 7 innings. Unfortunately for him, he gave up 2 laser-like homeruns, the first a 2-run liner by Byron Buxton, the other a solo shot by rookie catcher Ryan Jeffers. Buxton’s homer was clocked at 111.5 mph. Jeffers’ second-deck homer had an exit velocity of 113 mph. Jeffers’ homerun was measured at 437 feet.

For 7 innings, Maeda matched Bieber’s performance with nothing but zeros. Bieber finished with 8 strikeouts on the night while Maeda finished with 7 strikeouts. Both pitchers showed why they’re the aces of their staffs. Bieber’s 95-mph fastball and assortment of nasty breaking pitches make him a candidate for a no-hitter virtually anytime he pitches.

Maeda doesn’t have the dominant stuff that Bieber has but he’s the most consistent pitcher the Twins have had in years. He’s a great tactician on the mound, mixing his pitches up well that induces lots of weak contact. Maeda keeps runners off base, too. Last night, when Cleveland’s Franmil Reyes grounded to Twins third baseman Josh Donaldson, Donaldson started a 5-4-3 double play. That’s Maeda’s first double play of the season.

Twins play-by-play broadcaster Dick Bremer noted that it’s difficult to get double plays when a pitcher doesn’t allow many baserunners. Jose Berrios was the Twins’ Opening Day starter. Since then, Maeda has earned the title of ace-of-the-staff. Berrios still has top-of-the-rotation stuff, as does Michael ‘Big Mike’ Pineda and Jake Odorizzi.

The Twins should make the playoffs, though it’s unclear what seed they’ll be. With their lineup and starting pitching, they’d be a formidable challenge for anyone in the AL. It isn’t a stretch to think that they’re capable of winning the World Series if they get hot at the right time. Right now, the Twins are a Jake DeGrom-like pitcher away from World Series favorites.

With Kenta Maeda pitching, though, they’ve definitely got a shot.

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