The MLB playoffs start today. This is the 2nd blog previewing the Wild Card round.
I wrote about the Rangers/Rays earlier here, including some opening comments about the strength of MLB right now. Even if their playoff graphic fucking SUCKS
MLB nailed the rule changes and it's 100% bleeding into the postseason. I predict an abundance of late game drama and blown leads. More than any postseason to date actually and I want this on official record.
Read the 1st preview for more sentiment. For now I want to briefly reconcile the national disrespect for the Minnesota Twins.
They're so much better than what you'd think from a team that's 0-18 in their last 18 playoff games. I mean it and this preview should hammer that point. It's easy to shit on them, but a sincere look at their club should prove that to be a waste. We can all be better. So that's the point of this preview blog. Where as Rangers/Rays was more about the individual players, this is more about the collective performance. And if you don't know shit, then you're in the right spot.
Here's how I see the Blue Jays (6) @ Twins (3) for the next 3 Wild Card games. We're breaking it down into 7 categories: starting pitching, catching, infield, outfield, DH/bench, bullpen and manager.
This is by my far my favorite series preview.
I'm not there.
You have to say his name first because he's not here and it's been a devastating blow to the franchise. Jose Berrios and Bassit have done their best, and Kevin Gausman is 1B. But no Manoah is the difference between a 3-team race for the AL East and the Blue Jays traveling to Minnesota in the Wild Card.
And to be clear. I mean no disrespect towards Gausman's 2-pitch brilliance, or the Blue Jays overall depth. It's probably MLB's 6th or 7th best staff.
The Twins starters have been #1 or 2 in a lot of categories. ERA. Quality start percentage. Average game score. fWAR and bWAR. RAR. Strikeouts. Strikeouts per nine. Strikeouts to walks. WHIP. Win Probability Added. 1st pitch strikes. Swinging strikes. And last but not least: percentage of pitches swung at outside the strikezone.
These are just 1 & 2 across MLB. If you include top 5, then I would have to list nearly every single statistic.
That's for a couple reasons. Sonny Gray is having a career year. Pablo Lopez has been powerful. The rest of the rotation has been solid and most importantly, healthy. The end result is a great starting pitching culture.
The Blue Jays aren't far behind, but they are. And that's why I opened with Manoah. 2022 Alek + Gausman would be better than Pablo + Sonny for this series. But that's not the case which makes this much easier.
Advantage Blue Jays
The Blue Jays are so deep at catcher that they traded top 100 prospect Gabriel Moreno this winter to the Diamondbacks for Daulton Varsho. Moreno hit .284 in 111 games for Arizona and will start tonight against the Brewers. He's only 23 and the Blue Jays knew he'd be this good. So what does that say about the guys the Blue Jays kept?
They're awesome. Top-5 tandem between Alejandro Kirk and Danny Jansen. Both young and cheap, hence the trade.
And throughout the year, they were good enough to be good enough. But Kirk's slumped and the slug dropped and Jansen's off the roster with a broken finger. On paper you want to say Blue Jays easy but the truth is it's a big question mark.
Opposite that is a guy named Ryan Jeffers, a large and milky power-hitting catcher from UNC Wilmington. A career .830 minor league OPS finally translates to consistent big league production. He's hit .270 in the last 2-months of assuming daily catching duties and he's on a terror. Or tear. Either one, he's got a .974 OPS since September 1st and is destroying the baseball.
100% free-range, grass-fed, USDA certified beef
Surprisingly: Advantage Twins.
Bo Bichette and Vlad Jr. have been underwhelming at best. That's because Bo's been hurt and Vlad's been average by 1st base standards, which is underwhelming.
Meanwhile the Twins have gotten a downright bad season from Correa. He's banged up but on the playoff roster and slated to play. That's better than the alternative, but I wouldn't be throwing a party.
The real value has been in the Twins platoons and matchups. 16 players have gotten at least 250 plate appearances. 11 of them have OPS+ over 100 and another 5 are hovering around 95 meaning they're all at least average. Another 5 are 110+ so there's some juice across the entire lineup.
I'll consider that more when we get to bench. For now, we're talking infielders and I haven't mentioned Matt Chapman. He was awesome in the 1st half, beyond bad in the 2nd. I'm inclined on paper to say the Blue Jays, but the Twins have a better collective group performance.
Oh well. Give me the star power.
Advantage Blue Jays
George Springer played 154 games this year as the Blue Jays' RF and it's easily the worst position in the outfield. He's been okay, but Kiermaier is sensational in center and they somehow rank 8th in MLB with a Varsho/Merrifield playoon in left.
The Twins are a clear step below. And honestly, I couldn't guess how they split the time up in the next 3 games. I'm sure the matchups are there, but right now I can't ignore the Blue Jays having almost 2x as much collective outfield WAR this year.
Advantage Blue Jays
The Blue Jays have the 2nd best PH value in baseball this year. The Twins have the 3rd. It's very close.
And Brandon Belt against a righty is probably better than whatever the Twins are going to do the Blue Jays.
But ultimately I'm taking the Twins blender of players. They're all faceless and nameless and that's just the reality. I talked about it earlier and I'm simplifying it now. The Twins have a nearly endless stable of quality bats that are effectively interchangeable, and that's exactly what they've done all year. I'm not backing off that success now.
BLUE JAYS. IT'S VERY GOOD.
Jordan Romano, Canadian national
People won't say that but I mean it. Even if Schneider doesn't know how to use it. They lead baseball in plenty of reliever categories, although the Twins aren't far behind. They're two very solid staffs, top to bottom.
But the Blue Jays have a little more strength in the bullpen much like the Twins have a little more in the rotation.
Between the two, I'd rather have the Twins starting rotation but the Blue Jays bullpen. But also between the two, you'd be competitive with the opposite. That makes sense to me so read it twice. I'm not rewriting it.
Advantage Blue Jays.
Rocco Baldelli battled channelopathy which is a lot worse than managing a playoff series. He's also a legend from my youth and will always hold a special level of nostalgia. I'm admitting my bias upfront.
I'll further that bias in saying that John Schneider lost me in the 2nd half. He won me for a moment in the All Star festivities, traveling with his family across the continent to throw BP on national television to his underperforming slugger Vlad Jr.
But after the glaze dried and crusted, I realized the Blue Jays should always be better. They're always leaving us wanting more and that's why I like Baldelli more. He's doing the complete opposite. Nobody wants to see the Twins and yet here they are. He's doing a good enough job for me to summarily dismiss any and all Schneider counter arguments.
On paper it's the Blue Jays easy, so we're confident in the Twins. They don't win this time of year, and quite literally haven't won a single playoff game since George W. Bush's first term. 0 for their last 18 to be specific. So you have to figure that changes at some point, right?
I feel insane for doing it but I have to.
Minnesota's time is now.
I mean it.