On Wednesday we wrote about the Twins' chances of chasing down the best record in the American League. Those chances are low, and it's far more likely that the Twins win the Central Division and open the playoffs on the road against the Yankees or Astros.
If the playoffs started today (Thursday, Sept. 5), the American League postseason would feature the following matchups:
- Wild Card: Rays vs. Athletics or Indians
- ALDS: Yankees vs. Wild Card winner
- ALDS: Astros vs. Twins
Basically, if the Twins win the Central they'll face the No. 2 team in the American League Divisional Series (ALDS). The Yankees currently lead the Astros by 1.5 games for the best record in the AL, but that could just as easily end in reverse order.
So which team is a better matchup for the Twins in the playoffs, the Yankees or Astros? We're going to approach this as if there isn't a lengthy history of the Yankees pummeling the Twins in the postseason and instead look at it from how things have gone this season.
- Record: 90-50
- Runs: 773 (4th in AL)
- Runs allowed: 559 (3rd in AL)
- Home runs: 234 (3rd in AL)
- Home record: 51-17
- Road record: 39-33
Pitching power: Starting pitching trio of Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole and Zack Greinke and the third-ranked bullpen in the AL.
Verlander, Cole and Greinke are All-Stars, but they can be beaten by the long ball. Verlander and Cole, who are ranked 1-2 in strikeouts and ERA in the AL, also are among the AL leaders in home runs allowed. Verlander has given up 33 (2nd most) dingers and Cole has served up 26.
The Twins lead the majors with a record 272 homers, but Cole shut them down earlier this year to the tune of one hit and 11 strikeouts over seven innings on April 30. Verlander has faced the Twins twice, tossing 14 innings and allowed two runs on six hits while striking out 15. Minnesota split the Verlander games thanks to an early season gem from Jake Odorizzi.
Lineup danger: Houston is loaded, and especially dangerous if they enter the playoffs with a full platoon of healthy players, which they're expected to have come playoff time. That means George Springer, Jose Altuve, Michael Brantley, Alex Bregman, Yordano Ventura and Carlos Correa will be staples in the batting order. That's six of the most dangerous hitters in the big leagues, all packed within one lineup.
It's not far-fetched to think that Houston would be en route to 110 wins this season if Springer, Altuve and Correa didn't miss significant chunks of time due to injuries.
- Record: 92-49
- Runs: 815 (2nd in AL)
- Runs allowed: 651 (6th in AL)
- Home runs: 263 (2nd in AL)
- Home record: 53-22
- Road record: 39-27
Pitching power: New York has one of the best bullpens in the majors but the starting staff leaves plenty of questions. James Paxton is likely the staff ace entering the postseason and he's finally coming into form after a substandard first four months. He's 6-0 in his last six starts with a 2.97 ERA while opposing batters are hitting just .181 against him.
Masahiro Tanaka is night and day when not at Yankee Stadium. He has a 3.24 ERA at home and 5.93 ERA in road starts. Domingo German is the same (2.35 ERA at home, 5.45 ERA on the road) and was roughed up by the Twins for nine runs in 10.1 innings over two starts during the regular season.
J.A. Happ has been awful and has been crushed twice by the Twins (10 earned runs in nine innings), and Luis Severino is nearing a return from an injury that's kept him out all season. When healthy, Severino is among the best right-handers in the AL. It's unclear what role he'll have in the playoffs.
There's also C.C. Sabathia, who plans to retire after the season. The big lefty has a 3.18 ERA at home and an ugly 6.75 ERA in 10 road starts. The Twins tagged him for seven runs in just four innings the only time they faced Sabathia this season.
Lineup danger: New York scored 30 runs in their three-game series at Target Field in July. That was when Aaron Judge was struggling and Didi Gregorius was just returning from an injury. They're even better now, with a lineup loaded with other hot bats, including Brett Gardner, D.J. LeMahieu, Gary Sanchez, Edwin Encarnacion, Gleybor Torres, Gio Urshela, Luke Voit and even Matt Ford, who provides power from the left side.
And don't look now, but the powerful bat of Giancarlo Stanton might be ready to return to the Yankees in time for the playoffs. An injury has limited the 2017 NL MVP (59 homers with the Marlins) to nine games this season.
Aaron Hicks is also nearing a return from injury. Hicks killed the Twins during that July series at Target Field.
Better matchup: Yankees
Believe it or not, the Yankees are a better matchup simply because no team is going to be favored in a series against Verlander, Cole and Greinke. Minnesota can handle the Yankees, especially if the bullpen continues to pitch as well as it has over the last three weeks (best in the majors during that time).
Plus, in 2019, the home run is king and the Twins are the kings of home runs. That could serve as a perfect recipe against a New York pitching staff that has allowed the third-most homers (224) in the AL. Minnesota's staff has surrendered just 172 homers.
Bring on the demons of facing the Yankees in the playoffs, because it's not as scary as a the fully loaded Astros.