Starting on Tuesday at Target Field, Minnesota Twins and Toronto Blue Jays will square off in an American League Wild Card Round series that spans three games.
The Minnesota Twins won the American League Central to secure themselves as the 3-seed in the AL postseason field, while the Toronto Blue Jays sneaked into it as the 6-seed through Sunday’s loss to the Rays.
FanDuel opened with the Twins as a -144 favorite to advance to the ALDS, while road Blue Jays are +118 underdogs.
The Twins will probably be overlooked coming into the playoffs because they won the worst division in MLB. Minnesota has been the best team in the AL Central all year and was really never in doubt of eventually claiming the division title. As a result, the Twins haven’t been in a competitive race and never pushed into the upper echelon of the AL to garner media attention.
Last season, injuries derailed Minnesota’s season. But now, the Twins have as much pitching and hitting depth as anyone in the American League.
No one knows for sure whether Byron Buxton will make the playoff roster, but Minnesota could use his power. Their lineup is often marked by high strikeout rates and low barrel rates; but with plenty of position players like Matt Wallner, Edouard Julien and Royce Lewis having exceptional rookie years complemented by Carlos Correa, Jorge Polanco and Max Kepler they may well benefit.
Joey Gallo may return for the playoffs. His presence provides Jordan Luplow with a natural platoon partner; while Rocco Baldelli can choose among a multitude of position players to create his ideal lineups from day to day.
On one hand, Minnesota could be hurt by its insufficient balls in play; historically, teams that strike out less tend to do better in playoffs. On the other hand, homers against elite pitchers is where Minnesota excels – it has done so more often than any other AL team this season.
No team in the American League boasts a stronger 1-2-3 than Minnesota with Pablo Lopez, Joe Ryan, and Sonny Gray as its frontline pitchers. Given injuries in Texas and Baltimore as well as uncertainty regarding the Rays and Astro’s No. 3 pitchers, Minnesota can pitch effectively against almost anyone.
If the Twins find themselves in an extended series, Kenta Maeda could serve as another viable starting option, while Bailey Ober could act as a strike-throwing bat as part of their rotation.
Jhoan Duran can throw more than one inning if necessary, providing Rocco Baldelli with another tool in his effort to cobble together an inconsistent bullpen. While their Stuff+ metrics show them off as having been effective, actual performances vary considerably more in practice.
Chris Paddack stands out as the primary player to watch after returning from Tommy John surgery as a reliever and is throwing harder than ever, maxing out for short stints to maximize velocity. His stuff is exceptional, and could become an effective two-inning fireman with proper command.
Baldelli knows it can be challenging to trust his bullpen, so he has many solutions at his disposal to find outs.
Playing in what was widely considered the toughest division in baseball for much of 2023, the Blue Jays spent only one day leading their division – though they remained competitive enough in most months except May – and maintained an edge-out wild card position throughout.
This team has come a long way thanks to a fantastic pitching staff. Their lineup boasts considerable talent; however, inconsistency has prevented Toronto from reaching its full potential.
Toronto managed to sneak into the top 10 in wRC+, but is a very flawed offensive unit. Their 19th-place finish in Isolated Power indicates they had one of the lowest strikeout rates and yet did very little when making contact.
Kevin Kiermaier has taken back his starting outfield position now that Brandon Belt has returned from injury and been activated. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette remain key contributors, but Guerrero Jr. experienced an off-year with 26 homers and an 117 OPS+.
Toronto faces an almost insurmountable decision when selecting which starters will go into its bullpen this fall. Each of their five arms has posted an ERA of 3.82 or better; Kevin Gausman and Chris Bassitt particularly stood out this season with a strong strikeout and quality-of-contact numbers; Jose Berrios was another strong performer with a better strikeout and quality-of-contact numbers; but due to both Gausman and Bassitt being right-handed pitchers, Toronto may opt to start Hyun-Jin Ryu at least once this fall.
Toronto’s bullpen has been dominant all season and ranks in the top 10 in ERA and the top five in xFIP. Jordan Romano established himself as one of the top high-leverage arms in the AL, and the additions of Genesis Cabrera and Jordan Hicks have been massive considering both have posted sub-three ERAs since coming over from St. Louis.
This already-elite bullpen should get stronger given how well the members of this rotation have pitched, and don’t sleep on veteran Chad Green either, who should help out the back-end of this unit with his postseason experience.
I like the small upset here, I think the Twins will have bullpen issues and the Blue Jays are the better team.
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