1. In the race for the postseason between the Minnesota Twins and Cleveland Indians, Saturday’s sweep felt like the knockout punch.
The Twins swept a pair of games after landing late in Cleveland on Friday morning and then waiting through a rainout Friday night. The two wins against the team directly behind them in the standings makes it feel like the Twins basically have won the division
Some standings math the rest of the way:
The Twins’ “Magic number” is 9, with 13 games left to play. That means any combination of Twins wins and Cleveland defeats totaling 9 will mathematically eliminate the Indians from winning the American League Central.
Cleveland is 4.5 games back, so how could the club make up that ground? It would take some pretty extreme circumstances. Ignore the opponents for a second. If the Indians play .580 ball like they have to this point of the season, they’d be expected to go 7-5 in their final dozen games. They have 6 with the White Sox and Tigers and 6 with the Phillies and Nationals. Adjust those wins and losses up or down as you see fit.
Then you look at the Twins’ final 13 contest. They have 3 with the White Sox, 3 with the woefully bad Tigers, and 7 with the likely-to-100-loss Royals.
Without matchups factored in, it’s hard to imagine Cleveland making up the distance after blowing their latest best chance to do so. Factor in the matchups, and Indians fans are probably more keyed in on the Rays and A’s in the Wild Card standings than they are the Twins atop the Central.
Minnesota’s highest-ceiling starting pitcher was scheduled to pitch Sunday with the division hanging in the balance. When the Twins pulled off the improbable – swept a doubleheader with the bullpen patching together innings – they decided that he wouldn’t be needed against Cleveland after all. They pushed him back a day in the rotation and instead started former Opener Randy Dobnak, who pitched well in his 5 innings.
I don’t believe that Twins made that swap for a one-game strategic advantage over their biggest rivals. But a macro examination of their place on the chess board makes it look like building in an additional rest day for Berríos.
The young righty is at his best this season when he’s pitching on 6 days of rest, as I’ve pointed out in the past.
Although in his last turn in the rotation he dazzled the Nationals with five days of rest, and rather than go after the Indians with 4 days in between starts, the Twins are now choosing to repeat that 5-day rest cycle. I’m fascinated to see if that holds a significant difference for his fastball command, the individual effectiveness of any of his secondary pitches – and I’m fascinated to see how the Twins handle his rest and workload for the final two weeks until October.
Mathematically, Cleveland’s best chance to make a run at the A.L. Central would have been to sweep the Twins.
Instead, they lost Game 1 on Saturday and Sanó’s clutch grand slam more or less ended it. And you could tell by the reaction of the Indians this weekend that they felt the same way. (Mike Clevinger reportedly made some snarky remark directed at Jorge Polanco over the weekend; and the hands-on-knees reaction by the reliever that served up the slam, Nick Goody, made it seem to me like they felt it more than a typical loss.)
Since the beginning of July – and including his clincher grand slam – Miguel Sanó has been a man on a mission at the plate. In 250 plate appearances, Sanó is hitting .257/.364/.556 with 17 home runs and a 34.8% strikeout rate. That’s a lot of whiffs and a lot of power. If you want to take his rates over the past 250 trips to the plate and see what they’d be over a full season of 600 plate appearances, you can pencil in Sanó for 41 home runs and 209 strikeouts. Rhetorical question for you, reader: Would you take that with a .364 on-base percentage?
His offensive numbers equate to a .381 Weighted On-Base Average (wOBA), which is on the high end of offensive production around the league. That’s roughly equivalent to what we’ve seen this season from Jose Altuve, Rafael Devers and Mookie Betts. That’s not to compare those 4 as players but just to point out that Sanó has a special bat.
I would say that there’s a very good chance at this point that the Twins are going to win the division. I would also say that with six games separating them from the top of the pack in the American League, and only 13 games left to play, that it’s very unlikely that they’ll challenge for the top spot. That’s too bad for Minnesota because it means that the Twins won’t have home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. But as a division winner they’ll assure themselves of getting at least one playoff game at Target Field; and on top of that they’re 50-25 (.667) as the road team this year, so maybe playing away from home is an advantage.
As of this writing, the Yankees and Astros have identical records atop the American League, 98-53 (.649).
Who will win that race? On talent, I’d give the edge to the Astros. I like their pitching and they have an amazing batting lineup to boast every night, too. I do question the depth of their relief, but I realize it’s a little silly to nitpick a team that will cruise past 100 wins in a 162-game season.
Plus, timing is almost everything at this time of year. The Yankees play the Angels, Blue Jays and Rangers for 9, and they also have two road games against the good Rays team fighting for their postseason life. A lot of winnable games on that slate, no doubt. But then you look across at the Astros’ schedule, and they’ve got seven games to go against the Angels, a team that announced this weekend that they’d play the rest of the year without Shohei Ohtani (knee surgery) and Mike Trout (foot surgery). Houston has the same Texas Rangers on the schedule for two games, and the other two-gamer that they have remaining is against the Seattle Mariners, and that club doesn’t stack up well against the 90-plus-win Rays.
It’s only a slight edge but that might be all it takes at this time of year. Advantage Astros. Which would mean that Houston gets the Wild Card winner and the Twins are barreling toward a first-round date with the New York Yankees on the road.
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As much criticism as the group has taken this season, we take every chance we can get to point out when the Twins’ Bullpen Did Its Job. What a job that group did Saturday.
After rain came Friday and washed the game away, the Twins had burned starter Jake Odorizzi and Cleveland burned Aaron Civale. A lot of people would say Advantage Twins on that trade, it’s just worth pointing out that Minnesota already had planned to cover one of Saturday’s games with a “bullpen day.”
Facing those difficult circumstances, here is how a group of Twins relievers performed (and I’m including Devin Smeltzer just to add to the impressive totals):
14 1/3 innings
Zero earned runs
From Smeltzer, Zack Littell, Tyler Duffey, Sergio Romo, Taylor Rogers (5 outs), Cody Stashak, Brusdar Graterol, Trevor May (6 outs).
Lefty Lewis Thorpe was the lone letdown on the box scores from Saturday, as the starter for the second game earned 11 outs and allowed 5 earned runs before handing things over to his bullpen mates.
Among American League bullpens in the second half of the season, Minnesota rates fourth in team ERA (4.01) behind the Rays, Astros and Indians.