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2023 American League Wildcard Preview: Toronto Blue Jays vs. Minnesota Twins

The Toronto Blue Jays head to Target Field to face the Minnesota Twins today at 4:30 ET. The Twins have an unprecedented 18-game losing streak in the playoffs and haven't won a series since the ALDS in 2002. They must be happy about not facing the New York Yankees, as the Bronx Bombers have accounted for 13 of those 18 losses. The Blue Jays have their own five-game losing streak in the playoffs dating back to 2016. Let's take a look at how these two teams match up in the American League Wildcard Series.


2023 AL Wildcard Series: #6 Toronto Blue Jays vs. #3 Minnesota Twins

While the Texas Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays absolutely mash, the Jays and Twins can do some damage of their own. Minnesota tied Texas for the AL lead with 233 home runs. The Twins also finished fourth in the AL with a .753 OPS, with the Blue Jays in sixth at .746. On the other side of the ball, Minnesota and Toronto finished first and fourth, respectively, in runs per game allowed.


The Lineups

Matt Chapman looked like an MVP candidate in April. Since then, his season has been awful, slashing just .205/.298/.361 with 12 home runs and 33 RBIs. Bo Bichette, on the other hand, has been heating up. In his last 12 games, the shortstop is slashing .346/.393/.539. One question mark in the Jays' lineup is second base. Whit Merrifield has been abysmal at the plate. Although not known for his power, Merrifield blasted seven homers in July. However, he has not hit one since August 12th and had a paltry .472 OPS in September. Meanwhile, Cavan Biggio has gotten back into the good graces of manager John Schneider with a .781 OPS since September 1st.


It looks as though the Twins will be without Byron Buxton for the first series. However, Royce Lewis figures to be the DH, and Carlos Correa will be at shortstop. Both seem relatively healthy, as Lewis's .921 OPS and Correa's 18 postseason home runs are welcomed. There has been a ton of mixing and matching done by Rocco Baldelli when it comes to the lineup for the Twins, who have dealt with their fair share of injuries. They have had 14 players play at least 75 games while also having 12 players hit at least 11 home runs. Whoever Rocco decides to put out there seems to be working. The Twins have scored six runs per game over their last 30 and have hit 48 home runs in that time.


The Starters

American League strikeout king Kevin Gausman will take the bump for the Jays in Game One. He has had an excellent season, finishing fourth in ERA at 3.16. However, his ERA gets up to 3.59 against teams not named the Yankees. Chris Bassitt won 16 games this season. That was good enough to tie Zach Eflin for the league lead. The Game Two starter also posted a fine 3.60 ERA. Bassitt got lit up by the Twins earlier this year at Target Field. His ERA is 4.50 on the road this season, and the right-hander has allowed 19 homers in 90 innings away from the Rogers Centre. Old friend Jose Berrios will likely take the mound if there is a Game Three, although Toronto could opt for a left-hander going with Yusei Kikuchi or Hyun Jin Ryu.


The Twins counter the strikeout leader on the Jays' side with the man who finished just three Ks behind him, Pablo Lopez. The first-year Twin has been solid. The splits don't favor him in this matchup, though. Lopez's ERA at home is more than a run higher than on the road. He also struggles against left-handed hitters, allowing a .754 OPS as opposed to righties holding a .597 mark. Game Two will have Sonny Gray taking the mound for Minnesota. He finished with a 2.79 ERA, which was good enough for second in the AL. He also led the league in home runs per nine, surrendering just eight long balls in 184 innings. Joe Ryan will likely be the Game Three starter. If it comes to that, Baldelli will give him a short leash, as Ryan has struggled recently. Opposing batters have a .863 OPS in Ryan's last five starts.


The Bullpens

Toronto's relievers were first in the majors at inherited runners scored, allowing just 23 percent to come around. They also led the league in save percentage at 74 percent. They have not been quite as good lately. Closer Jordan Romano has allowed six earned runs in his last 11 innings over nine appearances, and hitters have a healthy .812 OPS in that time. Yimi Garcia has given up runs in five of his last 13 appearances. Genesis Cabrera started his Blue Jay stint with 18 consecutive scoreless outings. He has since allowed runs in four of his last 11. Jordan Hicks and Erik Swanson have been good, while Tim Mayza gives the Jays another solid left-hander out of the pen.


The Twins got some help recently as Chris Paddack made his 2023 debut. Louie Varland and Brock Stewart both came back after not pitching since June. Left-hander Caleb Thielbar has struggled, but Kody Funderburk has picked up the slack from that side of the mound. He has allowed just five hits and four walks while striking out 16 in his last 9.2 innings. Emilio Pagan sports a current 10-inning scoreless streak, and Griffin Jax hasn't allowed a run in six straight appearances. Closer Jhoan Duran has given up just one earned run in nine September outings.


Prediction

These two teams are pretty evenly matched. They even split the season series three games apiece, with Minnesota outscoring Toronto by just two runs. Twins fans like me hope to get the postseason monkey off our backs. That will happen, and Minnesota will punch their ticket to face the Astros in Houston on Saturday after a hard-fought three-game set. Twins win two games to one.


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