This series could not be more evenly matched.
The Twins and Yankees arguably have the two most terrifying and powerful lineups in baseball as they hit the most and second-most home runs in baseball. They have rotations that are a little less than enticing. They’ve both battled through injuries and suspensions to key players. This is the type of series that feels like it should be next round. Instead, it’s in the ALDS.
A really good team is going home here. The Twins completely revamped their lineup last offseason in order to do one thing: Hit a lot of home runs. They did just that. And they did it in a year where their pitching, after years of struggles, came together and finished third in total WAR accumulation.
That number is stunning one. They got Jose Berrios to pitch like the stud they were trying to develop him into. They got the Jake Odorizzi they traded for before the 2018 season. They got massive contributions late in the season from Devin Smetzler (3.86 ERA in 11 games) and Randy Dobnak (1.59 ERA in nine games).
But pieces to the 7th-ranked rotation in baseball are missing. Michael Pineda was suspended for PEDs and ruled out for the playoffs after posting a 4.01 ERA and 114 ERA+ in 26 starts. Instead, they’re going to be relying on the youthful Smetzler (23 years old) and Dobnak (24 years old) and Kyle Gibson, whose had a rough year with a 4.84 ERA and 95 ERA+.
The inexperience is important. The Yankees rotation has some of the qualms the Twins’ does. Their big offseason trade for James Paxton didn’t turn out as expected as he hasn’t been the ace-quality pitcher they gave up Justus Sheffield among others for. Masahiro Tanaka, their Game 2 starter, has a 4.45 ERA this year. J.A. Happ, the likely Game 4, has struggled mightily as well. Domingo German, likely the brightest spot in the group, was suspended for domestic violence and won’t pitch.
But the Yankees have experience. Lots of it. Tanaka has been in big games. So has Luis Severino, who has looked good since coming back from injury with a 1.50 ERA. J.A. Happ was awesome in the 2016 postseason, yet less so last year.
If the starters falter, New York can go to their incredibly talented bullpen, which finished just above the third-ranked Twins in accumulated WAR at No. 2 in the big leagues.
It’s a shutdown group. Aroldis Chapman, Chad Green (Though he’s been pretty average this year) and Zack Britton are gas. Adam Ottavino might have the best slider ever. More importantly, all of these relievers have been around and been in games. They’ve been there.
Minnesota, like their rotation, is relying on a lot of youth. Zack Littel, Cody Stashak and Brusdar Graterol (He’s 20!) all figure to see innings. Those three have appeared in 57 combined games this season, and they’re all 25 or under.
Both staffs are dealing with insanely good hitters. With these lineups, it’s about surviving and having options to dig you out of jams. The Yankees have that. We don’t know if the Twins do yet.
Minnesota can win this series by getting ahead and roughing up the likes of Tanaka and Paxton, whose first inning struggles have been of note. You can’t settle into lineups like these; you’ll be down five runs fast. But if New York’s bullpen can allow zero runs afterward, and the Twins pitchers receive the same treatment New York’s staff gets, then the Yankees are in good shape.
This series is nearly impossible to pick; it was never going to be a four game series or less. But the experience in New York’s bullpen is the only way these teams aren’t evenly matched. I’m rolling with that.
Prediction: Yankees in 5