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2020 AL Wild Card Series Preview: Houston Astros @ Minnesota Twins

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The Astros (6 Seed) will see if the Twins (3 seed) are really “Minnesota Nice” in the inaugural AL Wild Card Series

MLB: Houston Astros at Minnesota Twins Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Twins Quick Notes

The Narrative

For the second time in as many seasons the Twins have captured the AL Central crown, and are now looking to snap what is a currently a 16-game playoff losing streak. All 10 of their most recent losses came at the hands of the New York Yankees, so I’m sure that Minnesotans are happy to see them face off against a different opponent.

The Twins got here after a season where they had to deal with injuries piling up on a lineup that was more than elite last season. Luckily, their pitching really stepped up, especially after the team went out and shored it up with some key offseason pickups.

The Twins will try to build on what’s been a season of home field advantage as they play a best of three at Target Field. Minnesota is 24-7 at home in 2020, a stadium where the Astros are 11-12 lifetime. The Twins came within one win of setting a record for home winning percentage this season.

The Offense

Minnesota’s offense has been stymied this season thanks to injuries that have kept them from fielding the full “Bomba Squad” in almost two months. They have also seen underperformances from Jorge Polanco and Mitch Garver in the shortened season. Polanco remains a hard player to strikeout even with the diminished performance.

At the moment both Byron Buxton (head contusion, mild concussion symptoms) and Josh Donaldson (right calf cramp) are day to day after exiting last Friday’s game early. Buxton is expected to be ready for the series and the Twins will need his offense, which includes a career-best wRC+ of 118 in 2020. For Donaldson, this injury is a reoccurring issue after spending a month on the IL with a strained right calf earlier in the year.

Though not as much as in 2019, the Twins’ lineup still features a lot of pop, with Nelson Cruz and Miguel Sano both providing a big chunk of that. Cruz, even at 40, mashed 16 home runs in 214 plate appearances this season. He was also in the 88th percentile in the league for exit velocity and leads the team with a .992 OPS. That exit velo doesn’t keep up with Sano though, who was in the 100th percentile for 2020, though his .204 average did leave something to be desired.

Eddie Rosario also had a productive season and remains a hard guy to strikeout. Rosario proved himself to be clutch at the plate with players on base by driving in 42 runs, which leads the team by a good margin. He was also constant, playing in 57 games during a year when the Twins suffered a lot of instability thanks to injury.

Luis Arraez has also been good for the Twins this season, but he has also been on the IL for chunks of the season. He looked ready to play in his return on Saturday though, going 6-for-8 with four doubles to finish the year.

The Bullpen

The Twins’ bullpen has been one of the best in the league this season, though you may not have really heard too much about them. Relievers for Minnesota are 6th in MLB with a collective 3.62 ERA. They also rank third with a 3.3 collective WAR.

The bullpen doesn’t really have a definitive closer, though Tyler Duffey seems to be manager Rocco Baldelli’s choice for high leverage situations. Baldelli has also turned to Taylor Rogers and Sergio Romo when he needs to get difficult outs, but both of those players have struggled in recent games. Taylor Rogers was the team’s previous closer in 2019.

Old friend Tyler Clippard joins Cody Stashak, Trevor May, and surprise waiver-wire pickup Matt Wisler as the middle relievers in the group. Clippard and Wisler have the better stats though, both with ERA’s below 3. Clippard has been a workhorse for the Twins, appearing in a third of their games this season.

Caleb Thielbar and former Astros farmhand Jorge Alcala round out the Twins’ bullpen.

The Starters

In case you though we might escape the “Poor Dodgers cheated by the Astros” narrative for the playoffs, don’t worry! Kenta Maeda, who was part of the 2017 World Series team for LA will be Minnesota’s Game One starter and “looking for revenge.” Maeda became a Twin in the offseason and was offered the opportunity to start full time, and he has really taken advantage of that chance. He finished the season with the best WHIP (0.75) among qualified pitchers, and is the owner of a 2.70 ERA and 80 strikeouts. This is his first playoff start since 2016.

The Twins have announced Jose Berrios as the Game Two starter. Berrios has not had much luck in the playoffs, though it is a small sample size with just two outings under his belt. He has allowed six runs in those outings though, both of which came at the hands of the Yankees. The right hander finished the season with a 4.00 ERA, though looked good down the stretch with a 3.00 mark in his final five starts.

Michael Pineda will be tapped for Game Three if the series makes it that far. The big righty will make his postseason debut if / when he sees a start this year. He has been consistent with the Twins as a starter, having surrendered three or fewer earned runs in 23 of his 25 starts, going back to last year. Pineda began the season serving a suspension after testing positive for a banned diuretic last year.

For Your Viewing and Listening Pleasure

Game 1: Tuesday, September 29th @ 1:00 pm CDT
Listen: Astros - ESPN Radio, La Ranchera 101.7 FM/850 AM / Twins - WCCO 830, TIBN, ESPN Radio, twinsbeisbol.com
Watch: ABC

Game 2: Wednesday, September 30th @ 12:00 pm CDT
Listen: Astros - ESPN Radio, La Ranchera 101.7 FM/850 AM / Twins - WCCO 830, TIBN, ESPN Radio, twinsbeisbol.com
Watch: ESPN2

Game 3 (if necessary): Thursday, October 1st @ TBD
Listen: Astros - ESPN Radio, La Ranchera 101.7 FM/850 AM / Twins - WCCO 830, The Wolf 102.9 FM, TIBN, ESPN Radio, twinsbeisbol.com
Watch: ESPN

Poll

Who wins this series?

This poll is closed

  • 14%
    Astros Sweep 2-0
    (23 votes)
  • 30%
    Astros Win 2-1
    (47 votes)
  • 34%
    Twins Win 2-1
    (54 votes)
  • 20%
    Twins Sweep 3-0
    (32 votes)
156 votes total Vote Now