The AL Wild Card round has officially wrapped up with neither game even getting to a third game on Thursday. The Twins defended their home field by winning their first playoff game in 19 years and sweeping the Blue Jays to win their first playoff series since 2002. Meanwhile, the Rangers went into Tampa in their first playoff appearance since 2016 and dominated in every facet of the game, coming away with a sweep.
The Twins ran away with the weak AL Central down the stretch, but their recent playoff performance loomed large over the franchise that hasn’t been able to execute in October for many years. Toronto has struggled come October in recent years as well but entered the series as a favorite according to many. The Twins will now take on the team that has run the American League Playoffs recently as they head to Houston to play the defending champion Astros.
The Rangers put themselves in a position to win the AL West at numerous points this season but faltered in the last week of the season while the Astros were able to sweep the Diamondbacks on the final weekend of the season. That doesn’t hurt as much now as the Rangers went into Tropicana Field and played excellent baseball from start to finish. They’ll now prepare for a series against the top-seed Orioles starting in Baltimore this weekend.
Let’s take a closer look at how each team was able to advance to the ALDS in sweep fashion this week. Both teams were led by their best starting pitchers turning in phenomenal starts with the support of their key hitters especially the young stars on each team.
Twins Shut Down the Jays
Everyone knew coming into the postseason that the Twins’ path to success was riding their best starters and utilizing their powerful hitters. They did just that as Pablo López and Sonny Gray led the way to their sweep for the Twins. I
In the first game of the series, López worked 5.2 innings of 1-run ball, and the Twins bullpen absolutely locked it down by allowing just two base runners in the final 3.1 innings of the game. Meanwhile, Royce Lewis announced himself to the world by single-handedly carrying the offensive load by becoming just the third player ever to hit a home run in his two postseason plate appearances.
The performance by Lewis was easily the most impressive single-game performance by any hitter in the Wild Card series and showed those who didn’t know how special of a player he could be when on the field. Injuries have derailed the start of his career, but Lewis returning from the AL and immediately carrying his team to a win was the highlight of this series.
The second game of the series was started by Sonny Gray who is likely to finish 2nd or 3rd in AL Cy Young voting this season. He did exactly what he has done all season and spearheaded the Twins’ 2-0 shutout of Toronto to send them to the ALDS. The Blue Jays threatened on multiple occasions but were never able to break through against Gray in his five frames of work before he turned it over to the bullpen.
The play of the game on the defensive side of the ball was Gray’s last moment of the game when he picked off Vlad Guerrero Jr. at 2nd base to end the inning and escape a big jam. This play felt like it secured the momentum for the rest of the game in Minnesota.
The Twins’ offense never fully got going, but Carlos Correa was able to execute in the 4th inning with a bases-loaded single after the Blue Jays confusingly pulled Jose Berrios at just 47 pitches after he walked the first batter of the 4th inning. This decision made by Toronto was one of the more confusing ones we have seen in many years frankly as Berrios was in full control prior to the pitching change. It will likely be talked about as the decision that ended Toronto’s playoffs.
The Twins didn’t need more offense than the pair of runs they got in 4th as their bullpen locked down the game once again after Gray departed. Minnesota will need additional output in order to keep up with the defending champs, but they’ll continue to have a chance in every series with the pitching of López, Gray, and Joe Ryan (who will likely start game one). Keep an eye on Edouard Julien as he’s another young hitter who could have a huge impact game in the next round.
Rangers Storm the Trop
While the Twins won their two games in slow fashion, the Rangers came in and beat the Rays in every possible way. They were in full control of the series from start to finish despite having to play in front of the fans in Tampa.
Jordan Montgomery was in full control on the mound through seven innings of excellent work against a very talented Tampa offense. He looked untouchable at points and was willing to do anything to start the series off right for his team, including putting his body on the line.
This catch was one of the best we have seen from a pitcher recently and was just part of everything he was doing excellent from start to finish of his time pitching. He was carving the Rays lineup throughout the game and didn’t look back.
On the other side of the ball, the Rangers didn’t necessarily do anything crazy offensively but they took advantage of the Rays’ defense looking simply lost. The play in the field from Tampa was embarrassing as they recorded four errors for the first time all season in their most important game of the year at that point. Texas got two hits from Corey Seager, Leody Tavares, and rookie Evan Carter as they put up four runs with Tyler Glasnow on the bump.
The biggest concern coming into the series for Texas was their bullpen which ranked as the worst among all playoff teams in the regular season. However, Aroldis Chapman and Jose Leclerc got the job done with two scoreless frames to finish off the shutout for the Rangers.
Nathan Eovaldi had been pitching very poorly coming into game two since returning from injury which made Zach Eflin appear to be the better option on the mound. That was far from the case in game two as Eovaldi turned in a performance similar to his first-half level of pitching. He was excellent throughout his entire start and kept the Rays offense in check for the second game in a row.
Both pitchers were sharp to start the game but the Rangers started to get going with multiple runners on base in the 3rd inning. They broke the game wide open in the 4th inning when Adolis Garcia got them going with a solo home run and Evan Carter opened it up all the way with his first career playoff home run. This was Carter’s 6th straight plate appearance getting on base in the first two playoff games of his young career. Carter was a massive X-factor for Texas in both games.
The Rangers just continued to chip away with RBI doubles later from Marcus Semien and Corey Seager. The offense kept rolling in support of Eovaldi on the mound and the Rays’ offense offered little-to-no resistance whatsoever. As the 4th best offense in baseball this season, it was rather disappointing to many that the Rays offense look simply bad throughout both games of this series.
Texas executed on all cylinders in these two games and they’ll head into Baltimore with a fully rested Jon Gray and Dane Dunning in addition to having Jordan Montgomery and Nathan Eovaldi ready by games two and three, respectively. It will be interesting however to see how their bullpen holds up when tested more by the loaded Orioles lineup.
As we look forward to this weekend, the ALDS will feature two rather exciting matchups.
The Orioles will take on the Rangers in a battle of a young team on the rise against a Rangers team created through signings and trades primarily. Neither team has been in the playoffs in quite some time and both fan bases will be ecstatic to watch their team perform.
On the other side of the bracket, the Astros will host the Twins as Carlos Correa will face off against his old team in the postseason as Minnesota looks to knock off the defending champions.