With eight games remaining in the season, the Twins magic number is down to five. What that means is that any combination of Twins wins and/or Cleveland losses totalling five will clinch the AL Central crown for the Bomba Squad. Assuming the Twins can clinch the division, they will enter the playoffs as the third seed in the American League.
Being the third seed means playing the second seed, which will be either the Houston Astros or the New York Yankees. Both teams are good, although they have very different strengths. Right now, the Astros hold the number one seed, at 101-53, but the Yankees are right behind them at 100-55, and have time to catch up. The Twins, at 95-59, are unlikely to pass either of these teams, and seem safely locked in the third position. Whichever team ends up in first will play the winner of the wild card play-in game.
If the Twins play the Yankees, the Bomba will rule the day. Yankee Stadium part three was built with such a short right field porch that it should have been illegal (I’ve had this exact conversation with a Yankee fan, and he claimed “tradition” or some such.) As the Twins and Yankees have been both setting dinger records this season, and neither team has much of a shutdown staff, expect a series between the two to be very offense-heavy. Yankee’s Manager Aaron Boone has been non-committal about his playoff rotation, but has suggested that James Paxton is the only pitcher who will be used as a traditional starter, and the Bombers will rely on a combination of piggybacking starters and bullpenning to get through the rest of their games. Domingo German will not play again this season, and is currently under league investigation for domestic violence (note: this topic is not up for debate in the comments.) That leaves them with the ancient C.C. Sabathia, inconsistent Luis Severino and very hittable Masahiro Tanaka and J.A. Happ. Expect to see at least two or three of them start in a playoff series, and the rest pitch a few innings as well. New York’s bullpen is formidable, but not unhittable. I wouldn’t be surprised if every game between these two teams ended up with double-digit run totals. The Twins are 2-4 against the Yanks this season, and last won a playoff game against them in 2004, and have never won a playoff series against the Yankees, in five attempts.
If, on the other hand, the Yankees land in the first seed, the Twins will play the Houston Astros. While the Yankees are a very offensively-oriented team, the Astros have a powerful pitching staff to carry them through the playoffs. Expect to see a rotation of Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Zack Greinke, and Wade Miley. This is by far the best rotation in the playoffs. The Twins, however, have actually taken the season series with Houston, winning four of the seven games between the two squads. These two teams have not faced each other since May though, and a lot has changed in the past few months, through injuries, emerging players, and trade acquisitions. While the Twins have hit a few more bombas, and scored a few more runs, the Astros aren’t slouching either, coming in very close to, or even ahead of Minnesota in most offensive categories. While the Astros don’t have the playoff stigma for Twins fans that the Yankees do, they are probably the team you should most fear facing.
If the Twins did get through one of these teams, they would likely have to face the other. There is however, a small chance that the wildcard winner managed to sneak through. In that case, the Twins wouldn’t face the wildcard team until the ALCS. Right now, Oakland is leading that race, with Tampa and Cleveland tied for the second spot. Facing any of these teams in a championship series would be the unlikely but best-case scenario for the Twins.
Facing the wild card team is also the only way that Target Field would host a playoff game before the World Series. While home field advantage is typically a thing, the Twins have been better on the road this season. They did, however lose the series to both Houston and the Yankees when they were the visitor.
Like we discussed with the Yankees, the Twins also have a rather unsettled rotation right now. Jake Odorizzi and Jose Berrios provide a clear one-two punch, but behind that you find a string of question marks. Kyle Gibson has been inconsistent as he has battled the symptoms of Ulcerative Colitis. He still likely is the third starter the Twins turn to in a playoff scenario. Martin Perez is likely the fourth man, but has also been up-and-down. Had Michael Pineda been available, he has been the Twins best arm since the All Star break, but his suspension makes him ineligible. If the Twins are more comfortable with Perez in a bullpen or piggyback role, Randy Dobnak likely gets the ball. This is also the case if Gibson or another pitcher cannot go due to health reasons. Dobnak has been effective when called upon this season, and might be a key to the rotation next series. He is more likely to join the bullpen for the playoffs. If I were in Rocco Baldelli’s shoes, I would seriously consider letting Perez and Gibson each pitch three or four innings in their start, and follow them with another three or four innings from Zack Littell and/or Dobnak. We know the Twins offense can keep them in the game, as long as their pitchers come out and hold their own.
While we don’t know for sure, these are my best guesses for likely playoff pitching matchups.
Who would you rather face first in the playoffs?
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