The Minnesota Twins won’t be favored when their divisonal series opens Friday in Yankee Stadium, and they shouldn’t be, even after just the second 100-win season in franchise history.
The New York Yankees, after all, had an even better record and a superior run differental. The things the Twins do best, the Yankees do just as well. On paper, the Yankees are the better team. (And on paper, the Houston Astros are better still.)
But the series won’t be played on paper, and the Twins aren’t road kill. They have a realistic chance to advance in this best-of-five round.
Three key questions as the postseason approaches:
Do the Twins have enough starting pitching?
Minnesota has just two obvious established starters available, Jose Berrios and Jake Odorizzi. Michael Pineda is suspended and neither Kyle Gibson nor Martin Perez inspire much confidence right now.
But this isn’t 1987. Even with Berrios and Odorizzi, the Twins aren’t counting on seven innings from their starters. They may not be counting on five innings. Two times through the order, and go to the bullpen.
And the Twins bullpen right now, even with trade acquistion Sam Dyson out, is really good. They may not be as famous as their New York counterparts, but they’re just as effective.
Berrios, Odorizzi and (presumably) Randy Dobnak don’t have to win the games. They just have to avoid losing it.
Is there a role for Gibson?
Manager Rocco Baldelli has been experimenting with Gibson as a reliever in recent weeks, with spotty results.
Emotionally, I’d like to see Gibson on the playoff roster. I’ve come to appreciate his willingness, even eagerness, to change as a pitcher. He has endured a lot of pain over the years — the Tommy John surgery, the back issues, his current intestinal woes — and as the senior member of the Twins roster, he has earned a certain amount of deference.
Deference is one thing, winning is another. It’s easy to draw up a 13-man pitching staff with Gibson on it. It’s more difficult to justify keeping Gibson active with a 12-man staff.
I come back to Tom Kelly’s rationale for carrying just nine pitchers on his postseason rosters in 1987 and 1991. That 10th arm would be a mop-up man, not a pitcher Kelly wanted to use in a winnable game. That, unfortunately, applies to Gibson right now.
What about the injured guys?
It’s been a while since we’ve seen Max Kepler, Marwin Gonzalez and Ehire Adrianza on the field. There seems to be optimism about Kepler and Gonzalez being available for the first round, however.
Luis Arraez may be another matter. His injury Saturday looked serious at the time. The Twins don’t have to decide about his status until Friday, and probably won’t announce anything until they have to.
Assuming he can’t go, and assuming Adrianza remains sidelined, second base will belong to Jonathan Schoop (and perhaps Gonzalez). That’s not a terrible situation. Schoop doesn’t provide the consistent high-quality at-bats that Arraez does, but he has more power and is a better defender.
And if you’re looking for a villian in that play, point to Tyler Duffey. The pitcher is supposed to play traffic cop on such pop-ups. Duffey lost sight of the ball and almost got run over himself. He failed in his responsibility.