2017 AL Wild Card Game Preview: Twins vs. Yankees
The Yankees won the season series between these two teams 4-2. They swept the series in the Bronx 3-0, but lost the set at Target Field 2-1.
Starting Pitching Matchup
Santana, who had what was likely the best regular season of his career this year, was 16-8 with a 3.28 ERA. His WHIP was his lowest since joining the Twins at 1.13 and he tied his career high in WAR at 4.8.
Santana’s lone start against the Yanks this season was on September 18th at Yankee Stadium. He went 5.2 innings and allowed two earned runs in a tough 2-1 loss.
Severino on the other hand, had a lackluster outing in his one appearance against the Twins. He went just three innings but allowed six baserunners and three runs in a game that the Yankees went on to win 11-3.
Although, in the rest of Severino’s September starts he allowed just four runs over the course of 27 innings. Severino finished the regular season—his best of his career—with a 14-6 record, an ERA of 2.98, and 230 strikeouts.
The New York Yankees bullpen has been regarded as one of the best in all of Major League Baseball, in spite of their copious amounts of blown saves.
During the regular season, they pitched to the tune of a 3.35 combined ERA—third best in the MLB—and an average of well over a strikeout per inning.
The Twins bullpen on the other hand, had the 23rd ranked ERA at 4.42. They also had a combined BAA, or batting average against, of around .260; while the Yankees relievers held opposing batters to an average of just over .200.
Twins starter Ervin Santana topped 200 innings this season, for the sixth time in his career. That’s important since Minnesota is going to need him to eat innings and keep the Yankees away from their less than stellar bullpen.
The Yankees on the other hand have shown to be more than willing to keep their starters on an especially short leash. This is due in particular to the fantastic season reliever Chad Green has been having, since he can and often does go multiple innings.
These offenses are going to have their work cut out for them against two of the AL’s better pitchers, though they do pack quite a punch. Both teams were ranked in the top four in the American League in runs and in the top six in batting average during the regular season.
Former AL MVP Joe Mauer led the Twins in batting average, at .305, and Brian Dozier led the squad in home runs and RBI, at 34 and 93 respectively. Although players like Byron Buxton, Jorge Polanco, and Max Kepler played their roles as well.
Slugger Miguel Sano returned over the weekend after missing about six weeks with an injury to his shin and could be the wild card for this game. Manager Paul Molitor said that “I’m leaning to thinking that even the threat [of using him] is something that has value enough to consider [putting Sano on the Wild Card roster].”
The Yanks offense this season was driven by rookie sensation and MVP candidate Aaron Judge. Judge, after an ice cold late July and August, was scorching hot in the month of September. He hit .311 with 15 homers and 32 RBI.
It is also worth noting that the New York offense has been hot as of late, especially as the team got healthier. First baseman Greg Bird contributed throughout the stretch run, despite missing a majority of the season with a lower leg injury.
All-Star second baseman Starlin Castro and shortstop Didi Gregorius have provided New York with a level of power and run production from the middle of the infield that ranks near the best in all of Major League Baseball.
Players to Watch
Playoff baseball games aren’t always determined by star players, they can and often have been heavily impacted by teams’ unsung heroes.
While Eddie Rosario is certainly not a role player, he is a player who is not exactly in the public eye. Nonetheless, Rosario’s bat has played a large role in the middle of the order for the Minnesota Twins.
He ended the season with 27 home runs, 78 RBI, and a .290 average. Although, in limited at-bats against the Yankees he hit just .150 and didn’t go deep once.
The player to watch for the Yankees is left fielder Brett Gardner. Gardner, the Yankees lead-off hitter, hit .282 in the month of September—his highest monthly average since May.
Furthermore, as the longest tenured Yankee he offers more than just his on-the-field talents. Gardner is a respected figure in the clubhouse with previous playoff experience. Therefore, his leadership will loom even larger as many of these players prepare to engage in their first playoff run.
In limited time against Minnesota, Gardner tallied a .522 batting average this season.
The winner of the AL Wild Card Game advances to the ALDS to take on the Cleveland Indians, in Cleveland, on Thursday October 5th.
Taking down the Indians will be no small task, especially with both teams throwing their aces in this one-game playoff.
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