The Minnesota Twins are in the thick of the postseason hunt, but this year's pennant chase will look a little different than what the MLB usually looks like.
On Tuesday, the league announced that it will be implementing a bubble format for its postseason. As part of the format, the American League will play the ALDS and ALCS in San Diego and Los Angeles. The winner of those series will meet up with the National League champion at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas, to determine the 2020 World Series champion.
The thought of a neutral site postseason is a strange one in the modern era and has plenty of quirks for the Twins.
The pitching staff will be tested
Much like other bubble formats, the MLB will play their postseason straight through. This means that there will be an extremely limited amount of off days and will put the Twins' pitching depth to the test.
In the past, teams have been able to alter this to get more starts out of their best pitchers. While the Twins could alter their pitching schedule to get an extra start out of Kenta Maeda in Game 1, the soonest they could trot him back out for a start probably Game 5, or at the start of the next series (were the Twins to actually win a playoff series).
This scenario could put guys the Twins normally wouldn't use in a playoff series on the mound. The No. 5 starter usually isn't a big deal in a best-of-five divisional series, but may have to be used if the Twins can't close out an opponent. In other words, if you still have PTSD over Randy Dobnak's start against the Yankees last October, there's a good chance he'll be back on the mound for redemption this postseason.
The bullpen could also be key to watch as closer Taylor Rogers has struggled in back-to-back appearances. This means that plenty of interesting decisions could be made if the Twins make a deep postseason run.
The Twins will need to be full strength
During the course of the season, the Twins' management with injuries has been a major storyline. As players such as Josh Donaldson, Byron Buxton, and Max Kepler have all gotten banged up, they've all experienced a quick trip to the injured list in order to be ready for when the games count.
With the new format, this seems like a brilliant decision. The Twins have a veteran team. While chasing an American League Central title would be a priority in most years, there isn't a true advantage in capturing it this season. Therefore, the Twins may be right in getting everyone healthy for the postseason.
This will make the last week of the regular season interesting. With the Twins' magic number to clinch a postseason berth down to five, Rocco Baldelli will have to manage to keep the team healthy and sharp.
How the playoff picture could unfold
At this moment, the Twins are a virtual lock for the postseason. Their biggest challenge now is to make sure they finish in the top four seeds to earn home-field advantage in the Wild Card round.
While the traditional playoff series will be held at neutral sites, the Wild Card round will be played at home ballparks. As of now, the Twins are seeded fourth and hold a 46-point advantage in winning percentage over the Toronto Blue Jays for that spot.
With no fans allowed at Target Field, there's another argument that there's not much of an advantage here anyway. However, the Twins probably wouldn't have the need to travel and be in a familiar ballpark for at least the first three games.
There's also the unique way teams are being seeded, with the division winners comprising the top three seeds and the second-place team making up the next three. The final two seeds are comprised of wild card teams that have a large advantage over Seattle for the final spot.
Entering Tuesday, the Twins have a chance to face Toronto, Cleveland or even the New York Yankees in a best-of-three Wild Card series. Houston is also in the mix, but unlikely to catch Toronto as the second place team, but also holds a half-game lead over the Yankees.
In other words, this could all get extremely messy over the next couple of weeks, but the Twins appear to be ready to punch their ticket soon.