Houston Astros fans, read on for an Astros-Twins series breakdown and see what record George Springer can achieve with one more homer.
The injury-riddled Houston Astros have not been without their share of controversy over the last year. Now, perhaps for the first time in MLB history, Houston limps into the playoffs as a sub.-500 team. Sharing a similar fate, the Milwaukee Brewers also finished below .500 and will enter the 2020 postseason picture.
Here are five things to know as the Astros get set to do business with the Minnesota Twins in the first round of the 2020 MLB playoffs.
1) Where does the Astros-Twins Wild Card Series take place and just how many games?
You might have heard that Minute Maid Park will host 2020 playoff games. This remains true, but those matchups will only include NL teams. I know—a little confusing. Nonetheless, everything the 2020 Astros do—or don’t, for that matter—in the playoffs will occur at other MLB ballparks.
The Astros will face the Twins at Target Field in Minneapolis. None of the games will occur in Houston because the Twins finished with a superior record. Posing a formidable first-round challenge to the Astros’ dreams of returning to the World Series, Minnesota completed its 60-game season with exactly a .600 winning percentage.
The Astros’ series with the Twins will either go two or three games in a best-of-three format. Game one begins Tuesday afternoon at 1:00 CDT. Both of the first two contests take place in the afternoon, while game three, should it be necessary, has yet to receive a television time slot.
2) If the Astros advance, what team would they play next?
The 2020 MLB playoffs feature an unprecedented 16-team field. Should the Astros win their AL Wild Card Series, the ball club will advance to the ALDS to play either the A’s or the White Sox.
3) Who are the Astros’ probable pitchers?
Astros skipper Dusty Baker appears to be keeping his cards close to the vest concerning his three-man rotation plan for taking on the Twins. As of early Monday afternoon, Houston’s starters for games two and three remain listed as TBD. However, Zack Greinke will take the mound in game one against Minnesota’s starter, Kenta Maeda.
For the 2020 season, the 32-year-old Twins pitcher has turned in an impressive 6-1 record with a 2.70 ERA. Perhaps Maeda’s best stat, though, is his 0.75 walks plus hits per inning pitched. In effect, Maeda remarkably averaged just three total base runners per every four innings of work. Serving as a potential silver lining for the Astros’ batters who are facing a tall order in Maeda for game one, the five-year veteran averaged just six innings per start during 2020. Subsequently, Houston’s offense should get a shot at batting against Minnesota’s bullpen in the opening game of the series.
4) How do the pitching staffs of the Astros and Twins compare?
First and foremost, it remains important to remember that obfuscating any statistical comparisons between the two teams, both the Astros and the Twins competed in separate divisions during the 60-game regular season. In effect, both teams faced exactly nine other ball clubs during 2020, but neither the Astros or the Twins shared any of the same regular-season opponents. So with that caveat established—who will the Astros throw?
When it comes to the Astros’ bullpen in a must-win series, Baker will likely consider every pitcher in an all hands on deck roll. To follow Greinke’s effort as Houston’s game-one starter, all pitchers could be called upon at any time of Baker’s strategic choosing.
Likely candidates for Astros starters for the second—and potential third—game of the series against the Twins include Cristian Javier, Lance McCullers, José Urquidy, and lefty, Framber Valdez. Baker will probably lean on the above pitchers who do not get penciled in as starters to assume long-relief roles, ceding only to the likes of a 12-year veteran, Ryan Pressly, or perhaps a less experienced southpaw relief specialist such as Blake Taylor.
While the Astros will rely heavily on the aforementioned hurlers, Minnesota’s pitching staff features more depth and achieved a 3.58 ERA, ranking as MLB’s fourth best of 2020. On the other end of the spectrum, the Astros collectively feature a less-than-desirable 4.31 ERA, and will have their work cut out for them as Minnesota’s hurlers have appeared more consistent at stopping base runners from scoring during the regular season.
5) How do the Twins’ and Astros’ offenses compare?
The Astros-Twins playoff series presents what appears on paper to be major parity. For instance, the Twins come into the series with a .242 team batting average, while the Astros possess a nearly identical team batting average of .240. What’s more—the Twins feature a .315 team on-base percentage, while the Astros lag behind ever so closely with an OBP of .312.
Separating the two ball clubs’ offenses, the 2020 Twins appear to present a more formidable long ball threat as they finished sixth in the majors with 91 homers. Meanwhile, a depleted Houston roster missing the likes of 2019 Rookie of the Year slugging sensation, Yordan Álvarez, finished 19th in the bigs with just 69 homers over their 60-game regular season campaign.
Not to be discounted, the Astros’ roster remains replete with sluggers who have a track record of going deep in playoff games. As evidence of this, look no further than George Springer who in 50 career playoff games has launched 15 long balls. As a matter of fact, if Springer connects just one more time in a playoff game, he will achieve a top-10 ranking for most postseason career home runs in MLB history.
Did you know—the Astros-Twins playoff matchup comprises the two clubs who achieved the highest fielding percentage rankings throughout the majors during the 2020 regular season? That’s right, the Astros led the bigs with a .991 fielding percentage, while Minnesota ever so slightly trailed with a .990 fielding percentage for second place. That should lead to a clean, possibly error-free series for baseball fans to enjoy.
The Astros—even without ace Justin Verlander’s on-field presence—may have the advantage when it comes to players with battle-tested experience in deep playoff runs, but the Twins arguably represent one of the most overlooked and significantly above average teams in baseball over the last two seasons.
Not only did the Twins finish 2020 in a tie for the fifth-best record in the bigs, but they also earned 101 wins in 2019, good for a .623 winning percentage. In short, the Astros will have to play their A-game or they’re going home early.