Twins vs. Yankees, Rockies vs. D-Backs: What to know about MLB wild-card round
The Twins will face the Yankees on Tuesday, then the Rockies will play the D-Backs on Wednesday
Major League Baseball's postseason gets underway Tuesday, as the Minnesota Twins take on the New York Yankees in the American League Wild Card Game. The winner will advance to play the Cleveland Indians.
The Colorado Rockies will square off with the Arizona Diamondbacks on Wednesday in the National League Wild Card Game. The winner will move on to meet the Los Angeles Dodgers, continuing the National League West theme.
Here are three things you need to know about each game, beginning with the AL tilt.
The Yankees have owned the Twins
If there's one nugget likely to be mentioned early and often during Tuesday's game, it's how the Yankees have dominated the Twins over the last 15 years. Not just in the postseason, either:
Obviously the failings of old Twins teams means little as it relates to their chances of winning Tuesday. Still, the Yankees have so thoroughly possessed the Twins' number -- despite the personnel changes on both sides -- that it makes you wonder what exactly is going on.
Depending on your perspective, the Yankees' mastery of the Twins will make Tuesday night's result predictable or memorable. We'll have to wait and see which it is.
Minnesota has the more experienced starter
Here's an unusual twist in a series featuring the Yankees: The Twins will have the experience edge when it comes to starting pitchers.
Ervin Santana has appeared in eight postseason games throughout his career, with five of those appearances coming against the Yankees. Santana has also made 379 regular-season appearances, with all but three of those being starts. He's coming off a season in which he posted his best ERA+ (135) and made his second All-Star Team (the last coming in 2008).
Conversely, the Yankees are countering with Luis Severino, who has never appeared in the postseason before, and who won't make his 100th appearance in the majors until 2019 at the earliest. No matter, many will give the edge to Severino, who posted a 153 ERA+ while striking out 4.51 batters per walk issued.
If experience trumps talent -- and there's no reason to think it does -- then the Twins will have the edge on the mound. Otherwise, the Yankees will.
A star-hanging moment?
Speaking of bright stars like Severino, the game will feature a number of other talented youngsters making their postseason debuts. This will be the first time a national audience sees Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, Byron Buxton, and Miguel Sano on the October stage.
There's no guarantee that any of those players comes through with a big home run or a timely stolen base. Nonetheless, this season has seen so many youngsters put themselves on the map behind shockingly good performances -- and there's no reason for the start of the playoffs to end that trend.
As for the NL side of things.
Manager of the Year candidates square off
Nobody expected to see the Rockies or Diamondbacks in this game. As a result, both managers are likely to get Manager of the Year Award consideration. Here's a little about each:
Bud Black had previously spent parts of nine seasons with the Padres, with whom he went 649-713 (.477 winning percentage). Black never made the postseason in San Diego, so Wednesday's game will be his first playoff appearance as a skipper. Regardless, he has a good reputation among analytical types, due in part to his willingness to shift his defenses an extreme amount. Black is part of Mike Scioscia's coaching tree, so it's probably not surprising that he's the more likely of the two skippers to put on a bunt or a hit-and-run.
Torey Lovullo, meanwhile, rarely asked his position players to put down a bunt during his first full season as a manager -- he'd previously served in an interim fashion with the Red Sox. He's far more likely to call for an intentional walk than Black is, as the Diamondbacks finished with the fourth-most in baseball. (The Rockies, conversely, finished 25th.) It doesn't matter as much now, but Lovullo is also more likely of the two to push his relievers on zero days' rest. Keep this in mind: Lovullo used Archie Bradley for three-plus outs 20 times this season; the Rockies had just one pitcher make more than 10 such appearances, and that was Chris Rusin, whose average leverage index was significantly lower than Bradley's.
Colorado's secret advantage
Even Jon Gray's most ardent fans are likely to agree he's a worse pitcher than Zack Greinke. No shame there. One area where the Rockies do have the advantage is baserunning -- and that advantage could come in handy if it's a low-scoring game.
The Rockies were the second-best baserunning team in the majors, according to Baseball Prospectus' metrics. On the season, Colorado added roughly 12 baserunning runs. They excelled at advancing on in-play opportunities, be it on groundouts or flyouts, or simply taking the extra base on a hit.
Contrariwise, the Diamondbacks ranked 25th in baserunning runs. Though they were better at stealing bases than the Rockies, they were worse in every other way. The Diamondbacks were by far the worst team in the sport when it came to advancing on balls in the air -- their -7.79 score was more than a run worse than the next closest team.
As mentioned in the Twins-Yankees section, there are a lot of players in this game receiving their first national exposure on the playoff stage. That includes Gray and Nolan Arenado, as well as Jake Lamb and the aforementioned Bradley -- whom, if the Diamondbacks are to make a deep run, could well be this October's Andrew Miller.
In other words, Tuesday and Wednesday nights should be fun for obvious baseball reasons, while also serving as a showcase for the sport's bright future stars.
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