The Minnesota Twins clinched the 3rd seed and the right to host a wild card series by taking home the AL Central crown for the third time in the last five seasons. Despite holding the 3rd seed in the playoffs, the Twins had just the 7th best record in the American League. For that reason, among others, many bettors and fans are expecting the Toronto Blue Jays to take down the Twins in the three-game Wild Card series.
For more great MLB Playoff betting analysis, check out this series preview of the Arizona Diamondbacks and Milwaukee Brewers in the National League Wild Card series.
MLB Playoff Betting: Trends to Back and Trends to Fade
Fade: Twins Playoff Struggles
The Twins are notorious for their playoff failures, as they are 0-18 in their last 18 playoff games dating back to 2004. They haven’t won a playoff series since the 2002 ALDS. But these are not the same Twins. Even their last playoff team in 2020 looks a whole lot different than the 2023 team. While Max Kepler and Jorge Polanco are still around, most of the lineup has been overhauled as young talent has flooded in from the minors. On the mound, Kenta Maeda is still around but he’s now the 4-man in a rotation featuring Pablo Lopez, Sonny Gray, and Joe Ryan.
Back: Red-Hot Twins Offense
In the 2nd half of the season, the Twins offense has been among the best in Major League Baseball. Since the All-Star break, the Twins have put up a 124 wRC+ as a team, which is good for the 2nd best in the American League and 3rd best in all of baseball. In the 2nd half, the Twins have an astonishing 12 hitters with at least 100 PAs and a wRC+ above 100. Led by Royce Lewis (172 wRC+), Max Kepler (154), and Ryan Jeffers (154), the Twins have one of the deepest lineups in baseball.
Even their struggling superstar shortstop Carlos Correa has an unbelievable postseason track record. In 79 career postseason games, Correa has a .344 OBP and .505 SLG while he is tied for 7th in all-time postseason home runs with 18 and he’s 6th in all-time postseason RBI with 59. All nine hitters in the Twins projected postseason lineup have been above-average hitters in the 2nd half, which is a nightmare for any pitcher to work through.
Back: Gausman’s Numbers vs Twins
Kevin Gausman has horrible career numbers against the Twins (1-4, 6.35 ERA in 11 G), but it goes deeper than that. In his two starts against the Twins this season, Gausman threw a combined 10 innings of 7 ER ball with nine walks and twelve strikeouts. While these are small sample sizes, Royce Lewis (.883 wOBA), Edouard Julien (.555), Donovan Solano (.326), and Alex Kirilloff (.323) all have great numbers against Gausman, while Joey Gallo has a .492 xwOBA against him. These Twins have hit Gausman hard, and they’ve shown incredible discipline against a pitcher who typically limits his walks.
Game 1: Kevin Gausman vs Pablo Lopez
We just looked at Gausman’s recent struggles with the Twins lineup, but that doesn’t take away from the incredible season he had in 2023. In 185 IP across 31 starts, Gausman had a 3.16 ERA, 2.97 FIP, and 3.22 xFIP. He had the best full-season strikeout rate of his career at 31.1%, but his walk rate was the highest it’s been since 2017, before he broke out as one of MLB’s best pitchers. Gausman shut down the Yankees twice in his last two starts of the season, but he struggled in his previous six starts. It’s been a mixed bag for Gausman, whose walk rate has skyrocketed to 10.5% in his last eight starts. The Twins walk at the highest rate in the American League, so Gausman is in for a challenge if he can’t find the zone.
Minnesota will hand the ball to Pablo Lopez, who the Twins acquired for Luis Arraez last offseason (talk about a win-win trade). Since a blow-up start in Oakland on July 15th, Lopez has a 2.79 ERA and 3.33 FIP in 13 games. Lopez has a 3.66 ERA on the season, but that ERA doesn’t do him justice. His peripheral numbers are much better, as he sports a 29.2% K%, 6.0% BB%, 2.98 xERA, 3.29 xFIP, and 3.37 SIERA.
Despite allowing a career high 24 home runs, Lopez is allowing just a 6.3% barrel rate. He has a plus fastball, plus offspeed, and plus breaking ball, and he does a great job of attacking hitters’ weaknesses. In his only start against Toronto in 2023, Lopez threw 5.2 innings of four-run ball. Bo Bichette has great career numbers against Lopez, but Lopez has forced weak contact from Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and has great results against Matt Chapman and George Springer.
Game 2: Jose Berrios vs Sonny Gray
In Game 2, the Blue Jays will look to Jose Berrios against his former team. Berrios had a massive bounce-back season in 2023 after a terrible 2022, making 32 starts with a 3.65 ERA. Berrios’ peripherals are a little concerning, as he has a 4.51 xERA, 4.01 xFIP, and his strikeout rate is down a few percentage points from his best years from 2018-21. Berrios only faced the Twins once in 2023, but he did throw 5.2 innings of shutout ball. However he walked five hitters and gave up three hard-hit balls. Things went Berrios’ way in his first start against the Twins, but will his luck prevail in Game 2?
Sonny Gray could have easily gotten the ball in Game 1 for the Twins. The 33-year-old had the best season of his career in 2023, as he had a 2.79 ERA and 2.83 FIP in 184 IP over 32 starts. Like Berrios, Gray has some concerning underlying numbers, as he allowed just a 5.2% HR/FB% (compared to a league average of 12.7%). His incredibly low home-run rate caused a huge difference between his FIP and xFIP (3.65).
But part of the reason for Gray’s low home run rate in 2023 was his uptick in breaking ball usage. Gray’s sweeper is by far the best in baseball, as it has the best run value (+19) and xwOBA of just .164. In 2023, Gray cut down his curveball and sinker usage while introducing a very effective cutter (+7 RV) to his repertoire. In his only start against the Blue Jays in 2023, Gray threw 5 innings of one-run ball. George Springer (.449 xwOBA) and Matt Chapman (.565 wOBA) have great numbers against Gray, but he has shut down Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (.116 wOBA), Bo Bichette (.177), Brandon Belt (.077) and Whit Merrifield (.092).
Game 3: Chris Bassitt vs Joe Ryan
The probable pitchers for this game haven’t been announced, but the Blue Jays have three great options left with Chris Bassitt, Yusei Kikuchi, and Hyun-jin Ryu. Chris Bassitt seems like the most likely choice, as he’s been everything Toronto could’ve asked for and more since signing a three-year deal in the offseason. In his age-34 season, Bassitt threw 200 innings of 3.60 ERA ball. He also has some slightly concerning peripheral numbers, but we’ve come to expect Bassitt overperform those metrics (career 3.49 ERA, 3.91 FIP, 4.23 xFIP). In his only start against the Twins this year, Bassitt allowed nine hits and seven runs in four innings.
The Twins will decide between Joe Ryan and Kenta Maeda for a Game 3 start. While I would go with Maeda, Ryan seems like the more probable candidate. Ryan made 29 starts in 2023 and had an inflated 4.51 ERA, a step back from an excellent rookie campaign in 2022. Ryan’s peripherals were better than his ERA, but they were still nothing spectacular (3.76 xFIP, 3.51 xERA, 24.3% K-BB%). Ryan does a great job of limiting walks, but he shouldn’t get a long leash in a winner-take-all game three. Expect the Twins to look for 4-5 innings out of Ryan before turning to a bullpen stacked with reliable options, including closer Jhoan Duran (27 SV, 2.45 ERA).
MLB Playoff Betting: Take the Twins to Advance (-110 on DraftKings)
One of Toronto’s biggest strengths is their rotation depth, but that won’t come into play in a three-game series. The Blue Jays are better suited for a five or seven game series, but the Twins should end their season before they even get there.
In this matchup between the rotations ranked 1st and 2nd in the American League in ERA, take the Twins to advance due to their advantages in matchups and Jhoan Duran’s arm to lock down the 9th inning.
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