The first two games of the series have been surprising to say the least, with both teams earning lopsided victories while allowing double-digit runs. Toronto won the opening match and scored a massive 14 runs, but they allowed nine from a team that struggled offensively throughout this month. Cincinnati fired back in the second match to level the score after an emphatic 11-1 win and virtually anything can happen in the decisive match.
The top concern for both managers is to bolster the defenses, because it is most unlikely to catch up with the opponents if they start another scoring frenzy. The Blue Jays will have a hard time replicating the opening game performance against Johnny Cueto who has the best earned run average in the majors. For a starting pitcher who can brag about a 1.92 ERA, it is downright shocking that he won just 6/11 decisions, but an explanation is easy to find.
In 2014, the Reds were expected to score plenty of runs but instead struggled up front and this greatly increased the pressure on the starting pitchers. On those rare occasions when the starters managed to limit opponents to one or two rounds, relievers squandered the slim advantage and deprived them of a winning decision. Johnny Cueto is quite familiar with this turn of events and can only hope that tonight his teammates will give him a decent support.
Dickey has also won six decisions while dropping five, but his earned run average surged above 4.00 and he has been one of the least reliable pitchers in Toronto’s rotation. The knuckleballer alternated stellar performances with disappointing outings, not to mention that he has some fitness concerns. One week ago he left the pitch with a groin injury and his next few starts were postponed, but he will be given the chance to prove his worth against Cincinnati.
The Blue Jays were downright impressive in the first two months and consolidated their position at the top of the East division. In late May and throughout June, they dropped most of the games and only managed to win 4/14 fixtures. Despite this disappointing numbers, they still hold a narrow advantage over the New York Yankees who play against local rivals. They have a stellar pitcher on the mound and are expected to win fairly easy against Baltimore, which means that Toronto is under a lot of pressure.
The fate of this match could well be decided in the first couple of innings, with the starting pitchers being extremely important. In baseball, past performance is rarely a reliable indicator for future results, especially when teams alternate lopsided victories with stunning defeats. After the last two games, predicting the outcome of this decisive match looks like a coin flip, but the role of Johnny Cueto as starting pitcher shouldn’t be underestimated.
He gave his teammates no reasons to doubt his consistency and ability to shut down Toronto, so he should be given credit. Bookmakers are favoring the hosts to prevail, with the odds for a straight victory being relatively low. Punters should consider the possibility of backing Cincinnati to cover the -1.5 runs spread, because if the Reds are to win the decisive match, they are probably going to prevail by at least two runs.