For the first time in 19 years, the Minnesota Twins have not only won a playoff game, but they were able to win a playoff series. Now the Twins have the opportunity to get somewhere they haven’t been in 21 years, the American League Championship Series.
Standing in the Twins way from advancing to the ALCS is a team that has made it to the ALCS in each of the last six seasons and has represented the American League in the World Series four times during that span. The Houston Astros.
The reigning World Series champs certainly look more vulnerable than they have in the past, but leaning on their experience, there is every chance Houston is primed to make another run.
Meanwhile one of the biggest sub-plots of this series is the fact that Carlos Correa gets the chance to play against his former team. Correa was great on the big stage during his time with the Astros, but has struggled through a career-worst season this year.
One great series could change that narrative though for Correa.
The Season Series (Twins Won 4-2)
The Minnesota Twins played the Houston Astros twice this season and won both series. Each series was a three-game set. Neither was a sweep, but the Twins were still able to get the best of the Astros so far this year. That does not mean it will hold any true barring on this series though.
April 7-9 (MIN wins 2-1)
- April 7: MIN 3, HOU 2
- April 8: MIN 9, HOU 6
- April 9: HOU 5, MIN 1
May 29-31 (MIN wins 2-1)
- May 29: MIN 7, HOU 5
- May 30: HOU 5, MIN 1
- May 31: MIN 8, HOU 2
ALDS – Projected Pitching Matchups
ALDS Game One: Joe Ryan vs. Justin Verlander
Saturday, October 7 at 3:45 PM CDT
The Minnesota Twins have not yet announced a starter yet, but the assumption would be that they will turn to Joe Ryan for Game 1, after using both Pablo Lopez and Sonny Gray in the Wild Card round.
Ryan has not had a great season, pitching to a 4.51 ERA, although his underlying numbers point to him being a bit better with his 3.51 xERA. Ryan has great stuff and could certainly turn it on in a playoff situation. Over his last three starts, Ryan allowed 13 runs over 16 innings pitched, so he’s not entering the postseason on the best streak.
Game 1 will be Ryan’s first career playoff start, and pitching on the other side will be playoff vet who has more than 200 career innings pitched in the postseason.
Justin Verlander does not have the best resume pitching in the World Series, but pitching in the ALDS and ALCS rounds he has been excellent. Verlander has a 3.08 ERA in the ALDS and a 3.01 ERA in the ALCS. In his last two starts this season, when the Astros were fighting for the playoffs, Verlander allowed just one run over 13 innings pitched.
It is clear the Astros have the edge with Verlander on the hill in Game 1.
ALDS Game Two: Pablo Lopez vs. Framber Valdez
Sunday, October 8 at 7:03 CDT
Pablo Lopez was the one who delivered the Twins their first playoff victory in nearly two decades when he beat the Toronto Blue Jays in Game 1 of the Wild Card round. Now expectation would be that he takes the hill for Game 2 of the ALDS.
Pitching in his postseason debut, Lopez went 5 2/3 innings allowing just one run on five hits and two walks. Lopez was one of the most effective starters in the AL this year, pitching to a 3.66 ERA across 32 starts and 194 innings pitched.
Going up against Lopez is Framber Valdez, who has been great for the Astros this season, pitching to a 3.45 ERA over 198 innings pitched. Valdez brings an extensive playoff resume, having pitched in three postseasons for the Astros.
Last year, Valdez gave up just four earned runs across 25 innings to account for a 1.44 ERA in his four playoff starts. He will now look to pick up where he left off in a pivotal Game 2 matchup against Pablo Lopez that is as close on paper as we will see this series.
ALDS Game Three: Sonny Gray vs. Cristian Javier
Tuesday, October 10 at 3:07 CDT
If the series is tied up when we get to a Game 3, the advantage will turn squarely in the Twins favor. Minnesota has Sonny Gray they can count on, coming off a great start in the Wild Card round to clinch the Twins first playoff series victory in over 20 years.
Gray probably won’t win the AL Cy Young, but he is certainly set to get some votes, after pitching to a 2.79 ERA across 184 innings this season. The 33-year-old will get the chance to pitch on his home mound in Minnesota, where he dominated this year with a 2.67 ERA in nearly 100 innings pitched.
For the Astros, assumption is that they would turn the ball over to Cristian Javier in a Game 3, where they will hope to see him turn back the clock to last October. Javier was sensational in the playoffs last year, allowing just one hit in his two starts, throwing the first six innings of a combined no-hitter in the World Series.
Looking at the regular season though, the Astros have not gotten the same pitcher this season. Javier struggled to a 4.56 ERA in 2023, adding two runs to an ERA from his previous season that stood at just 2.54. His strikeouts have also plummeted from 11.7 per-nine, to 8.8 K/9.
There is every chance that Javier can return to form and dominate in his start, but you have to think the advantage lies with the Twins in a Game 3.
ALDS Game Four: TBD vs. TBD*
Wednesday, October 11 (Time TBD)
The decisions that will be made in a Game 4 hinges largely on how this series goes up to that point, assuming they even need to play a Game 4. Joe Ryan and Justin Verlander would both be sitting on just three days rest and would likely be unavailable to pitch.
This leaves each team looking towards their No. 4 starter.
For the Astros that could either be veteran Jose Urquidy, or rookie Hunter Brown. Considering both pitched to an ERA over 5.00 this year, neither represents a great option. The Twins likely go to Kenta Maeda, who pitched to a 4.23 ERA and at least has a decent amount of playoff experience.
Game 4 is likely to be a all-hands-on-deck kind of game, where the bullpens could really prove to be the difference.
ALDS Game Five: Pablo Lopez vs. Justin Verlander*
Friday, October 13 (Time TBD)
Now if this series goes the distance, we could be in for a great pitching matchup in a Game 5.
Pablo Lopez would be available to pitch on full rest, while Justin Verlander would have an extra days rest if the Astros chose to go to him. They would also have a rested Framber Valdez, if they needed to call on him for whatever reason.
Hopefully we get a full series here, as it would be great to see how Lopez would respond to pitching in a pivotal Game 5, particularly with two experienced options available on the other side.
|Twins LINEUP||KEY STATS|
|Edouard Julien (2B)||.263/.381/.459, 16 HR, 136 wRC+|
|Jorge Polanco (3B)||.255/.335/.454, 14 HR, 118 wRC+|
|Royce Lewis (DH)||.309/.372/.548, 15 HR, 155 wRC+|
|Max Kepler (RF)||.260/.332/.484, 24 HR, 124 wRC+|
|Carlos Correa (SS)||.230/.312/.399, 18 HR, 96 wRC+|
|Alex Kirilloff (1B)||.270/.348/.445, 11 HR, 120 wRC+|
|Matt Wallner (LF)||.249/.370/.507, 14 HR, 144 wRC+|
|Ryan Jeffers (C)||.276/.369/.490, 14 HR, 138 wRC+|
|Michael A. Taylor (CF)||.220/.278/.442, 21 HR, 96 wRC+|
|astros LINEUP||KEY STATS|
|Jose Altuve (2B)||.311/.393/.522, 154 wRC+, 4.0 fWAR in 90 games|
|Alex Bregman (3B)||.262/.363/.441, 25 HR, 98 RBI, 125 wRC+, 4.3 fWAR|
|Kyle Tucker (RF)||.284/.369/.517, 29 HR, 112 RBI, 30 SB, 140 wRC+, 4.9 fWAR|
|Yordan Alvarez (DH)||.293/.407/.583, 31 HR, 170 wRC+, 4.5 fWAR|
|Jose Abreu (1B)||.237/.296/.383, 18 HR, 90 RBI, -0.6 fWAR|
|Michael Brantley (LF)||.278/.298/.426 in 15 games|
|Chas McCormick (CF)||.273/.353/.489, 22 HR, 19 SB, 70 RBI, 133 wRC+, 3.8 fWAR|
|Jeremy Pena (SS)||.263/.324/.381, 10 HR, 13 SB, 52 RBI, 2.8 fWAR|
|Yanier Diaz (C)||.282/.308/.538, 23 HR, 60 RBI, 127 wRC+, 2.0 fWAR|
These two teams were very close to each other offensively this season. The Astros were fifth in the MLB in wRC+ as a team at 112. The Twins were fourth with a 109 wRC+. Minnesota was tied with the Rangers for the third-most home runs at 233, while the Astros came in seventh at 222.
Each of these teams has shown the ability to put up runs in a hurry, with dangerous at-bats up and down their lineups. Look at the stats of each hitter in each team’s top-nine and you will find that basically all have reached double digits in home runs this season. Meaning anyone can leave the yard at any time.
For the Twins, Royce Lewis will look to continue his torrid run in the playoffs, after homering in each of his first two postseason at-bats. The duo of Lewis and Edouard Julien gives the Twins a potent combination of young bats atop their lineup, with the length in the lineup to bat Carlos Correa sixth.
Meanwhile the Astros have maybe the best top one through four in the game, with Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Kyle Tucker and Yordan Alvarez having already proven their ability to score runs in October to bring playoff success to Houston.
When you look at the bullpens, everyone assumes the Astros have this lockdown pen, but that is actually one area where they have struggled this season.
Looking at their combined reliever fWAR, the Astros sit 18th in the league. Their 4.15 FIP and 4.20 xFIP are both in the middle of the pack as well. Now where they have had success is their bullpen team ERA of 3.56, which was tied with the Phillies for the sixth-best in baseball.
The Twins on the other hand find themselves with a bullpen ERA of 3.95, 15th-best in baseball. Their 4.14 FIP and 4.19 xFIP are nearly identical to the Astros.
With all that said, both teams seem to have at least three arms they can trust late in games. Jhoan Duran, Griffin Jax and Emilio Pagan is a great trio for Minnesota, and Ryan Pressly, Hector Neris and Bryan Abreu is a three-man group Houston can rely on.
The Twins have the closer edge, as Duran is one of the nastiest relievers in the game. If the Twins can put the ball in his hands with a lead three times, there is a great chance the Twins can pull off the series upset.
When I first starting writing this series preview, I had no intention of doubting the Houston Astros to win this series. The reigning champs bring all of the experience to the table and have made it to at least the ALCS every year for six years running now.
Maybe this is the year they are due to miss it.
The Twins just got the monkey off their back for winning a playoff series and have nothing to lose going into this series. It has already been a success of a year for the Twins, but they have the pitching to be able to dream on more.
Something tells me that if this series goes five, where Pablo Lopez and the Twins bullpen will do enough to keep the Astros at bay and Duran will be on the mound to close out a one-run lead that will send the Twins to the ALCS.
Twins in five.