After a wild card race that came down to the second last game of the season, the Toronto Blue Jays booked their ticket to Minnesota to face the AL Central Champion, Twins.
With the odds in Minnesota’s favour across most major betting companies, it’s important to look at this series from all aspects.
Blue Jays: Suggesting that the Blue Jays starting rotation has done anything but carry them to this post-season would be ludicrous. Kevin Gausman, Jose Berrios, and Chris Bassitt are the confirmed starters for the Jays in this series. That gives them an average ERA of 3.47, Berrios’ the highest at 3.65.
The golden ticket of those three starters is clearly Gausman, who rides a 13-inning scoreless streak into his eighth career playoff appearance. While the right-hander doesn’t have a playoff win on his resume, this has been his best statistical year to date, striking out 237 batters in 185 innings pitched this season.
Gausman has thrown fastballs 50 per cent of the time this season, but his split finger pitches could prove most important this series. The Colorado native uses split fingers 38 per cent of the time, a pitch-type that the Twins rank second worst in the league in run value against.
Twins: While the Jays five-man carried them, the top half of the Twins rotation cannot be doubted either. Pablo Lopez is expected to start game one, Sonny Gray following, and Joe Ryan pitching the third, if necessary. The three share an average ERA of 3.65, Ryan being the straggler of the group at 4.51.
You could have your choice between Lopez and Gray, the latter holding a better ERA despite striking out fifty less batters. Lopez was brought in last season in a trade with the Miami Marlins that saw 2022 batting champion Luis Arraez go the other way. A hefty price for the right-hander, he has not disappointed, winning eleven of his 32 starts this campaign.
The concern for the Twins fans comes from their game three option. Joe Ryan had an impeccable first half of the season, holding a 3.42 ERA at the end of June. However, the ‘second half scaries’ must have caught Ryan, whose ERA skyrocketed to 6.41 from the start of July onwards, allowing 18 home runs in 59 innings pitched in that time.
Neither of these sides can make claims to having the best bullpens in baseball, but they are both by no means bad.
The Jays’ bullpen is headlined by Canadian closer Jordan Romano and mid-season acquisition Jordan Hicks, while the Twins look to 25-year-old Jhoan Duran and Emilio Pagán.
The bullpens could be the make-or-breaks for both sides, but picking who’s will adopt either option is not easy.
The two pens are separated by a mere 0.27 when it comes to ERA, Toronto holding the advantage.
Canada’s only team also has a better saves converted percentage at 78 per cent compared to Minnesota’s 58 per cent, as well as overall holds, the Jays scoring the second-most across the whole league in that category.
The stats point to Toronto having the upper hand. But the Twins have the home advantage for all three games, and if you haven’t seen Duran’s walkout, it’s intimidating enough to count as a stat of its own.
This is where the matchup becomes a tad more jagged.
Blue Jays: The Jays have had inconsistent hitting throughout the season, in case you needed someone to state the obvious. Bo Bichette (.306 batting average, .812 OPS), Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (.264 batting average, .789 OPS), and George Springer (.258 batting average, .732 OPS) remain the ones to watch in the batting box for Toronto. But, with the stars’ inconsistencies, the lower half of the lineup will need to hold their own in this series.
Matt Chapman (.240 batting average, .754 OPS) was a Blue Jays powerhouse in the first half of the season who the Jays will be hoping can re-find his form.
Playoff veterans Brandon Belt (.251 batting average, .850 OPS) and Kevin Kiermaier (.265 batting average, .741 OPS) provide some much needed experience in this Jays lineup. Kiermaier was brought in from Tampa Bay for his defensive ability, but his hitting out of the bottom third has been a very pleasant surprise for his side.
Twins: Minnesota is an interesting team to study at the plate. They have no hitters in the top 20 of the home run rankings, yet they share the AL lead for home runs with 233 this season. To add to that, they rank 21st in batting average (.243), but seventh in both slugging (.427) and OPS (.753).
Right-fielder Max Kepler leads Minnesota in home runs with 24, RBIs with 66, and is second in hits with 113, only trailing Carlos Correa’s 118. Correa has been sidelined with a foot injury for the past two weeks is expected to be ready for Tuesday.
Quebec native Edouard Julien has had a spectacular rookie season for the Twins, providing a spark as the team’s leadoff. The 24-year-old has led Minnesota in on-base percentage (.381) and is fourth in OPS (.840).
You would think with three-time Gold Glove winner and home run robber Kevin Kiermaier in centre field, as well as ranking seventh overall in fielding percentage, the Jays would have the defensive upper hand. But, the Twins’ third-best fielding percentage and third least errors committed would suggest otherwise.
They may not have the biggest names besides Correa and Kepler, but the Twins’ defence does their job mighty well.
The managerial battle is weirdly one of the most interesting aspects of this whole breakdown. Two managers sporting ‘goose eggs’ in career playoff wins, there’s not much to go off here. Rocco Baldelli has a 2019 AL manager of the year award to his name, but is 0-5 in playoff games, three more losses than the Jays’ John Schneider, who is 0-2 after last year’s unforgettable series sweep at the hands of the Seattle Mariners.