Things are starting to heat up and the postseason is getting closer. Today, among Baseball Prospectus, Fangraphs and Baseball Reference, the lowest odds of the Twins making the playoffs is 97.8% and the lowest of them winning the division is 86.1%. So, one way or the other, only a tragedy would keep Minnesota out. With that in mind and with the September roster expansions coming up, here are four questions we should be asking ourselves, regarding the roster that they’re taking to October.
First, we have to look at the Twins and figure out what are their needs and what they can do about it. At this moment, ten pitchers and ten position players (provided Byron Buxton is healthy) are considered by most as locks for the postseason. Those 20 players don't include the players below, so when the time comes for the Twins to set a final playoff roster, some very productive position players could not be included.
Do you leave off Arráez, Schoop or Adrianza?
To me that’s the toughest and potentially most dangerous problem to solve. Luis Arráez leads all AL rookies in batting average (.335) and is at the top five in fWAR (1.4), WPA (1.34), OPS (.836) and wRC+ (123). How can you realistically not want this guy in the playoffs?
The problem is that you don’t have other very clear options. One could argue that Jonathan Schoop has a considerably lower offensive production than him, with .254 AVG, 0.9 fWAR, -1.19 WPA (dead last on the team), .769 OPS and 97 wRC+. Or that, statistically, his defense isn’t much better than that of Arráez, since the rookie has better UZR and DEF, while Schoop has produced only one DRS more than him. But that’s not even the main point here.
Schoop was the clear starting second baseman acquisition in the offseason. He’s being paid good money to do so. Usually, that would mean there’s virtually zero chance he’s not part of a playoff roster. Schoop is a vital part of the “Bomba Squad” spirit. With 18 home runs on the year, he’s very likely to become the seventh or eighth Twin with 20 dingers this season. Other than the Bombas, experience counts a lot during playoffs and Schoop can provide that.
Adrianza becomes the second realistic option to be excluded, which would be a huge bummer. Not because I think he’s an Eduardo Escobar-type bench player. He’s not. But he is so hard-working, so patient and has made such a good contribution to this organization in the past three years that it would be heartbreaking to see him out of the playoff roster. He did make the cut for the 2017 Wild Card team, but still, there’s no guarantee that he will be included this time.
He’s also producing at the highest he’s ever produced in a Twin uniform. This season he is slashing .287/.371/.431 (.802), with a 112 wRC+. He also represents a statistically better defender than Schoop, for example, when he played second base. But the latter still holds the same upper-hand mentioned in the last paragraph. And you’re definitely not leaving out Marwin Gonzalez to include Adrianza. So tell us, reader, what would you do here in this infield puzzle?
But before you make a decision here, let me say that in the next paragraph you may find a solution, if you feel like all three deserve to make the roster. But it’s not any easier.
Do you leave off Cave and use Gonzalez as the 4th outfielder?
When Buxton is back, the Twins will have four primary outfielders, with Jake Cave being on the bench. Now, if the Twins want, they can keep extra infielder by deploying Gonzalez as their fourth outfielder, when necessary. The question here is: do you exclude Cave on their behalf?
Cave has already done a pretty good job when he was called to fill in for Buxton lass season. But this year? Hoo, boy. Fine, his overall numbers in 2019 are not extremely better than 2018, but he's currently having an out-of-the-earth month of August. Since being recalled on Aug. 3, he’s slashing .442/.500/.767 (1.267) with a 232 wRC+ and a .696 BABIP. He leads the Twins in all those metrics this month, except SLG, OPS and wRC+, losing to Nelson Cruz in them by very little.
So, what would you do here? As much as we might like Adrianza and as well as Arráez might be playing offensively, how can you turn your back on this? Granted, Cave’s numbers could very well come down to earth after a whole month of September, which would make this decision much easier. If they don’t, what a tough decision to make. However, let’s not forget that when we talk about Cave, we’re talking about a much smaller sample size. So far, he’s got only 148 plate appearances, against 205 from Adrianza and 249 from Arráez.
What do you do with Willians Astudillo?
Since coming back from his oblique strain injury, “La Tortuga” is slashing .368/.368/.421 (.789) in four Triple-A games and .353/.421/.765 (1.186) in five Double-A games, striking out only once overall. If he comes back and maintain that level, do you have a spot for him on your postseason roster? Over who? Personally, I can’t see it happening and I can’t see anyone I would choose him over. But you never know what’s going to happen.
Which pitchers make the postseason staff?
Assuming that all the position players questions are answered when October comes. There are 10 pitchers who are considered locked in for a playoff spot: José Berríos, Michael Pineda, Jake Odorizzi and Kyle Gibson as starters. Martín Pérez, Tyler Duffey, Trevor May, Sam Dyson, Sergio Romo and Taylor Rogers as relievers. You need to add two or three more. Who do you have? Here are four names.
1. Zack Littell
What a great job this kid has been doing this year. He had one bad outing in late May, in which he gave up eight of his ten earned runs in the year. So, if you removed that one outing, you find out that he would have a 0.87 ERA the whole year. Granted, he’s pitched only 25 innings this season, but that’s still impressive. Since June 18, when he got called up for the second time, he’s posting a 0.96 ERA, which is good for the fifth best in baseball.
I was honestly very confused when he was the chosen one to be optioned last week. Can he handle high leverage situations in the postseason? I wouldn’t want to test that -- although in the very few moments (three and one third innings) he’s been put under pressure, he hasn’t allowed a single run and has held opposing batters to a ridiculous .091/.167/.091 slash line.
2. Trevor Hildenberger
Hildy had an amazing start to the year, followed by a horrendous month of May, which resulted in him being sent down. Then, he started dealing with injuries and was sidelined for nearly two months. Now, he’s back and, apparently, he’s back to his old self. Before the start of May, Hildenberger was one of the team’s best relievers, posting a 1.92 ERA.
Now, since coming back from injury, he’s pitched five games (seven innings) and is posting a 1.28 ERA, while striking out nine batters per nine and with a 7.03 K/BB ratio. He’s had some serious ups and downs in his short major league career, which can make us a bit suspicious, but he’s definitely earned the right to be looked at in September.
3. Devin Smeltzer
Smeltzer didn’t shy away when he got his chance. He impressed everyone when he shutout the Yankees for five innings of relief in late July, so you can tell the kid is ready for the big stage. As a reliever this year, he has a 3.38 ERA for the Twins. In medium or high leverage situations, that goes down to 3.09. But that’s not even his spot. Along with Pérez, he could be the best option if a starter can’t get deep into a game and you need a long man. Besides, you absolutely need another lefty over there.
4. Brusdar Graterol
The organization’s top pitching prospect doesn’t even need introductions. You can read a more in depth analysis of him in two of our latest articles, one by Jeremy Nygaard here and one by Andrew Thares here, as well as our daily Minor League reports. He’s pitched 59 innings in three different minor league levels this year and is holding opponent batters to a .180 AVG, striking out 8.84 times per nine. His ERA this year is 1.53 overall and 0.00 in 8 1/3 innings of relief. It would be a longshot if he actually made the playoff team after a callup in September. But, who knows?
Other callups that are going to be looked at during September and maybe could earn a spot include Ryne Harper, Jorge Alcala, Randy Dobnak, Fernando Romero and Kohl Stewart. Harper was a regular on the Twins bullpen all year, but got out of track lately. He should get another chance, because he’s shown good stuff before.
This story originally appeared on Twins Daily and is being re-shared as part of a collaboration between Twins Daily and Bring Me The News.