Welcome to October!
Only eight teams remain after 162 games, six months, 26 weeks, 187 days, and a Wild Card series. We cashed our first future bet with the Minnesota Twins advancing against the Toronto Blue Jays. Not only did they advance, they didn’t let it get to a third game, sweeping the Blue Jays out of the building.
Let’s dive into one series that I have my eyes on in the American League.
I’m using BetMGM lines only this year. Here’s a link to get started with a first bet offer of up to $1500.
Minnesota Twins vs. Houston Astros
Projected Pitching Matchups:
Game 1: Bailey Ober vs. Justin Verlander
Game 2: Joe Ryan vs. Framber Valdez
Game 3: Cristian Javier vs. Pablo Lopez
Game 4 (If Necessary): Hunter Brown vs. Sonny Gray
Game 5 (If Necessary): Kenta Maeda vs. Justin Verlander
These are my projections on what I know to this point. The Twins have yet to announce the starter for Game 1, but I think it’s safe to assume it will be Bailey Ober. The Astros have already said that Verlander will toe the rubber in game one, and the way their rotation has worked out, this feels like the way they will go. As for the Twins, they could start Lopez in game two, as he will be on his normal four days of rest. My guess is that if they win game one, they’ll go with Ryan in game two, and if they lose, they’ll go with Lopez. Regardless, these four arms on both teams are most likely being handed the ball to start.
There is a slight revenge narrative forming for the Twins. The last time they were bounced from the playoff was in 2020 against the Astros. Before this Blue Jays series, they had lost 18 straight playoff games. The monkey was lifted off their back, and now they have some playoff success under their belt. However, it is nowhere near the Astros’ dominance over the last half-decade.
The Astros have been to the World Series four times in the last seven years: 2017, 2019, 2021, and 2022. Since 2017, they have made it to the ALCS or the World Series. They have won two World Series rings, lost in two, and been eliminated in the ALCS twice. This is the seventh season amidst an incredible dynasty.
Does the streak continue, or can the Twins outlast them in a five-game series?
How Did They Get Here?
These aren’t quite the Astros we are used to. This team won the AL West in the last game of the season, and they needed the Mariners’ help to do it. However, no team is taking the Astros lightly, as they still have many essential pieces that have resulted in multiple World Series wins. That said, the Astros won 106 games last season but only 90 this year. 90 is still a great accomplishment, but it’s not as jarring as 106.
The Astros were strangely a below-average team at home this year. They finished 39-42 at Minute Maid Park. I chalk that up to bad luck because they went 55-26 at home last year. They were great on the road, rocking a 51-30 record. When it came time to face teams over .500, they weren’t great, finishing with a 42-43 record.
The Twins were 47-34 at home and 40-41 on the road. It will be interesting to see a great road team face an excellent home team and a poor home team facing a poor road team. Both teams come into this series on a good note. The Astros are 6-4 in their last ten, and the Twins went 7-3 and then swept the Blue Jays.
5th in OPS
7th in HR
16th in SB
Since August 1 (Trade Deadline)
VS RHP: 122 wRC+ (2nd)
VS LHP: 142 wRC+ (1st)
7th in OPS
3rd in HR
23rd in SB
Since August 1 (Trade Deadline)
VS RHP: 118 wRC+ (6th)
VS LHP: 135 wRC+ (3rd)
Going into this series without looking at the numbers, I assumed the Astros had a far superior offense. They are led by an incredible front four in Altuve, Bregman, Yordan, and Tucker, and the bottom of the lineup is deep with veterans and emerging stars. They turned it up during the second half, but they weren’t as prolific as I thought over the entire season.
The Astros destroy left-handed pitching. They are still fantastic against righties, but take a step back. The Twins bullpen is right-handed primarily, and every projected starter is a righty. The Astros won’t be put in their preferred split in this series unless they face a bullpen arm.
The Twins have the edge in the power department over the season, but that’s where the edges end. Both teams are better against lefties, and we saw that unfold when the Blue Jays put Yusei Kikuchi in the game. If it weren’t for two home runs by Royce Lewis, the Twins would have been held nearly scoreless against the Blue Jays. They face a left-hander in Framber Valdez in game two, but the Twins have not seen him this season.
When facing right-handed pitching, these offenses aren’t that different. However, the Astros have the experience, and the numbers reflect a better overall unit. The Astros have the edge offensively, but not as much as I thought.
2nd in ERA
2nd in WHIP
2nd in SIERA
Pablo Lopez: 3.66 ERA, 2.98 xERA, 3.33 FIP, 3.29 xFIP, 3.37 SIERA
Sonny Gray: 2.79 ERA, 3.66 xERA, 2.83 FIP, 3.65 xFIP, 3.95 SIERA
Joe Ryan: 4.51 ERA, 3.51 xERA, 4.14 FIP, 3.76 xFIP, 3.44 SIERA
Kenta Maeda: 4.23 ERA, 3.74 xERA, 4.02 FIP, 3.98 xFIP, 3.76 SIERA
Bailey Ober: 3.43 ERA, 3.61 xERA, 3.96 FIP, 4.20 xFIP, 3.87 SIERA
12th in ERA
16th in WHIP
17th in SIERA
Justin Verlander: 3.22 ERA, 3.66 xERA, 3.85 FIP, 4.56 xFIP, 4.43 SIERA
Framber Valdez: 3.45 ERA, 4.30 xERA, 3.50 FIP, 3.39 xFIP, 3.70 SIERA
Cristian Javier: 4.56 ERA, 4.45 xERA, 4.58 FIP, 5.16 xFIP, 4.76 SIERA
Hunter Brown: 5.09 ERA, 4.24 xERA, 4.37 FIP, 3.52 xFIP, 3.74 SIERA
JP France: 3.83 ERA, 4.96 xERA, 4.66 FIP, 4.80 xFIP, 4.96 SIERA
There was an argument between the Blue Jays and Twins. There is no argument for the Astros having a better rotation than the Twins—point blank, period.
The standard narrative you’ll hear is that the Astros have experience. It’s fair, as Verlander’s 3.64 ERA over 200 innings in the playoffs are impressive. However, he’s had some rough starts, but that will happen when you log 207.2 IP over 34 starts in the postseason. Framber Valdez has a 3.41 ERA in the postseason, and Javier sits at 2.20 ERA in two starts. Whether the Astros go to JP France or Hunter Brown, it will be their first start in the playoffs.
If we rank these starters by SIERA, my favorite ERA estimator, the order will go to Lopez, Ryan, Valdez, Brown, Maeda, Ober, Gray, Verlander, Javier, and France. That’s not how I would rank them, but by every metric beyond SIERA, the Twins have been the better rotation. Lopez and Gray looked fantastic in their postseason starts, and Kenta Maeda has a 2.87 ERA over four starts in the rotation.
The only way you could argue that the Astros rotation is better is the experience. While that is important in a playoff series, we cannot act like the Twins starters have zero experience. Ober and Ryan don’t have experience, nor do Brown or France. Maeda has even more experience than Javier, and we just saw what Gray and Lopez did.
The easy edge goes to the Twins here.
7th in ERA
10th in WHIP
7th in SIERA
15th in ERA
7th in WHIP
10th in SIERA
Evaluating these bullpens against each other is rather difficult. The better bullpen in 2023 is the Houston Astros. However, the Twins have added reinforcements from the IL, notably Caleb Thielbar and Brock Stewart. Chris Paddack and Kenta Maeda are starters who can also give the Twins length in the bullpen if needed. The Astros don’t have that luxury, but the back end remains a lethal part of this team.
Since August 1, from a production standpoint, only the Brewers and Dodgers had a better ERA than the Astros bullpen. If we look at SIERA, the Astros rank 15th in that span, while the Twins rank fourth. SIERA is a more comprehensive look at how skilled the bullpens are, but the actual production favors the Astros.
The Astros have five horses in the back end. Phil Maton, Hector Neris, Kendall Gravemen, Bryan Abreu, and Ryan Pressly. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a better five than that. The Twins have a very good five, headlined by Emilio Pagan, Brock Stewart, Caleb Theilbar, Griffin Jax, and Jhoan Duran. The numbers will tell you there isn’t much of an edge when we look at these five in a head-to-head matchup, but I would take the Astros five personally.
That’s why this isn’t easy. The Astros are more top-heavy, while the Twins are deeper. The Astro’s back-end help in terms of swingmen is Jose Urquidy and JP France. France produced well but faltered at the end, and respectfully, Urquidy is not a guy who should be throwing in big spots.
The Twins bullpen didn’t allow a run in two games against the Blue Jays. I’ll give the Astros the edge here, but it’s razor-thin.
If you read my column last season, you know I was all in on the Phillies last season. They had all the makings of a World Series winner, even though they didn’t have the sparkling regular season. This year’s 2022 Phillies is the Minnesota Twins.
Every advantage the Astros have isn’t drastic, but the Twins own the most important: starting pitching. While the Twins offense isn’t quite as prolific, they face lesser starting pitching. The Twins have three starters who all had arguments for the AL CY Young Award. I included Joe Ryan in that conversation because he was in the thick of it before an injury. He’s healthy now and should look much like he did in the first half.
I was disappointed in the Astros this season. They didn’t have that same firepower we’ve seen in previous years. I think the Astros overall are the slightly better team, but to have the Twins at this big of an underdog is simply an overreaction to the Astros’ recent success.
When we dive into the matchups, this line for the Twins should be +115, not +143. I would take the Twins series price down to +125.