A.L. Wildcard 2017 – Twins vs. Yankees – Miracle on 161st Street

The Minnesota Twins workout at Yankees Stadium, Monday, Oct. 2, 2017, in New York. The Twins face the New York Yankees in the American League wild card playoff game on Tuesday. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

The day has come, Twins fans. We have waited 6 long years, but we’ve made it. The Twins are in the playoffs. But wait, in 2017, that doesn’t mean we get to see a series of ups and downs between two teams, as they travel to and from their home stadiums in a 5 or 7 game series.

Nope, in 2017 (well ever since 2012) there are 4 total wildcard teams. But what they did with that extra spot is what’s so intriguing. Instead of playing a series, which is the best way to decide which team is best and deserves to move on; the two wildcard teams now play each other in a one-game bout. One game that decides whether you go are golfing on Thursday or still playing for a pennant.

Baseball added the Wildcard game for one reason. To make the game more exciting.

In 2009 the Twins played the most exciting game 163 of all time. It is part of what sparked the MLB to switch to the current 1-game Wildcard format.

(Best video I could find – It is all game 163’s – I’ve set it to start at the 4:16 mark where this game begins)

Let’s get back to 2017. The most expansive thing I have written for this website was on the Twins and their young players. I made an entire roster of guys who were 25 years-old or younger (mostly), in their organization. I did that because people weren’t necessarily excited for success in 2017. They were excited for the talent. The Twins had a lot of talent throughout their organization. The problem was the experience. Most of the pitchers who made my article are/were in the minors. Most of the hitters were with the big-league club but showed their fair-share of struggles in 2016.

So, I grabbed the Minnesota Twins Prospect Handbook from the Twins Daily guys and I went to town. I was trying to help people know all the young guys. Get to know who they were going to see as the Twins started to turn the ship around IN THE NEXT FEW YEARS. That was the point. I wanted to show people how bright the future was. That it would take patience and many headaches, but that the ship was turning in the right direction.

But these Twins weren’t thinking about that. Brian Dozier tried to tell us all year-long that this team was different. He was right. This Twins team jumped out of the gates in exact contradiction to what they did in 2016. After a start that tanked 2016 (0-9), the Twins jumped out to a 5-1 start in 2017.

From there, they were just trying to hold on a lot of the season. But, every time we thought they were about to go Minnesota Twins on the season, they would recover. They would calmly win 2-4 straight. They never lost more than 4-in-a-row. And really, it wasn’t a coincidence. The 2017 Twins beat up on bad teams and were beat up on by good teams. Against Cleveland, they were 5-12. Against Houston, they were 0-5. Against the Dodgers, they were 0-3. But, outside of Cleveland, they beat up on the rest of the division, which was big. They were 34-23 vs the rest of the Central. They also took big series like a sweep vs the Brewers, in their only matchup of the season. By the way, the Brewers missed the playoffs by one game, so if they don’t get swept by the Twins, they would have had a shot at the playoffs. FU** YOU WISCONSIN!

The Twins were very consistent at being mediocre all season. But it didn’t look like that was going to be enough to get them to the post-season. So, after trading away their All-Star Closer in July, the Twins started catching fire in August, going 20-10. That is when people really started to believe. August was enough to push them over the top. A 14-14 September put them in the 1-game playoff, with the Yankees, that we will all be watching tonight.

We have been talking some numbers to dig into the Twins’ 2017 season. Don’t dig into the numbers for this game. They aren’t going to be in your favor. Tom Froemming with Twins Daily really tried to look at the numbers and find all the positive ones he could. I think he was depressed by the time he was done. The Yankees should win this game on paper every time. The Twins have a couple of advantages though.

First, I am much more interested in Erving Santana’s age and experience, in a playoff race, than I am with his history at Yankee Stadium. Ervin is a fly ball pitcher and that is scary in this stadium. That fact makes me nervous. BUT, Luis Severino is only 24 years old. He has never been in this situation. He might flourish. But, he might falter. And if he does, these Twins’ hitters are going to take advantage.

That leads me to my next positive: A lot of the Twins bat from the left side of the plate. Why is this a big deal? The right field wall of my childhood wiffle ball field is deeper than the one at Yankee Stadium. Eddie Rosario, Max Kepler, Jorge Polanco, Joe Mauer, and Jason Castro will all bat from that side of the plate. All it takes is decent contact from a lefty in this park. And the Twins have plenty of lefties.

The most important thing to the Twins in this game is to jump on Severino early. This is EXTREMELY important. If Severino makes it to the 6th, the Yankees are going to hand the ball to their bullpen and that is NOT a good thing. They need to follow the same formula they did the last time they faced Severino, when they had him pulled in the 3rd inning, after giving up 3 runs on 5 hits.

Patience. They were patient. Severino throws strikes but the Twins were able to grind out at-bats and frustrate Severino. He threw 71 pitches in those innings. The Twins can’t come out too amped up and swinging at everything. That makes me slightly nervous.

Also in Tom’s article I mentioned earlier, is Severino’s pitch charts (from Brooks Baseball). It is pretty clear. If you are a lefty, he is coming in tight with his upper-90’s fastball. Be ready to turn on that sucker. To righties, you are going to see his slider much more often but still be ready for that fastball. He likes to bring it in on your knees and then come back with that slider sweeping across the outside. You know what is coming. Just stay disciplined and wait for that fastball. When he comes with it, you know where it is probably going to go.

Severino VS. Lefties

Severino VS. Righties

Santana might need to pitch the game of his life. But I expect the Twins’ bats to put some runs up. Unless Santana is going for a shutout — which I don’t expect.. This park just doesn’t suit Ervin. I expect him to pitch well but miss his spots a few times, leading to likely home runs. Hopefully solo shots. We are likely to see Berrios come out of the bullpen to bridge between Santana and the 2-3 trusted bullpen guys. It will be interesting to see how he reacts to that. Molitor had Berrios come out of the bullpen last week against the Tigers. He went 1.1 innings, giving up 2 hits, 0 runs, while striking out 1.

If we make it to the bullpen with a lead, expect it to be Hildenberger, Busenitz, Duffey or Belisle. Belisle scares me the most but he has the most experience and Molitor seems to trust him. By this time of the game, I won’t have any hair left.

Are you ready Twins fans? Let’s hope tonight is just the beginning. A beginning to a playoff run and the beginning to a future that looks bright. Soak everything in. If you want to witness a bigger wreck than what you will be, come join me on Twitter during the game. I can’t wait.

Eric Strack
Minnesota Sports Fan @RealMNSportsFan

Photo: (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II) Frank Franklin II

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