First Pitch: 3:45 pm CDT
TV: FS1 / ~ / Radio: TIBN
I’m reminded of a lot of quotes regarding unexpected success. “I don’t know what to do with my hands”; “I don’t know, I never thought I’d get this far”; “I’m a dog chasing cars... I wouldn’t know what to do with one if I caught it!”
The Minnesota Twins have won their first playoff series since 2002. While that victory led them into the American League Championship Series, the contemporary landscape of playoff baseball means Minnesota’s Wild Card Series win has dumped them right back into the ALDS, where they spent so many years getting swept by the New York Yankees.
The Astros have basically had the opposite October experience to the Twins. They’ve made the American League Championship Series in every year since 2017, a remarkable stretch that’s included four World Series appearances, two* World Series championships, and a plethora of postseason experience for their core, which — as we know — once included Carlos Correa.
It’s notable that since Houston’s two-game 2020 sweep of Minnesota took place at Target Field, the Twins have not traveled to a postseason venue that wasn’t Yankee Stadium since 2006. For this team, Minute Maid Park is a brand-new October battleground, and it’s one that’s been weather-tested over the past six dynastic seasons for Houston.
Also notable regarding 2006 — that was the rookie season of tonight’s starting pitcher, future Hall of Famer Justin Verlander.
We know him from his years within the division, and we know him from the career twilight that’s featured a second-place Cy Young finish in 2018, a Cy Young win in 2019, a Tommy John surgery at age 37, then a Cy Young win last year after posting a 1.75 ERA at the age of 39. Verlander is a menace, an old-school workhorse with nine All-Star apperances, an MVP, and two rings with Houston.
Traded midseason from the New York Mets back to Houston, Verlander is looking to polish off his 8-1 career ALDS record and add to a historic resume.
His counterpart, after some discussion, is Bailey Ober.
The Game One starter was unclear throughout the week; Minnesota sweeping the Jays meant a third pitcher didn’t need to be burned in the Wild Card round. Would it be Joe Ryan? Ober? Kenta Maeda? Some sort of bullpen-piggyback between the three? Emilio Pagan as opener?
The short-term questions have been answered. Bailey Ober will have the ball in Game One, with an as-yet-undetermined leash. In doing so, the Twins ensure Pablo Lopez and Sonny Gray get the ball back for Games Two and Three, with Pablo lined up to start a potential Game Five should the series return from Houston after it departs tomorrow night.
Ober takes Kody Funderburk’s spot on the playoff roster.
From the lineup perspective, there’s a ton to keep an eye on. Royce Lewis will be coming into this series having earned a little national notoriety. Carlos Correa is facing the team that made him famous. The home lineup still includes Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, the dominant Yordan Alvarez, and a host of other names you’ll know and fear the second they stride into the box.
So, with a clean slate and the world watching, the Twins kick off their first second playoff series in more than 20 years. The 2-0 record is erased, and both Minnesota and Houston start from zero in a best-of-five series to determine who faces the winner of the Texas/Baltimore matchup.
With that, I hand you off to the dulcet tones of A.J. Pierzynski.
GO TWINS GO!