Twins in Position for Postseason Run

Photo: @Twins - Twitter

The Minnesota Twins took two of three vs the Philadelphia Phillies over the weekend and now sit 4.5 games ahead of the Cleveland Guardians for 1st place in the American League Central. While their season has been frustrating in many ways (ie: Carlos Correa’s season-long slump, Byron Buxton’s struggles at DH, Falvine’s stubborn belief in Joey Gallo, Max Kepler, Emilio Pagan, etc), the Twins find themselves in a postseason driver’s seat with just 1/4 of the regular season schedule remaining.

Baseball-Reference.com gives Minnesota a 89.4% chance at making the playoffs. FanGraphs.com gives them a 90.9% chance. No matter where you’re getting your odds, it’s clear the Twins would need an all-time late-season meltdown in order to miss the 2023 MLB postseason.

I know it’s dangerous to do so in this town but let’s stay positive and assume they make the playoffs. What are the Minnesota Twins’ chances of actually breaking their historic 18-game postseason losing streak or — dare I even say — win a series and advance to the ALDS for the first time since 2002?

Believe it or not, the universe might to be aligning in their favor…

Twins Have Strength in Starting Pitching

When the playoffs begin, everything begins and ends with starting pitching. Much like goaltenders in hockey and quarterbacks in the NFL, starting pitchers can dictate a baseball game like nobody else on the field. The Twins’ continued failure to assemble a requisite postseason rotation over the last two decades is one of their biggest contributors to the 18-game playoff losing streak.

But their rotation isn’t the a concern in 2023, where Minnesota rosters one of the best starting staffs in all of baseball, ranking 1st in Quality Starts (61), 1st in Average Game Score (55) and tied for 2nd in Innings Pitched per Start (5.6), according to Baseball-Reference.com.

Their dominant starting rotation, combined with Jhoan Duran at the back of the bullpen, has the Minnesota Twins ranking in the top-10 of just about every major statistical pitching category in the majors, including 2nd in SO/9,, WHIP and FIP.

StatsERAERA+WHIPFIPH/9SO/9RA/G
Twins Pitchers3.891111.1973.848.09.64.08
MLB RankT-7thT-4th2nd2nd6th2nd5th
Baseball-Reference.com

If Joe Ryan returns to form when he comes off the IL, Minnesota will enter the postseason with one of the best 3-person starting staffs in the MLB, with him, Sonny Gray and Pablo Lopez. The latter two pitchers previewed as much over the weekend when they combined for 12 IP, 0 ER, 14 K and just 6 total hits allowed.

American League Field Looks… Different.

The winner of the AL Central will be the 3rd seed, come playoff time. That means they’ll be the only division winner to play in a 3-game Wildcard Series on the opening weekend of the postseason. Since 2006, the Twins have only had two playoff opponents.

Between 2009 and 2019, the Twins went 0-10 vs the New York Yankees, a team that has turned into a real-life postseason nightmare. Then, in 2020, Minnesota was swept in two games vs the Houston Astros, a team that has played in THREE World Series (won TWO) and FOUR American League Championships since 2017.

But this year, the American League bracket is expected to look much different. The Yankees are 5 games back of the last Wildcard spot and aren’t expected to participate. Meanwhile, both the Rays and Astros, who have dominated much of the AL postseason experience in recent years, are expected to face off against one another on the other side of the Wildcard bracket.

The Twins are most likely to play whichever team finishes 3rd in the AL East (final Wildcard), which is expected to be the Toronto Blue Jays, who haven’t advanced beyond the Wildcard round since 2017 and whose overall playoff history may be worse than what Minnesota Twins fans have been forced to experience.

Waiting on the bats

‘But the Twins can’t hit’. Yes, I understand that winning playoff games will be difficult, no matter who is pitching or who their playing, if the Twins’ offense continues to struggle. But history and common sense tells us it will not. Royce Lewis has been one of the best hitters in the lineup, when available, and he is expected to return from the IL this week.

Carlos Correa may be having the worst regular season of his career but he still stands as one of the best clutch players in MLB history, at just 28 years old. It’s more likely he snaps out of his slump, come October. And that brings us to Byron Buxton, who has struggled at DH all season.

Could the Twins move him back to center field once the playoffs begin? If so, we could see a rejuvenated Buxton, who is one of the best players in the league when hitting well, and a more reliable DH option (like Matt Wallner, Eddie Julien or Ryan Jeffers).

Obviously, we all wish the Minnesota Twins were 20 games over .500 and showing signs of dominance both offensively and on the mound. But even given their struggles, the fanbase should feel better entering the 2023 postseason than they have in two decades of fall baseball. Their pitching staff is the best it’s been since then and the field is more wide open than ever.

Eric Strack | Minnesota Sports Fan

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