José Berríos, you is perhaps pondering, or Paul Molitor, or possibly Jack Morris, or Dave Winfield. Dave McKay, for those who actually wish to return in historical past, and sure, we are attempting to assist all you Immaculate Grid gamers on the market prepare for the Minnesota-Toronto Wild Card Sequence with a number of gamers who’ve seen this one from either side. (Our private favourite: Nelson Liriano.)
It’s, in our estimation, essentially the most fascinating of the 4 Wild Card Sequence, not simply due to the gamers concerned, however due to how evenly matched these golf equipment are. Both sides has excellent pitching. Both sides has a star bat or two not precisely performing like a star bat. If not straightforward to foretell, it would definitely be enjoyable to look at.
So: Which facet has the benefit, place by place? We’ll discover out, however the Twins aren’t going to make this straightforward on us, both. As of the ultimate day of the season, Royce Lewis (hamstring), Carlos Correa (foot) and Byron Buxton (hamstring/knee) are all injured, and it stays to be seen which of them make it again, and in what capability. We’ll progress below these assumptions: first, that Lewis can hit, however gained’t be relied upon to play third base; second, that Correa will probably be lively even when he’s not 100%; and third, that Buxton both gained’t be included on the roster or will probably be a pinch-hitter solely.
Simply know: a lot can change by the point the rosters are finalized.
The Blue Jays had a fairly excellent duo in Alejandro Kirk and Danny Jansen – adequate that they felt comfy dealing Gabriel Moreno to Arizona final winter – however then Jansen fractured a finger in September, ending his season. Kirk is one thing like the best blocking catcher within the American League, however his .695 OPS is significantly down from final yr’s .786, and with out Jansen, they’re now only one misplaced foul tip from having to depend upon journeyman Tyler Heineman within the postseason.
In the meantime, the Twins have their very own duo in breakout star-in-the-making Ryan Jeffers (134 OPS+ and top-10 catcher, by WAR) and two-time World Sequence winner Christian Vázquez, who stays a plus defender in every way we can quantify, although the much less stated about his bat, the higher. (Positive. It’s a .221/.277/.318 line. It’s not nice.) A yr in the past, this might have been Toronto’s edge, however as issues stand immediately, you’d take Minnesota’s facet.
What do you even do right here, on condition that the Blue Jays have an absolute celebrity in Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who has had a season that’s concurrently extremely disappointing (by his lofty requirements) and likewise nonetheless fairly strong (26 HR, 118 OPS+). If it’s unhealthy for what you count on from him, that’s not the identical factor as unhealthy, and what nonetheless works in his favor is that he’s been significantly better in September (.848 OPS) and far, much better away from Toronto, which issues since this best-of-three will solely be performed in Minnesota.
The Twins are likely to go along with a platoon between lefty Alex Kirilloff (.852 OPS in opposition to righties; numbers vs fellow lefties unprintable) and righty Donovan Solano, a typically competent hitter with none platoon splits in any respect. That the Blue Jays might not really begin a lefty pitcher on this collection really helps Minnesota right here, however on condition that Kirilloff hasn’t actually outproduced Guerrero this season and positively doesn’t have the identical observe report, we’ll give Toronto an edge right here.
Lewis’ well being standing makes for some shifting elements right here, as longtime infielder Jorge Polanco most likely sees extra time at third, leaving rookie breakout Edouard Julien because the possible starter right here, although there’s an emphasis on starter, as Polanco would possibly transfer again for protection late ought to the Twins maintain a lead. Julien has elite plate self-discipline – the lowest chase rate within the recreation, really – and a 127 OPS+ means he’s 27% above common as a hitter, which is greater than just a little spectacular for a rookie. The glove is OK; the platoon splits are questionable; the power to not chase exterior the zone is phenomenal.
The Blue Jays are just a little in flux right here, too, as a result of it seems the keystone needle has landed again on Cavan Biggio, who was first the crew’s second baseman again in 2019 however appeared to have fallen fully out of favor as his function deteriorated into “utility man” or “simply barely hanging onto a spot.” However Whit Merrifield’s second-half collapse (.553 OPS since Aug. 1) has reduce into his enjoying time, and Davis Schneider’s briefly red-hot run has receded so quick that he’s been nailed to the bench. Biggio, for his half, appears to have discovered a second life, with a .756 OPS within the second half
Bo Bichette and Carlos Correa seems like an interesting matchup of younger star shortstops, and it could be if each had been at or close to their peak, however that’s not the place we’re proper now. Correa hasn’t performed since Sept. 18 resulting from plantar fasciitis, and whereas he’s anticipated to be obtainable for the postseason, the harm is sort of definitely what’s behind massive declines in his speed and defense. It’s exhausting to say the .230/.312/.399 line is strictly what Twins followers had been hoping for, both, although it’s essential to level out that he’s often stepped up within the playoffs, with 18 homers and an .849 OPS.
Bichette has had his personal leg injuries, although he’s had a sometimes sturdy season (.307/.338/.472, a 122 OPS+), and he’s been particularly scorching over his final 15 video games. The identify worth right here is perhaps comparable, however the 2023 enjoying worth is a simple name.
We’re stunned by the place we’re giving the benefit right here, too. The Blue Jays have Matt Chapman, multiple-time Gold Glove winner, who obtained off to simply the red-hottest of red-hot begins this yr, posting a 1.152 OPS in April. The Twins had Jose Miranda, till they’d Kyle Farmer and Willi Castro, till they’d Royce Lewis, however then Lewis obtained harm, so then Polanco moved over, after which Lewis got here again, and obtained harm once more, and now it’s most likely Polanco or Farmer once more? It’s a little bit of a large number, is the purpose.
And but … Chapman has spent 5 months struggling in an uncharacteristic means. If April was the very best month he ever had, and it was, then August was his worst ever and September was solely barely higher than that. (He’s hit .185/.259/.315 since Aug. 1.) Given the chance that Lewis is proscribed to enjoying DH, there’s not essentially a single Minnesota third-base possibility you’d assume you’d like over Chapman for six months. However for 2 days, the power to mix-and-match between the speedy Castro, the switch-hitting Polanco, or Farmer or Solano as wanted, would possibly simply give Rocco Baldelli extra choices. You is perhaps stunned to search out that Minnesota’s third basemen barely outhit Toronto’s, anyway.
The Blue Jays made clear their dedication to including velocity and protection within the outfield final yr once they traded Moreno and Lourdes Gurriel to Arizona for Varsho, and the fielding a part of it labored, as Varsho has been one of many higher outfielders in baseball this yr with the glove. The bat, nevertheless, has been a substantial disappointment, regardless of the 20 homers, as a .220/.286/.391 line comes out to a below-average 86 OPS+.
Like at third, the Twins have had various conditions right here, with 9 starters, however the early-season Joey Gallo/Trevor Larnach state of affairs has step by step given solution to rookie Matt Wallner enjoying just about on daily basis. Wallner, like Julien and Lewis, has been super, posting a .251/.373/.512 (141 OPS+) season. He’s a lefty who hits the ball exhausting, strikes out an excessive amount of and has an elite-level cannon of an arm, which sounds greater than just a little like “Joey Gallo when Gallo was going good.” Varsho’s down season makes this a simple name, however so, too, does the truth that Wallner may face three righty starters, given his huge platoon splits.
Think about if Byron Buxton had been right here? You’ll need to, as a result of he didn’t play the sector as soon as this season, and appears unlikely to take action in October. As an alternative, the Twins have largely been fielding Michael A. Taylor, who has been doing precisely the type of factor he at all times does, which is to hit for some pop (21 homers), play excellent protection (8 Outs Above Common) and strike out solely an excessive amount of (33%). Castro and probably Andrew Stevenson add glorious velocity off the bench, ought to Baldelli need that.
It’s actually not a foul group, however when it comes to protection, you simply gained’t do higher than Kevin Kiermaier, who’s legitimately one of the best to ever play the position. He might not fairly have Taylor’s energy, with simply eight homers, however he’s significantly higher at getting on base, giving him a 104 OPS+ that’s higher than Taylor’s 94. None of it is a knock in opposition to Taylor, who ended up enjoying significantly greater than anybody anticipated, and who carried out just about precisely the way you’d count on he would. Kiermaier’s only a higher model.
If we’re speaking about identify worth, then George Springer simply edges out Max Kepler, and a 20/20 season from one among historical past’s extra achieved postseason performers isn’t one to look upon flippantly. However even accounting for that, Springer hardly had a Springer-esque season, with a career-worst .732 OPS – by lots – that was largely backed up by the underlying Statcast metrics.
In the meantime, Kepler circled a string of disappointing seasons by posting an .815 OPS, his greatest since 2019 (and the second better of his profession), to go together with his typical plus work defensively in proper discipline. It wouldn’t be shocking within the least to see Springer break this collection open with one more October dwelling run. It’s simply exhausting to judge these two subsequent to 1 one other proper now and never go along with Kepler.
Now it will get difficult, as a result of for the Twins, this comes down solely to who is offered. Perhaps it’s Buxton, who began 80 instances right here, largely within the first half, however all indications are that it’s more likely to be Lewis, assuming that his hamstring has healed nicely sufficient to permit him to hit but not to discipline. If he’s at full energy, then that’s a probably harmful bat, given not solely the 149 OPS+ however the seemingly limitless bases-loaded heroics.
We don’t know if Lewis will probably be wholesome sufficient to provide or, on the time of writing, even completely sure he’ll make the roster. It’s that uncertainty that pushes us within the route of Toronto’s Brandon Belt, a two-time World Sequence winner with the Giants who has had a resurgent 134 OPS+ that truly seems higher for those who skip his April restoration from offseason knee surgical procedure; he has a .916 OPS since Could 1. Belt isn’t with out his personal well being questions, since he missed a piece of September with again troubles, however he got here again to hit dwelling runs on Thursday, Friday and Sunday. Appears wholesome sufficient to us.
Let’s be sincere proper up entrance: There are completely zero proper solutions right here. We’re wanting on the two greatest beginning rotations in the AL, at the very least by ERA, and either side clinched in time to have the ability to set their rotations nicely sufficient, so we’re taking a look at Pablo López vs. Kevin Gausman in Sport 1 (probably two Top-5 Cy Younger finishers), then Sonny Grey vs. Chris Bassitt in Sport 2, matching two former Oakland teammates who merely mixed for 384 innings of three.21 ERA pitching this yr.
How are you going to cut up that aside? You largely can’t. If there’s an edge, and there largely isn’t, we’re giving it to Toronto, simply because Minnesota’s Sport 3 starter (Joe Ryan) has been inconsistent after an excellent first half, posting a 4.79 ERA in seven begins after a go to to the injured listing. The Blue Jays would possible counter with outdated Twins buddy José Berríos, who had a robust rebound from a down 2022 – or, in the event that they wish to change issues up, lefty Yusei Kikuchi, who had a 3.39 second-half ERA.
Each items are sturdy, although it type of comes down as to if you worth their full-season runs or care solely about who’s right here, now. The Blue Jays’ relievers had the third-best bullpen strikeout fee at 26%, although not all that far forward of Minnesota’s eighth-best 25%. It’s been a energy all season lengthy, actually, relationship again to final winter when Erik Swanson was acquired from Seattle, and though there needs to be some concern about nearer Jordan Romano (runs allowed 4 of final 9 instances out) and Trevor Richards (an inconceivable 11.81 ERA since Aug. 23), it’s nonetheless a robust group, bolstered with in-season strikes for Jordan Hicks, Génesis Cabrera and Chad Inexperienced.
However the Twins’ bullpen is one thing solely new. Gone are early season names like Jorge López and Jovani Moran; gone too are in-season acquisitions like Dylan Floro. Whereas everybody is aware of the flamethrowing Jhoan Duran, the late-season Twins added typically starter Louie Varland (17/1 Okay/BB in reduction; he throws 100) and rehabbing starter Chris Paddack (8/1 Okay/BB in three video games; he throws 99 now), and newly wholesome Brock Stewart (0.66 ERA), plus starter Kenta Maeda could also be obtainable as nicely. The Twins bullpen had a 30% strikeout fee in September, the second best in baseball. Baldelli has some new toys.
We often say that head-to-head matchups within the common season maintain little or no predictive worth in guessing the end result of a postseason collection, partially as a result of they usually occurred so way back that completely completely different gamers had been concerned, and that’s true right here, too; these groups haven’t confronted each other since June. They haven’t confronted off in Minnesota since Could.
Alternatively, they cut up the season 3-3, and the Twins outscored the Blue Jays by all of two runs (28-26). So possibly this is predictive, as a result of that’s precisely how we really feel about this one – these golf equipment are actually evenly matched. We’ll say that that is lastly the season that the Twins break their unimaginable run of not successful a single postseason recreation, however given how significantly better the Blue Jays appear to hit on the street – and, largely, as a result of earlier than the season we personally predicted Toronto to fall to Atlanta within the World Sequence, and wouldn’t or not it’s good to get that proper on this difficult-to-project season? – Toronto comes out forward by the tiniest of margins.