The stage is set. The Twins are finally back in a playoff series for the first time since the 2010 ALDS, and are facing a familiar playoff foe, the Yankees. But how familiar are the Yankees for the Twins current roster? Just three players from the Twins lineup in the 2017 AL Wild Card game figure to be in the lineup against the Yankees this postseason, so it’s time to take a fresh look at how these teams matchup in 2019.
To do so, we are going to delve into the potential matchups that might occur throughout this series, which previews to be one of the most interesting in the first round of the MLB playoffs. I’ll be focusing mostly on what the Yankees are bringing to the table, as you probably already know more about what the Twins will trot out starting Friday. I’ll finish each section with a confidence rating on how well I think the Twins match up with the Yankees in each particular area.
Twins lineup vs Yankees starting pitching
The Yankees are actually in a similar spot to the Twins when looking ahead to potential starting pitching. For starters, the Bronx Bombers acquired James Paxton in the offseason and he has produced a 3.82 ERA over 150 innings this season. He will likely be their Game 1 starter, and has produced a 1.69 ERA in his last seven outings. Masahiro Tanaka has pitched the most innings for the Yanks at 182.1, but inconsistency led him to a 4.55 ERA for the season. After those two, it has been veteran lefties CC Sabathia and J.A. Happ but neither has been especially effective this year with ERA’s near five. Similar to the Twins, the Yankees lost one of the best starting options when Domingo German received a suspension, though his was related to a domestic abuse incident. They also got talented young righty Luis Severino back in the mix recently, but he has yet to throw more than 80 pitches in an outing and has made just three appearances.
So what will the Yankees roll out for starting pitching and how do the Twins match up? It looks like Paxton will likely start the first game, followed likely by Tanaka and Severino in games two and three. There’s a chance they also have J.A. Happ as a bulk pitcher as well, as they would likely use an opener for him and probably wouldn’t throw him until the fourth game. It’s likely that with Happ (and probably Severino) that the bullpen pitches over half the game for the Yanks.
Paxton has good career numbers against the Twins, throwing 31.2 innings with a 2.27 ERA, 1.07 WHIP and 39 strikeouts. However, most of those innings were pitched against other Twins squads, and just three Twins have more than eight at-bats against Paxton. The lefty left his last outing after one inning due to some tightness in his glute, and the Twins have the lineup to absolutely mash left-handers. The bomba squad led the majors with a .872 OPS against southpaws in 2019, which will certainly be an advantage to the Twins against Paxton and Happ. Happ has traditionally struggled against the Twins as well, with a career 5.81 ERA against Minnesota.
Severino also has had troubles against the Twins, as he has given up seven runs in nine innings pitched (including a disastrous outing the 2017 Wild Card game). While he looked great in a five inning start recently allowing no runs and striking out nine against the Blue Jays, he also walked four over three innings and gave up two runs to Rangers in his most recent outing. Tanka has pitched very well against the Twins in his career with a 2.27 ERA over 35.2 innings, but didn’t face the Bomba Squad once this year. The home run ball has been his kryptonite, as he has given up the fifth most HRs since 2017 with 89 (J.A. Happ actually ranks tied for ninth with 80).
Confidence Rating: 8. I know this is pretty high, but with two of the pitchers being lefties and Severino and Tanaka being far from a sure thing to throw more than a few quality innings, I think the Twins have a major advantage here. I believe that this is where the Twins will have the best chance to win the series. If they can exploit the Yankees starters and get to them early and often, then they will have a chance to build leads as well as limit the options coming out of the Yankees bullpen.
Twins Rotation vs Yankees lineup
Early rumblings are that Jose Berrios will be the Twins game one starter. Berrios may then be followed by Randy Dobnak/bullpen game or Jake Odorizzi for games two and three. Don’t expect anyone other than Berrios and Odorizzi and maybe Dobnak to go more than four innings in a start. There’s a small chance Devin Smeltzer gets used a longer innings role, but that seems unlikely due to the Yankees lineup.
The Yankees, like the Twins, have mashed lefties this season. The good thing for the Twins is that they won’t be sending any lefties to the hill as a starting pitcher. While New York is still good against right-handers, they rank just seventh in the MLB with a .798 OPS against righties since August (much better than their league-leading .979 OPS against left-handers in the same timespan).
It’s about the right-handed bats for the Yankees. Gary Sanchez, Aaron Judge, Gleyber Torres, Edwin Encarnacion, Giancarlo Stanton, and DJ Lemahieu are all guys that can mash from the right side. Gio Urshela, Clint Frazier, and Luke Voit are three lesser known guys that have been nearly as good, all right-handed batters. However, none of the players have faced Berrios more than seven times besides Encarnacion, and he has just a .611 OPS against the young Puerto Rican.
Jake Odorizzi has pitched 99.1 innings against the Yankees in his career, sporting a 4.71 ERA and 1.19 WHIP. Their projected playoff roster features seven players with 10+ at-bats against Odo, some really struggling (Didi Gregorius: .434 OPS), while others have had success (Giancarlo Stanton: 1.000 OPS). After Berrios and Odorizzi it will be Dobnak and then the bullpen, so those two will need to find a way to pitch somewhat deep into games and navigate a tricky Yanks lineup.
Confidence Rating: 3. The Yankees lineup is just about as powerful as the Twins, but some of their producers such as a Gleyber Torres, Luke Voit, Gio Urshela, and DJ Lemahieu haven’t been quite as good down the stretch. The Twins reliance on two starters (neither whom have proven to be consistent) is a huge question mark. Runs will likely be scored early and often in this series.
Twins lineup vs the Yankees bullpen
There’s no getting around the fact that the Yankees have one of the best bullpens in baseball, a great strength to have in the postseason. Their relievers rank third in the MLB in K/9, ninth in ERA, and second in WAR at 7.5. Aroldis Chapman has been dominant this year with a 2.21 ERA and a 13.4 K/9 and Zach Britton and Adam Ottavino have both posted ERAs below two in over sixty innings pitched apiece. Tommy Kahnle and Chad Green don’t have quite as pretty numbers with 3.67 and 4.17 ERAs respectively, but are hard-throwing right-handers with good stuff. I wouldn’t expect the Yankees to give many meaningful innings out of the bullpen to anyone other than those five.
But again, the matchup says that the Twins just might be able to have some success against a stacked Yankee bullpen. With two of their top three relievers as southpaws, the Twins lineup is likely primed for a couple of big spot chances to continue mashing lefties in the postseason. The Twins have shown some late game chops with the sixth-best OPS in baseball this season in the seventh inning or later.
Confidence Rating: 5. It hard to give a below average confidence rating to the Twins lineup against any unit, but the Yankees bullpen nearly warrants such a mark. With five pitchers that pour in gas along with a bevy of good breaking balls, it will be in the Twins best interest to do damage earlier in the games against the Bronx Bombers starters.
Twins bullpen vs the Yankees lineup
What was once thought of as the Twins biggest weakness has become one of their bigger strengths. Since the start of August, the Twins bullpen has held opponents to a sub .700 OPS in the seventh inning or later, and most of the heavy lifting has come from new names and faces. Sergio Romo has been a dependable addition while Tyler Duffey has been nearly unstoppable with 26 straight scoreless appearances. Zack Littell has given up earned runs in just two of his last 27 outings and Brusdar Graterol has shown potential of being a weapon out of the bullpen. Taylor Rogers has been solid all year long and will hopefully continue that trend in the postseason.
But all of the previous statements about the Yankees lineup are still true. They still have the potential to mash in the postseason, and it doesn’t help that the Twins best relievers is a lefty that will be going against a righty-heavy gauntlet of hitters. The Twins are going to need Romo and Duffey to step up big time and will likely need productive innings form guys like May, Littel, and Graterol to win this series.
Confidence Rating: 4. Just looking purely at the numbers of the Twins relievers, this might seem just a tad low. However, the inexperience of the group makes me a bit more nervous about going up against the Pinstripes powerful bunch. Time to see if the Wes Johnson magic works in the postseason as well.
How confident are you in the Twins various units going into the battle against the Bronx Bombers? Feel free to give your own confidence ratings and let us know in the comments section below!