Okay, I admit that I'm counting my chickens before they've hatched, I'm putting the horse before the cart, and whatever other cliche you'd like to use to describe that I'm discussing a scenario before the Twins have even clinched a playoff spot. However, it's been a thought that I've had trouble determining for a while now.
I think it's pretty much a given that if the Twins do clinch the second Wild Card spot, they will have to travel to New York to face the dreaded Yankees once again, because of course. With a short right field porch and plenty of lefthanded hitters, sending a righthanded pitcher seems like a death sentence. The lone lefthander in the rotation right now is Tommy Milone, who has pitched just fine for the Twins this year. However, just fine most likely won't cut it in a must-win game, and on top of that Milone is now dealing with a sore shoulder. Yeah, losing velocity when lobbing 86 MPH fastballs is already your bread and butter isn't very promising.
That means you have to look at your available righthanders. Last year, Phil Hughes would have been a lock to start. However, he's barely pitched since coming off the disabled list (1 relief appearance and a 3-inning start) after being pretty bad this whole year, so he's not really a candidate to be used. Ervin Santana is also out thanks to his PED suspension making him ineligible for the playoffs, and he's been pretty streaky anyway so you won't know if you're getting Good Ervin or Bad Ervin until he's either tossed 7 innings with 8 strikeouts or he's served up 2 home runs over 4 innings.
That means the two pretty obvious options would be looking at Mike Pelfrey or Kyle Gibson. Pelfrey hasn't been spectacular but he's pretty much been this year's version of 2013 Kevin Correia, a guy that we complained about all season long only to see in October, "Oh, he had a low-4 ERA? Really?" An argument in Pelfrey's favor is that he's had some pretty solid control and he doesn't give up many extra base hits (he's allowed an isolated power of .113 when the major league average is .150) so he theoretically would keep the ball in the park if he were to face the Yankees. Yet at the same time he could easily bleed to death with allowing single after single, and though it doesn't affect his performance on the mound, he's basically unwatchable thanks to being a human rain delay on the mound.
As for Gibson, I think he's got to be the best option right now. He gets grounders, doesn't allow many extra base hits (ISO allowed of .128), allows fewer hits than Pelfrey, and has found his strikeout pitch over the second half of the season. He's not dominant, but if he were thrown to the wolves in early October, he should be able to hold his own.
But, what if I said there was a dark horse candidate? No, not Jose Berrios, though that would be a hell of a story if he were summoned a full month after his season ended just to pitch one more game. Instead, I'm looking at Tyler Duffey. For as good as Gibson has been, Duffey has been even better. He easily has the best strikeout rate on the team, he's allowed only one home run since his disaster debut in Toronto and has minimized the extra base hits (.123 ISO allowed), and he appears to have the intensity that you'd want out of a starter in a do-or-die situation. Statistically he's been the best Twins starter since his call-up, and there's only two things stopping him from taking the mound against the Yankees: He's a rookie and he's approaching an innings limit. Already near 184 innings, he would need to have his innings limited to avoid hitting 200 for the season. It's tough for the Twins to shut him down when he's pitched so well, so this would be an interesting story to follow over the final two weeks.
Below I've included a table with the stat lines for the most likely starting options for the Twins were they to clinch the second Wild Card spot. Who do you think will be the starter for the Twins? Would you take a gamble on Duffey?