Major League Baseball’s regular season is a grueling 162-game schedule that allows for ebbs and flows from one portion of the season to the next. The postseason is an entirely different scenario where one moment can change the entire outcome of a series. There is little room for mistakes in the heightened playoff atmosphere, which makes it tough to predict what will happen on baseball’s biggest stage. However, here’s the roadmap for the Twins to follow if everything goes perfectly in the Wild Card Series.
Wild Card Series: Game 1
Tuesday, October 3rd, 2023
Innings 1-5: Pablo Lopez has pitched into the sixth inning or longer in 26 of his 31 starts. However, the playoffs are a different animal, and the Twins won’t want him facing a line-up for the third time. Lopez has actually fared better against batters when facing them for a third time, with an OPS over 100 points lower than the first or second time he sees a batter in a game. Even with his performance, it’s likely that Lopez will be asked to pitch through the fifth frame and then turn things over to the bullpen.
Innings 6-7: In the middle innings, the Twins will have a few options, but Louie Varland might be the best choice. His stuff has been electric in transitioning to the bullpen while hitting triple-digits with his fastball and mixing in a devastating cutter. Contact against him has been weak, and he has been missing a lot of bats. He also has the potential to pitch more than one inning if the Twins need him for that role.
Innings 8-9: The Twins will have a couple of options depending on the handedness of the line-up they are facing. I predict the opposition has some lefties due up in the eighth, and the Twins will turn to Caleb Thielbar. During the 2023 season, he has limited left-handed batters to a .348 OPS with 13 strikeouts in 46 at-bats. In this scenario, Jhoan Duran is ready if needed for the end of the eighth inning, but the team hopes he can enter with a clean frame in the ninth. Duran closes it out for the Twins’ first playoff win since 2004.
Wild Card Series: Game 2
Wednesday, October 4th, 2023
Innings 1-5: The Twins will ask their starter to pitch five innings for the second consecutive day, and Sonny Gray is up to the task. His second-half performance should place him in the top three for the AL Cy Young. Like Lopez in Game 1, the Twins will happily get Gray through the first five frames before the bullpen makes an appearance. Gray has posted a .209/.294/.342 (.636) slashline when facing batters for the third time in a game this season. No team wants to mess around with a winner-take-all Game 3, so Gray must put up zeros during the first two times through the opposition’s line-up.
Innings 6-7: Minnesota can turn to multiple arms in the middle innings to build a bridge to the high-leverage options. Chris Paddack and Griffin Jax will each be asked to get three outs. Paddack is 16 months removed from Tommy John surgery, and his pitch mix has looked great in his rehab appearances. Jax’s season has been a roller coaster ride, but the team must trust him to make an October run.
Innings 8-9: With six outs remaining, the Twins might want Duran to pitch two frames. However, that doesn’t seem likely if he pitched the previous day, so the team will save him for the ninth. Batters have posted a .747 OPS against Duran when he pitches with zero days of rest, which is over 100 points higher than his OPS for the season. Brock Stewart will get the ball in the eighth after being one of the team’s best relievers this season. The Twins will put him in some tough spots, hoping the dominant reliever has enough left in his right arm. Duran makes his famous walk-in entrance, and the Twins shut the door on their first playoff series win since 2002.
What pitching plan will the Twins follow in the Wild Card Series? Do you agree with the plan described above? How would you map out a plan for Game 3? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.