The Minnesota Twins finally got into the win column in October. They actually won two in a row and knocked the Toronto Blue Jays out. Now the Twins get to face the defending MLB Champs, the Houston Astros. They actually have an impressive streak of their own going. Houston has made the ALCS for six straight seasons. It will be up to Minnesota to end that run. Let's take a look at the second half of the American League Divisional Round to see if the Twins can pull it off.
AL Divisional Round: #3 Minnesota Twins vs. #2 Houston Astros
We know the playoffs are a different animal, but if there is anything the Twins can hang their hat on is that they were 4-2 against Houston during the regular season. It was Minnesota's pitching that got them here as the offense only put up five runs in the two games against the Jays. Houston is well-rested after capturing the American League West crown on the final day of the season. The Astros also have a history against the Twins in October as they beat them in the best-of-three Wildcard series in 2020. However, aside from that season, this is the only year where Houston has won fewer than 95 games in their recent run.
The Twins tied with the Rangers for the AL lead in home runs with 233. While the offense was nothing to write home about outside of Royce Lewis, Minnesota did manage to walk 11 times against the Blue Jays. They do work counts and that may be the game plan against Justin Verlander as other than Carlos Correa, the Twins bats do nothing against the veteran righty. Correa could very well be a hero in this series with a little extra motivation versus his former squad.
The Astros were no slouches at the plate this year as they blasted 222 homers. The top of their lineup is dangerous. Jose Altuve batted .311 while dealing with injuries. Kyle Tucker was a bomb away from a 30/30 season and led the AL in RBIs (112). Alex Bregman has elite plate discipline and Yordan Alvarez continues to be the modern-day David Ortiz, leading the team in home runs despite missing 48 games.
Minnesota is going with Bailey Ober in Game One instead of Joe Ryan. It is not a total shock as Ober has pitched well including the final game of the season where he pitched into the seventh inning, striking out nine, and a Nolan Jones solo shot was the only blemish on his stat line. They will have Pablo Lopez and Sonny Gray for Games Two and Three, both of whom pitched well against Toronto. If it gets to a fourth game, the Twins could elect to go to Ryan at home where he was much better posting a 3.83 ERA and a 111/15 K/BB rate as opposed to 5.22 and 86/19 on the road.
Verlander will get the nod in Game One for the Astros. Although the 2022 Cy Young winner did not face the Twins this season, he was absolutely unhittable in the two starts against Minnesota last year. Verlander allowed just one hit (single by Gio Urshela) and two walks to the 43 Minnesota batters he faced. Framber Valdez gets the Game Two start. He hasn't been quite as dominant as last year, but the lefty is still a bona fide ace. Cristian Javier is the likely Game Three starter, but he has had an off year. JP France is another option for Dusty Baker.
Minnesota's pen was lights out against Toronto and is one of the team's strengths. The relievers went 7.1 innings allowing just five hits, a walk, no runs, and struck out 10. Jhoan Duran is as good of a closer as there is. Rocco Baldelli is adept at mixing and matching the rest of his crew between Griffin Jax, Caleb Thielbar, and Brock Stewart among others. He also has Kenta Maeda for some long relief especially in Game One if he feels Ober doesn't quite have it or wants to limit him to once through the lineup.
Houston's bullpen is not as good as it has been in the past. Ryan Pressly had a mediocre year for him. Bryan Abreu and Hector Neris had sparkling ERAs, but they can lose the strike zone from time to time. The same could be said for Rafael Montero and Phil Maton. A disadvantage for matchup purposes is also that Valdez is the only southpaw on the ALDS roster. It could be a problem later in the games other than Game Two. The Twins could very well stack the lefties and not have to worry about matchup issues once the starter is out.
While the Astros have the experience and have gotten used to winning, the Twins have the ability to take them down. Houston had its worst season since they became regular postseason participants. They also have a distinct disadvantage with no lefties in the bullpen as Minnesota actually hits right-handers better (.762-.726 OPS). The Twins will have to be patient and work the walks to keep the game close for the bullpens. They have plenty of power to match the Astros. Expect some close games and maybe even a new hero in Minnesota. Twins in five.
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