Although most conversations are currently dominated by the Chicago White Sox and whether the Twins will be in the Bronx next week, it’s often forgotten that when the Twins advance (see what I did there), the Twins could potentially face any playoff team, not just New York and the AL Central. Although the playoffs are always unpredictable, facing five brand new opponents in a playoff bubble makes it that much more unexpected.
Tampa Bay Rays: Kevin Cash
The Rays have won their first AL East Title in a decade. The Rays have a total payroll of $26.7M dollars, which is less than half the league average of $58.2M. The only teams with a smaller payroll are the non-contending Pittsburgh Pirates and Baltimore Orioles. Their success is largely contributed to the brilliant management of Kevin Cash.
Cash is used to making marvels out of nothing. He rarely puts out the same lineup two days in a row. Twins fans are occasionally frustrated by Rocco Baldelli’s lineup experiments that often mirror Cash’s, but for some reason, it works for Cash. According to the Associated Press, the Tampa Bay Rays became the first major league team in the modern era to start a batting order with all left-handed batters to face the Red Sox righty Andrew Triggs. As a result, Triggs was pulled after the first inning, and the Rays’ offense dominated Boston 11-1.
If the Rays find themselves in a situation in the playoffs, you can expect an unexpected counter from Cash. Cash’s familiarity with Baldelli, who spent 3 years in the Rays’ organization prior to the Twins, can also make any surprises from Baldelli not so surprising to Cash.
New York Yankees: the Bullpen
The 2019 Yankees’ bullpen was unhittable. In last year’s ALDS, the Twins scored a measly 2 runs off of the Yankees’ bullpen. The core of the bullpen saw sub-2 ERA’s across the board, with Tommy Kahnle and Aroldis Chapman leading the pack. This season has been a different story for the Yankees. Zack Britton is currently the only bullpen piece with a sub-3 ERA, and Kahnle is recovering from Tommy John surgery.
Although the backbone of their team is damaged, the signs of life shown by Britton’s return from the IL and better performances overall indicate that it has not collapsed. This bullpen has stopped Minnesota from late inning comebacks in the past, and history suggests that this could happen again in 2020 if the bullpen can kick it into high gear in the playoffs.
Toronto Blue Jays: the New Kids on the Block
The Jays currently have very few homegrown players on their roster, with a lineup primarily consisting of baby bombers and newly acquired pitching pieces. The Jays followed the offseason signings of Hyun-Jin Ryu, Tanner Roark, and Chase Anderson by trading for Robbie Ray, Ross Stripling, and Taijuan Walker. Although the Jays have a 6 man rotation, their pitching has left much to be desired. The Jays currently hold a 4.70 ERA, which puts them at 18th overall in the MLB behind the Royals and Orioles. Anderson and Roark’s ERA have ballooned to 7.00+.
It’s no secret that the Jays’ offense is their biggest weapon. However, Ryu, Roark, Anderson, Ray, Stripling, and Walker have one immeasurable commonality: experience. With the addition of top prospect Nate Pearson to their bullpen, the Jays could look like a brand new team in October. If the new pitchers on the block can live up to their hype in the playoffs, the Twins could be in trouble against Toronto.
Oakland Athletics: Robbie Grossman
Robbie Grossman was having a comeback season prior to September. He’s currently batting .232 with 6 home runs and a .794 OPS. Grossman is hitting only .111 against left-handed pitching. Although his offense makes him one of the less threatening players in Oakland’s lineup, Grossman has always dominated the Minnesota Twins after his departure.
In 2019, Grossman batted .440 against the Twins, with 11 hits and four runs in 25 at bat. His familiarity with the team as well as experience in Petco Park could make Grossman the x factor, once again, against Minnesota.
Houston Astros: the Core Four
The Houston Astros will currently enter the playoffs with the lowest overall record. Maybe it’s karma, maybe it’s all four of Houston’s 2017 World Series’ core of Alex Bregman, Jose Altuve, George Springer, and Carlos Correa collectively having a down year. For the first time in his career, Jose Altuve has a negative war (-0.8) and is batting barely above the Mendoza Line. Alex Bregman has 4 home runs on the year, compared to 37 the year prior. Since his recent IL return, Bregman has batted .122. Before his resurgence in September, Springer had been struggling at the plate, with only 19 hits combined in July and August. While this is the first season in recent memory where Correa hasn’t spent time on the IL, he’s been good but not outstanding at the plate.
Without addressing the elephant in the room, it’s safe to say that all four players’ numbers have come back down to earth in 2020. However, it’s hard to argue against playoff experience. Although the core four haven’t looked the same all year, they can be unstoppable if they start to show signs of life in October. This group brought the Astros back to the World Series last year without, ahem, *help*, and they can do it again.
Who are some other wild cards that you think could affect the Twins’ postseason? Comment below!