I wanna take a minute right up top here to welcome everyone to the Best Baseball Day of the Year. I think most folks would tell you that Opening Day is #actually the best, but we have 10+ hours of uninterrupted postseason baseball ahead of us today. This is baseball so good you can’t afford to get drunk lest you miss a single pitch ducking into the bathroom. Today is not about firing up the grill and cracking a beer and pitching the wiffle ball to the kids for a bit. Distractions like food and family are not tolerated on a day like this.
Opening Day is for bubblegummers. Today is the real shit.
I’ve previewed the Wild Card matchups and the NLDS so far this week, so now we’ll dig in on the Junior Circuit division champions.
Minnesota Twins and New York Yankees
A tale as old as time. A song as old as wine. The Twins getting their asses handed to them in their hats by the Yankees. Plenty of other more talented (though certainly less physically attractive) folks have expounded profusely about the Twins postseason malaise, but just to reiterate: the last time the Twins won a postseason series, Nellyville was atop the charts (if you don’t get that reference, that’s the point). But more to it, they have lost 13 of 15 postseason games against the Yankees since then, the last being the 2017 Wild Card game. It’s hard to overstate just how consistently and thoroughly the Yankees have atomized the Twins the last 15 years or so. It is beyond parody.
But I guess I should still tell you a bit about these Twinkies. They won 101 games this season, beating out the heretofore dominant Indians by a few car lengths. And they did it by doing just one thing and one thing only: socking dingers. In fact, the 307 home runs they hit collectively is the most in MLB history. As a team, they slugged nearly .500. As a team. That is a better slg than every single Red aside from Suarez and Aquino. They have five players who hit more than 30 homers. These cats can mash.
The best among them is the impossibly ageless Nelson Cruz. At 38 he did not play a single inning in the field, but he did OPS 1.031, which is the best mark of his career (a lot of career highs were set in this wacky season, but still. The dude is even older than me!). Rounding out the lineup they have Max Kepler, Mitch Garver, Eddie Rosario, Miguel Sano, Jorge Polanco, and so on and so on. The Twins scored 939 runs this season, which is, like, a lot. Like a lot lot.
Starting tonight for the Twins is their ace Jose Berrios, who is one of my favorite pitchers in baseball right now. He has the kind of curveball that can induce ovulation in scores of women of child-bearing age. He threw 200 innings this year, which in this era of baseball is quite a feat. He is one of only eight American Leaguers to reach that benchmark. After him though, the rotation kinda thins out. The projected starters for the rest of the series are still TBD.
Their bullpen is legitimate, though. They are headlined by Tiger Beat idols Taylor, Trevor, and Tyler (Rogers, May, and Duffey, respectively). They all threw better than 55 innings with ERAs under 3.00. There is also the neat story of animate Nerf ball Randy Dobnak, a dude who was pitching in indy ball not long ago and got married this weekend because when he was planning it he figured his season would have been long over. But he throws a demolition sinker and had a dominant September, so there’s a good chance we could see him against the Yankees.
Now I guess we talk about those Yankees. They won 103 games, scored 943 runs, and clobbered 306 dingers, one shy of the record set by those Twins about whom we just talked. I’ve hated the Yankees for a long time (and I figure most of you feel the same) but real talk: Brian Cashman and the Yanks’ front office is the very best baseball operations group in MLB. Sure, they spend lots of money, but 12 teams spent more than $150 million in payroll this season (four above $200 million!). The old story about how the rest of the league is just a feeder system for the Yankees who buy up all the best players is tired and woefully inaccurate. These Yankees are perhaps the best-built roster in the league. They’ve developed a ton of premium talent through the draft and international free agency (Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, Luis Severino, Masahiro Tanaka), shrewd trades (Didi Gregorius, Gleyber Torres, Edwin Encarnacion, James Paxton, Luke Voit), and bargain scrap heap reclamation projects (Gio Urshela, Mike Tauchman, Cam Maybin, Mike Ford). The worst of it is that the most villainous Yankees thing in recent years, their purchase of MVP Giancarlo Stanton from Derek Jeter’s Marlins, mattered for not this entire season. He played in just 18 games due to injury and hit just three of their 306 home runs.
Their shitty Evil Empire schtick backfired on them this season and they were still really, really good. God damn them.
James Paxton gets the ball for Game 1, followed by Tanaka in Game 2 and Severino in Game 3. Much like the Twins, their rotation is the weakest unit on the team, so we could see more than a few four-hour 12-10 ballgames in this series.
Their bullpen is led by some guy and then a pair of incredibly successful free agent signings in Adam Ottavino and Zack Britton. The two of them signed for a combined $66 million this past winter and pitched for a combined ERA under 2.00 in 127 innings. That’s good money spent wisely.
These two teams are actually really similar, but my heart is always with the underdog. I’d love to see the Twins finally slay the giant.
Tampa Bay Rays vs Houston Astros
I talked up the Rays here, so check that out if you like. But we are saving the best for last. The Astros won 107 games this season and locked down the AL West by the end of May. They’ve now won 100+ in three straight seasons, including their World Series victory in 2017 over the Dodgers. They lost in the ALCS last season to the eventual champion Red Sox, but make no mistake: this is the very best franchise in baseball right now and they are clearly the team to beat.
The heart of the team is their legendary infield. Alex Bregman at 3B is a top three MVP candidate. Carlos Correa at shortstop has dealt with injury this season, but he still accumulated 3.0 WAR in half a season’s worth of PAs. He’s reportedly ready to go for Game 1. Jose Altuve, MVP in that 2017 season, is still among the best in baseball. He slashed .298/.353/.550 this year. Yuli Gurriel is probably the weakest link on this crew and all he did was hit 31 home runs.
That’s all preamble for talking about the laughably fictional exploits of 22-year-old Yordan Alvarez. He was promoted to the big league club midway through the season and he still clobbered 27 home runs while slashing .313/.412/.655. It’s easy to dismiss all these wacky video game statlines that players posted this season because of the superbaseball flying all over the place. But even adjusted for league and run-scoring environment and all of that, Alvarez’s season is one of tremendous historical importance.
Plenty of folks have written about Yordan and his emergence, so I don’t want to dwell on it too much in this postseason preview piece. But here’s my favorite: he is clearly one of the most powerful hitters in baseball. That .655 slugging percentage is impossible to ignore. But most cats like him, with that kind of power, are the Joey Gallo / Adam Dunn types. They crush the ball for sure, but they end up swinging and missing a lot, too. But not Yordan – his swinging strike rate was just 10.4%. That’s the same swinging strike rate as batting average god Jeff McNeil.
Every Yordan Alvarez PA this postseason is appointment television.
Oh yeah, the Astros also have pitchers. Justin Verlander will start Game 1 and is likely to win the Cy Young Award. But if he doesn’t, it’ll probably go to Game 2 starter Gerrit Cole. The Rays will catch a break in Game 3 when they face Zack Greinke, who has finished in the top ten in Cy Young voting five times. The bullpen features Roberto Osuna, Hector Rondon, Will Harris, and Ryan Pressly.
There will likely come a time when I learn to hate and fear the Astros, but not today. They boast possibly the most complete postseason roster in a generation and they have tons of fun. Maybe I’m a frontrunner, but I don’t care.
The chalk take is to predict a Dodgers / Astros World Series, and that is for the obvious reason that they are the two best teams in baseball this year. I’m not gonna over-dumb this and try to get cute. I want to see the two best teams in baseball slug it out with each other. Baseball should be fun, right? And I think it would be the most fun if we got a 2017 rematch.
This time I think it’ll go Dodgers in six.