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Wild, Wild, Wild Card: American League Preview

The Yankees and Twins square off in the Bronx for a one-game playoff to decide who gets to face the Cleveland Indians. Who will win? We’ll find out tonight! But the time to get informed is now!

Wild, Wild, Wild Card: American League Preview

Estimated Reading Time: 10 Minutes

The 2017 Major League Baseball Season is over. There are no more regular season games to play, no more West Coast road trips, no more Thursday Day Games, and certainly no more Chicago White Sox baseball. Now that October has come and Pumpkin Spice has taken over our collective consciousness, 10 teams remain standing after the dust has cleared. Six teams will wait until the end of this week to begin their journey to the World Series, but for the remaining four, that journey might end before it begins.

The Minnesota Twins and the New York Yankees will square off in the American League Wild Card Game this Tuesday night at Yankee Stadium. Both teams were thought to be in rebuilding years, but it seems their respective construction has taken a leap in progress. How did the Twins and the Yankees get here? How did two basement dwelling teams rise above the competition and are now playing for a chance to win the World Series? A lot of things went right.

The Minnesota Twins are the first team in MLB history to make the postseason after losing 100 games the season before. That should tell you about how amazing this second half run has been for the Twins. This team was never supposed to get this far, plain and simple, but that doesn’t mean we haven’t seen flashes of greatness throughout the season.

I’d like to remind you, that at one time the Minnesota Twins were the best team in the MLB. After the first week of the season, the Twins were 5-1 atop the standings. In fact, one of my favorite stories in the league came after that first week:

This is a team who was uncomfortable in the top spot. The Twins weren’t even thought as a playoff team until a few days before the clinched a playoff berth. Seriously. The Minnesota Twins began August with a 50-53 record and a 5% chance of making the playoffs, which is probably why they shipped Jaime Garcia to New York and Brandon Kintzler to the Washington Nationals. In the final two months of the season, the Twins would go 35-24, taking advantage of a very weak American League Wild Card landscape, and would catapult themselves to their first postseason appearance since 2010.

The Twins have, for the last few years, been a hotbed for young talent, guys who are chockfull of potential. Eduardo Nunez, was traded last year at the deadline from Minnesota to San Francisco, and now finds himself on a Playoff-bound Red Sox team. The Twins know how to draft and how to scout, they’ve got a solid foundation of young talent and have great eyes on the progress of that talent. Guys like Eddie Rosario, Jorge Polanco, Jose Berrios, Kyle Gibson, Max Kepler, Byron Buxton, etc. are all nasty young ballplayers with insane careers ahead of them. Even guys like Robbie Grossman have their own quirky strengths, Grosssman’s being his On-Base Percentage, which happens to be higher than Brian Dozier’s.

The Minnesota Twins are managed like a finely tuned machine, when everyone is doing their job, they are operating on a higher level of play. One guy performing his job allows another to an opportunity to do theirs, it’s a chain reaction. I know this doesn’t sound like a revolutionary concept, because it’s not. However, it’s difficult to pull of, but when it happens it’s impossible to stop. Think 2015 Kansas City Royals. Once you pop, the fun don’t stop.

That’s exactly what happened over the last two months of the season for the Twins. Production Assembly line 101. Let me explain, using the Twins stats in the last two months The way the Twins lineup is crafted Brian Dozier (.309/.407/.600, 17 HR) leads off, those numbers are right on par with his All-Star status. Dozier loves the second half of the season and who could forget how hot he got last year’s for the Twins in the latter half of 2016. After Dozier is Joe Mauer, the elder statesman of the Minnesota Twins. Mauer has been a Twin his entire career of 14 years, and while his best years are behind him, including his MVP season in 2009, Mauer has had a bit of a renaissance in 2017. Down the stretch, Mauer RAKED a slash line of .340/.404/.459. Having your leader in the clubhouse, in the community and the organization turn on the jets heading towards the end of the season is something that should excite everyone. That’s a guy who knows whats on the line.

Anyway, your 3 and 4 hitters are Eddie Rosario (.293/.326/.566, 16 HR) and Jorge Polanco (.316/.377/.553, 10 HR) respectively. Rosario and Polanco began this season as solid 6 or 7 or 88-hole hitters with solid fielding skills, but the second half has ignited them into offensive weapons no one could have predicted. Now add in the fact that both of them can run and you have two hard-hitting, lightning quick threats to contend with and we haven’t even gotten to Byron Buxton (.298/.342/.541, 11 HR) who brings up the rear of the lineup in the 9-hole.

Byron Buxton is NASTY.. when he’s hot. This guy is lightning quick, can swing for distance, and is an insane glove in the outfield. However, it should be pointed out that Buxton wasn’t always hitting this well. In fact, Buxton’s 2017 batting average is a product of his nasty second half numbers, which we mentioned above and his ABHORRENT first half numbers of .216/.288/.306. So whether or not this the truest form of Byron Buxton will only be answered by time.

The Minnesota Twins shouldn’t be playing in the Wild Card game tonight, but here they are.  The true Wild Card team.

Less of a wild Wild Card team plays in the Bronx, the almost AL East Champion New York Yankees. 2016 started off slow for the Yankees and in a very un-Yankee like turn of events, Brian Cashman sold off the majority of the team’s assets for prospects. It would seem that a return to the homegrown style of player development that brought the Yankees a strong foundation in the 90s and 2000s. This was a rebuild from within, a waiting game to see who would mature and how the team would take shape.

Well… have you met Aaron Judge?

If this young Yankee team doesn’t scare you, you’re an idiot. I have nightmares about this team and it’s not just about 2017. HELL NO. This is a team with growth potential and longevity. Granted they have old stalwarts like C.C. Sabathia, Chase Headley, Brett Gardner and even ghosts of horrible signings past like Jacoby Ellsbury, but the young talent on this team is unparalleled. Think about Gary Sanchez’s year for a second. Seems like he was playing under his abilities, right? Well, the only other catcher in the game who comes remotely close in comparison to Sanchez’s numbers is BUSTER “MVP” POSEY. And you thought Sanchez was on a downward slide? From 1st to 2nd? I mean, that’s not an off year, that’s being the best hitting catcher in the league.

I could go on and on about Judge, but there’s not much else to say about the kid. He’s strong, he’s got an easy swing and he’s hit 52 home runs and is second in the entire league with his 8.1 WAR. AS. A. ROOKIE. The guy is playing out of his mind. The guy is playing out of this universe. He’s the Steph Curry of the MLB, every at-bat is must watch TV. He’s a threat at every plate appearance.

Offense aside, the place the Yankees really made strides was on the mound. BEfore the season began I wrote:

“The Yankees pitching staff had a relatively disappointing year, even with the 1-2-3 punch on Betances, Miller, and Chapman. I remember watching some preseason coverage of the Yankees and hearing an analyst say something to the extent of “The Yankees only need to play 6 innings every day and then get to ‘No Runs DMC’ to close it out.” That’s not a bad way to think about that bullpen, but if your starters are putting up 4.65 ERAs in the 4th, 5th, and 6th innings, it doesn’t matter what your bullpen can do. And this starting rotation is capable of so much more. Michael Pineda threw 207 strikeouts in 2016, 11 fewer than Noah Syndergaard, but finished the first half with an ERA of 5.38. These guys have the tools, but aren’t executing. It’s disappointing. “

The Yankees starters have been much more promising this season, even if they were taking their lumps on occasion. Michael Pineda dropped his ERA a full point in 2017, Tanaka struggled to harness his abilities but figured it out just in time to put up a 15K outing to end his season, and C.C. decided to pitch like he was still on the Milwaukee Brewers. What Sabathia has done in 2017 should be awarded some kind of hardware, or at least acknowledged in a public manner of sorts. The guy has literally traveled back in time and pitched like he was 30. His WHIP and ERA have been the lowest they’ve been since 2012, and considering the off the field life changes he’s made, it makes you wonder what could have been for C.C.

There was also the midseason acquisitions of Sonny Gray, Jaime Garcia, Tommy Kahnle and David Robertson, meant to sure up the bullpen and add more firepower to the starting rotation. While Sonny Gray has been a welcomed addition, the Yankees bullpen has been domninant for the most part. In fact, during the last 3 innings of their games, the Yankees pitchers are tossing 3.81 ERA ball,  and opposing hitters are struggling to keep up, hitting .215 late into games. It should also be noted that the Yankees have given up 63 dingers in those innings, 12 fewer than their starters in innings 1-3.

The Yankees offense has been potent to say the least, but can they get to Ervin Santana? That’s the main question going into Tuesday night.

The Game

Ervin Santana takes the hill after a return to form this season. Ervin Santana has had a very modern career in that he came into the league hit, only to struggle through attitude issues, PED suspension and a failure to live up to his own hype. I have always been a fan of Santana’s, and while his PED issues and contract negotiations were grating on everyone, he has certainly earned his second take.

Here’s an interesting fact, the last postseason appearance for Santana was against the 2009 New York Yankees, where he got the W for the Los Angeles Angels. I want you to think about the 2009 Yankees… and just remember how NASTY that team was. Ervin Santana made 4 appearances in that series, compiling a 1.59 ERA, giving up 1 earned run in 5.2 innings of work.

Now that might not sound like too much to base the outcome of a whole game on. Sure, you’re right, but consider how many games Luis Severino has pitched in the postseason? That’s right. Severino is going to make his postseason debut in a one-game playoff. The season is riding on this game and Luis Severino is going into something he’s never done before. It is also worth noting that Luis Severino has also never pitched a full season as a starter, but he managed to do that just fine in 2017.

The other bit of information that doesn’t bode well for the Yankees is Severino’s numbers against good teams. American League teams had a rough go of it this year with only 5 out of 15 teams finishing over .500. That means that every pitcher’s numbers against teams over .500 hold a lot more water than they normally do. Starting with Santana, he’s been pretty solid against good teams, putting up a 4-3 record and a 3.15 ERA, which isn’t it far off from his 3.35 ERA against teams below .500.

Severino, on the other hand, has faired much better than against teams below .500 than above. Against teams below .500, Severino is11-3, with a 2.40 ERA. Severino suffocates opposing hitters on bad teams, leaving them swinging the bat at .200 for the season. That’s the guy I want on the mound Tuesday night, but I’m afraid it’ll be the opposite. the Mr. Hyde to Severino’s strong performances is a guy who is 3-3, with a 4.19 ERA. a far cry from the 2.40 we saw earlier.

Granted everyone has been touting Santana and Severino’s BvPs against their opponents, but all that tells me is that Severino has almost no experience against Twins hitters and that Ervin Santana has seen a lot of Yankees over his career. This game is going to come down to which pitcher does his job perfectly. This is Syndergaard vs. Bumgarner, just on a smaller scale.

So with these two pitchers on the mound and these two very potent offenses slamming headlong into each other, how’s this going to shake out? Who’s going to face the Cleveland Indians in the ALDS? It’s going to be close.

Final Prediction: Yankees 4, Twins 3

Justin Colombo is a 2017 Broadway Show Softball League All-Star at 3B/SS. He's essentially the Manny Machado of the Kinky Boots team. Justin has been writing about Baseball since he was a little kid. Now that being an actor in NYC has given him a lot of free time, in 2015 he decided to take his passion public and founded Three Up, Three Down as a way to express his love for the game. From there, Three Up, Three Down grew from a hobby to an obsession. After years of growth and one insult from MLB's Historian, Justin launched The Turf, a way to expand into all areas of the sporting world. Follow him on Instagram and Twitter. LET'S. GO. METS.

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