By Joe Burns and Kyle Caron
The MLB regular season has finally reached an end and the wild card games are starting off the playoffs to a hot start. Tonight at 8:09 p.m. the Minnesota Twins will travel to New York to take on the Yankees for a chance to move into the best-of-seven series. Tomorrow night (8:08 p.m.), the Colorado Rockies will have their chance to keep their season alive with a trip to Arizona to face the Diamondbacks.
Minnesota Twins (85-77) at New York Yankees (97-71)
The Yankees and the Twins have faced each other five times in the playoffs since 2003, but this will be their first time in a one-game series. New York finished six games above Minnesota to earn home field advantage at Yankee Stadium, and just recently swept the Twins in their series two weeks ago. While the Yanks are favored heading into this one, anything could happen when it comes to a one-and-done chance to get into the playoffs.
As far as pitching, the Yankees definitely have the edge; Luis Severino rebounded from a winless 0-8 season last year to make his first All-Star team this year with a 14-6 record, 2.98 ERA, and 230 strikeouts. The hype behind the 23-year old pitcher has me believing he will fair much better than Twins’ pitcher Ervin Santana, who is 6-10 with a 5.66 ERA against in his career.
Joe Mauer will be the biggest threat in the Twins’ lineup, hitting .305 with an .801 OPS this season in addition to his 7 homers. Byron Buxton is another major weapon sitting in center field for Minnesota, hitting .300 with 16 home runs and 29 steals. Unfortunately, they will be without 24-year old Miguel Sano who suffered a shin injury mid-August; the third baseman batted .264 and hit 28 home runs in 114 games for the Twins.
While Mauer is nothing to sneeze at, it’s hard to compare him to the rookie sensation that is Aaron Judge. The Home Run Contest run-away victor fell into a slump after the contest but finished his year on fire, smashing open the rookie home run record (52). Judge also ended the season with 114 RBI and led the MLB in multiple categories with 128 runs, 122 walks, and 208 strikeouts.
The fact Judge turned his season around and picked up the pace as the playoffs are starting means there isn’t much hope for the Twins in this game. Even if all else falls even, I believe he has what it takes to lift up the Yankees when it matters and get them into the big dance.
Colorado Rockies (87-75) at Arizona Diamondbacks (93-69)
Although they both enter the playoffs as wildcards, Arizona posted the third best record in the MLB, while Colorado finished just one game ahead of the Milwaukee Brewers to get their ticket to play.
Both teams enter this game after serious time away from the playoffs; the Diamondbacks will be making their first appearance since 2011 while the Rockies have not made it out of the regular season since 2009.
Although the Diamondbacks have looked like the better team all year, the two teams split their four-game series in the start of September so the match-up is hard to predict. The game will most likely come down to how well starting pitchers Jon Gray and Zack Greinke can set the tempo for the game and stay out of trouble early.
Rockies’ pitcher Gray will have his postseason debut after only starting 20 games this season, however he allowed three or less runs in 17 of those games and struck out 10 batters in his last game against Arizona. This small sample size makes it even harder to know just how well the Rockies will match up heading into the game. Greinke has been a force for the Diamondbacks, recording a 17-7 record, a 3.20 ERA, and 215 strikeouts on the season. The main thing that gives him an edge over Gray however is how well he has performed at home: 13-1 with a 2.87 ERA in 18 outings in Arizona.
Charlie Blackmon and Nolan Arenado are fierce competitors for the Rockies, with both putting their name into the ring for the NL MVP. Blackmon batted .331 with 104 RBIs and 14 stolen bases while Arenado contributed a 130 RBIs while hitting .309. Both players put 37 home runs into the stands so far. They will be challenged on the other side by Paul Goldschmidt who hit scored 117 runs, had 34 doubles, 36 home runs, 120 RBIs, and stole 18 bases while batting .297.
The power on both teams means that it will likely be a shootout, so it is going to be mostly down to which pitcher can stop the bleeding. Although the both the Diamondbacks’ and Rockies’ hitters have shown they can be lethal throughout the season, Greinke is more experienced and has the swagger to pull off a tough win. Apart from Greinke, the Diamondbacks have been a more consistent team over the season and should be able to work their way into the playoffs as long as Gray doesn’t give them too much trouble.