Charting A Twins Playoff Rotation
Image courtesy of Rick Osentoski, USA TodayAs long as the Twins avoid total collapse in the final week, they will be able to wrap up a pretty cool distinction as the first team ever to qualify for the postseason one year after losing 100-plus games.
But while it would technically count as a playoff appearance, the Twins won't really be in it unless they can win that Wild Card game against New York and make the ALDS.
It's been as evident in head-to-head match-ups as it is in the overall records: The Twins are not as good as the Yankees, nor any of the three other American League playoff teams. (Yet.) But as mentioned above, the one-game Wild Card format is ripe for upsets and even in the sample of a short playoff series, a lesser club can sometimes emerge.
All it takes is a few well-timed hits and some good pitching performances. We know the lineup is capable of producing the former, but they will be facing very tough assignments. So the emphasis will be on the arms, as it often is in October.
With this in mind, let's map out the Twins starters for the remaining six games of the regular season and into the playoffs. Based on La Velle's report that Paul Molitor has Bartolo Colon, Adalberto Mejia and Ervin Santana lined up to go in Cleveland this week, here's how I foresee the rotation playing out for the rest of the regular season, then in to a Wild Card game and hypothetical ALDS:
@CLE 9/26: Colon
@CLE 9/27: Mejia
@CLE 9/28: Santana
DET 9/29: Gibson
DET 9/30: Berrios
DET 10/1: Colon
AL WC 10/3: Santana
ALDS G1 10/5: Gibson
ALDS G2 10/6: Berrios
ALDS G3 10/8: Santana
You're welcome to share your thoughts on this layout in the comments below. Here are a few things that stick out to me:
Game 1 Gibby
We can talk about how ridiculous it seems, or how horribly overmatched he will be against Corey Kluber or Justin Verlander, but we should also acknowledge how incredible this is.
Kyle Gibson was one of the league's worst starting pitchers during the first half. He spent time in Triple-A in May, and produced only two quality starts in the first three months. His ERA was above 6 most of the summer, and as late as mid-August. But Gibby has been a different man in his last seven turns, guiding to the team to seven victories.
Granted, he has gotten plenty of offensive support during that span, but the righty has also just pitched really well. He has gone at least six innings every time out, posting a 2.56 ERA and holding opponents to a .236 average (they hit .308 against him in his first 21 starts).
Things are clearly clicking for the 29-year-old. I theorized at the end of August his wholesale mechanical adjustments might finally be gelling, and the theory remains plausible after five more convincing starts in September. With Ervin Santana being needed for the WC play-in, Gibson is a fairly easy choice for Game 1 in the event of an ALDS berth.
The more pressing question is whether Molitor would call on Gibson again for Game 4 on three days' rest. Which leads us to another matter:
Not so long ago, the idea of rounding out a four-man playoff rotation with Bartolo Colon (hold your jokes please) would have seemed reasonable enough. He had a 3.94 ERA through 10 starts with the Twins, and was pitching deep into almost every game. Plus, he's got more experience than anyone in the game, and the big stage is not unfamiliar to him – he's made 10 postseason starts and has generally been up to the task (3.49 ERA).
But lately Colon has appeared cooked, as though the magic that buoyed him through an initial resurgence with Minnesota has run dry. He has allowed 16 earned runs over 11 innings in his past three starts, delivering non-competitive efforts in Kansas City and New York.
I'm not sure you could really justify starting him against the high-octane Astros or Indians, even if you had a series lead and the alternative was Gibson on short rest. And if you can't start him, is there really a reason to have Colon on the postseason roster?
Wondering About Workloads
Santana went over 200 innings in his last start, and if he throws five against Cleveland on Thursday he'll finish at 211 for the campaign. That's his highest total since 2013, so it's worth pondering how his arm will hold up going into October. The Twins could ask him to pitch three if they win the Wild Card and push the ALDS to five games. Erv has looked as sharp as ever his last three times out – including a very impressive outing against the Yanks – so there's seemingly not much cause for concern.
Jose Berrios is another case. He's an intriguing piece in this equation because if he's on his game, he might give Minnesota the best chance of anyone for a dominating, shut-down performance. But Berrios has been rather inconsistent at this late stage of the season and it might owe to his career-high workload. Between Triple-A and the majors, he's currently at 179 innings, which is 10 more than last year's benchmark. The 23-year-old's velocity is holding up well into late September (he averaged 94.58 MPH with the heater in his last turn, per Brooks Baseball) but his command has gone amiss of late.
You could make a case for him in Game 1 but I think Molitor is wise to shield him a bit at this point.
What are your thoughts? Do you think a playoff rotation would, or should, shake out differently? And isn't it wild that we're talking about this? Sound off in the comments.
- Mike Frasier Law, bluechipper and DelusionalTwinsFan like this