The Twins entered Tuesday’s game against Detroit with five game remaining in the regular season and the wild card round of the playoffs set to open next week. At this point, the Twins would face the Yankees in a 4-5 matchup in a best-of-three series that would be played at Target Field.
So what should the rotation be for a Twins team that has lost 13 consecutive playoff games to the Yankees and has an MLB-record 16-game losing streak in the postseason? We took a shot at this in early September. Things have changed since then, so let’s try again.
- Game 1: Kenta Maeda has been the Twins’ best starter this season and deserves this assignment. From the looks of the Twins’ rotation this week, it appears as if he will be on the mound for the opener. But is this what’s best for team? Maybe not. After listening to the case made by seamhead colleagues Patrick Reusse, Phil Mackey and Jake DePue, I’ve come around to the idea that this start should go to Jose Berrios. The righthander had a disappointing start to the shortened season, going 2-3 with 18 walks and 39 strikeouts and a 4.75 ERA in his first seven starts. There was a point where you had to wonder if the Twins could risk giving Berrios a start in the opening round? But Berrios has bounced back in September, going 3-0 with six walks and 22 strikeouts and a 2.05 ERA in four starts. But why start him over Maeda? That’s where the seamheads come in. Assuming the Twins play the Yankees, New York is going to open with ace Gerrit Cole. Cole also did not get off to a great start in his first season with the Bronx Bombers, but in his past three starts he has a 0.90 with five walks and 27 strikeouts. Matching your best pitcher against Cole, one of the best in the big leagues, puts you in a tough spot in a short series. The hope would be that Berrios could match Cole and give you a chance to win the game. But if Cole pitches a masterpiece, that makes Game 2 a must win and guess what …
- Game 2: … You haven’t burned your best starter and now can send Maeda to the mound to oppose Yankees righthander Masahiro Tanaka. Maeda is 5-1 with a 2.52 ERA in 10 starts for the Twins and it’s clear why he wanted the opportunity to become a full-time starter and not shuffle back-and-forth between the bullpen and starting. Maeda was used in relief by the Dodgers in the playoffs in 2017, ’18 and ’19. The last time he started a postseason game came in the 2016 National League Championship Series, when he started two games against the Cubs. The way Maeda has pitched, having him start the second game of a three-game series means he can either be your last hope to force a deciding game, or he can be counted on to close things out in two.
- Game 3: As well as Rich Hill pitched Friday against the Cubs at Wrigley, this start goes to Michael Pineda. The man the Twins call Big Mike has earned the assignment since returning from his MLB suspension on Sept. 1. Pineda gave up two runs, six hits, walked one and struck out four that night in a 3-2 victory over the Chicago White Sox. The Twins have won all four of Pineda’s starts — he is 2-0 — and he has a 3.18 ERA with four walks and 21 strikeouts in 22.2 innings. Pineda, who spent four seasons with the Yankees before signing with the Twins, surprisingly has never pitched in a playoff game.
- What could change? The Twins could set their rotation for the opening round differently, and it wouldn’t be a surprise, but it’s likely that Berrios, Maeda and Pineda would be the first three pitchers. … Hill, who spent time on the injured list because of shoulder fatigue after making his first start of the season, did not throw more than 78 pitches in his first five starts. He has thrown 90 and 95 pitches, respectively, in his past two outings and has a 2.25 ERA. Hill was extremely impressive against the Cubs, giving up one run and three hits with two walks and five strikeouts in seven innings in a 1-0 loss. Whether, the 40-year-old could be brought out of the bullpen in the opening round remains to be seen, but if the Twins advance he would be in line to get a start in the ALDS. … This has been a miserable season for righthander Jake Odorizzi, who is currently on the 10-day injured list for the third time. This time it’s a blister on the right middle finger of his pitching hand. Odorizzi was expected to be the Twins’ No. 2 starter this season behind Berrios but at this point the team just hopes he can get healthy. Odorizzi might be asked to come out of the bullpen in the opening round and definitely could be in line for a start in the ALDS, if the Twins advance. That’s if Odorizzi can stay healthy. … Randy Dobnak got off to a great start and there likely were some who thought he was worthy of a start in the playoffs. But his struggles in recent weeks (11.57 ERA in two starts) led to him being demoted and it’s looking as if he might not even be on the postseason roster.