The championship season has concluded and the postseason is underway. The Yankees get set for a series with the AL Central champion Twins, beginning Friday night.
Their Story So Far
The Twins finished the season with a 101-61 record, eight games up on the Indians in the Central. The franchise was not expected to win the division and surprised in the first half and held off a charging Cleveland squad. Their stats may be inflated by losing teams at the bottom of their division, but those exist everywhere and the Twins took care of business, plain and simple.
As you likely know, the Twins are built on an immensely powerful offense. Minnesota edged out the Yankees for the all-time MLB home run record with 307 dingers this season. Even with a heightened offensive environment, they stood out. They had the highest ISO, second-highest batting average, third-best wRC+ and were fourth in strikeout rate, and position player fWAR.
The Twins, as a team, like to swing their bats. They sport the highest out-of-zone and overall swing rates of any playoff team and the second-highest in-zone swing rate among those squads to only the Braves. They are pull-happy, with the third-highest pull rate in baseball to the Jays and Angels.
Minnesota didn’t slouch on the pitching end. Buoyed by a strong bullpen and a some surprises in the rotation, the Twins were ninth in ERA and fourth in FIP. They were in the top half (12th)in strikeout rate in un-Twins-like fashion and issued the second-fewest walks in baseball (Dodgers). They’re middle-of-the-pack in fastball velocity.
Defensively, they’re missing their all-world defensive center fielder, so they take a hit there. The Twins made more errors than any playoff team and they grade out poorly on infield defense. Shortstop Jorge Polanco grades as an extremely poor fielder by UZR, but is positive by DRS.
Catcher Mitch Garver has positive framing numbers, yet has one more passed ball and as many wild pitches as Gary Sánchez in as many innings. Garver caught only 6-of-31 (16%) would-be basestealers, 11 percent below league-average.
The Twins go into this series about as beat up as the Yankees. Center fielder Byron Buxton is out for the year, as are relievers Sam Dyson and Sean Poppen.
Infielder Luis Arráez suffered an ankle sprain last weekend and is questionable for this series. Meanwhile, outfielder Max Kepler (shoulder) and utility men Marwin Gonzalez (oblique) and Ehire Adrianza (oblique) should be able to play despite their respective ailments marring their past two weeks.
History has its eyes on the Yankees and Twins.
Minnesota earned its first playoff berth since losing the 2017 Wild Card Game and first division title since falling in the 2010 ALDS to the Yankees. The Twins have lost their last 13 postseason games since winning ALDS Game 1 against the Yankees in 2004.
Going into this series, the Yankees are the only team to win a postseason game at Target Field, going 2-0 in 2010.
The 101-season was just the second time the franchise has reached the century mark. The 1965 Twins won 102 games before losing in the World Series to Sandy Koufax and the Dodgers. That series is famous for Koufax missing Game 1 for Yom Kippur and pitching on two-days rest in Game 7.
This Twins team is different, but that doesn’t mean years of postseason failure don’t hang over their fans. The Yankees escaped the 2004 ALDS with some heroics from Alex Rodriguez, then had more of the same in 2009. 2010 brought new characters like Curtis Granderson and Lance Berkman into the fray, but the results were the same.
As for 2017, only nine players remain from the Twins’ Wild Card Game roster, though Miguel Sano was a big contributor who was left off for the game. The Yankees will likely only have 11 players in common from that WCG on their 2019 ALDS roster.
- Mitch Garver, C (.273/.365/.630, 155 wRC+)
- Jorge Polanco, SS (.295/.356/.485, 119 wRC+)
- Nelson Cruz, DH (.311/.392/.639, 163 wRC+)
- Eddie Rosario, LF (.276/.300/.500, 103 wRC+)
- Miguel Sanó, 3B (.247/.346/.576, 137 wRC+)
- Max Kepler, CF (.252/.336/.519, 121 wRC+)
- C.J. Cron, 1B (.253/.311/.469, 101 wRC+)
- Marwin Gonzalez, RF (.264/.322/.414, 93 wRC+)
- Luis Arráez, 2B (.334/.399/.439, 125 wRC+)
This lineup is subject to change depending on the opposing starter, with Kepler potential moving into the leadoff spot, and 2B Jonathan Schoop (103 wRC+) or OF Jake Cave (113 wRC+) potentially taking a lineup spot. Arráez, if healthy, is the guy you’re going to irrationally hate by the end of the series.
Elsewhere on the bench, the Twins will likely have backup catcher Jason Castro (103 wRC+) and maybe catcher/utility man/El Tortuga himself Willians Astudillo (76 wRC+) with infielder Ehire Adrianza (102 wRC+) and one of Cave/Ryan LaMarre/LaMonte Wade Jr. rounding out the crew.
Possible Pitching Matchups
October 4 (7:07 p.m.) Game 1: James Paxton (vs. Twins) against José Berríos (vs. Yankees)
October 5 (5:07 p.m.) Game 2: Luis Severino (vs. Twins) against Jake Odorizzi (vs. Yankees)
October 7 (TBD) Game 3: Masahiro Tanaka (vs. Twins) against TBD
October 8 (TBD) Game 4: Opener/J.A. Happ (vs. Twins) against TBD
October 10 (TBD) Game 5: TBD
For the Twins’ TBD starters, both games could turn into primarily bullpen games, but the team has a few options, namely veteran lefty Martín Pérez or rookies Randy Dobnak and Devin Smeltzer. A PED suspension for Michael Pineda set the team’s rotation depth back.
One of the Twins’ strengths is their bullpen, as Derek detailed yesterday. Here’s the 12 pitchers in the running for their pitching staff beyond the top-two starters:
RHP: Randy Dobnak, Tyler Duffey, Kyle Gibson, Brusdar Graterol, Ryne Harper, Zack Littell, Trevor May, Sergio Romo, Lewis Thorpe
LHP: Martín Pérez, Taylor Rogers, Devin Smeltzer
Among pitchers on the active potential roster, here’s the top four in leverage index when entering a game:
Taylor Rogers, 1.81
Sergio Romo, 1.46
Lewis Thorpe, 1.14
Trevor May, 1.10
Rogers, the lone lefty full-time reliever, is the team’s closer, excelling across 69 innings this year. Beyond him, it’s primarily right-hander pitchers with Romo, Duffey and May as key setup men. Harper has been effective in middle relief while Littell has been dynamite in long relief/low-leverage.
Two interesting pitchers will be Stashak and Graterol, provided they both make the roster. Graterol is a top-100 prospect with a 100+ mph fastball and has just 9 2/3 innings of experience at the MLB level. Meanwhile, Stashak has stood out in 23 frames, particularly for his minuscule walk rate.
For bulk outings, Perez, Dobnak and Smeltzer are the primary candidates. Gibson, who was a starter for most of the year, dealt with ulcerative colitis and missed enough time/lost enough of his stuff that he’s been converted to a short relief role.