Astros-Twins 2023 ALDS position-by-position breakdown

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A number of the finest postseason narratives are those rooted in reunions — gamers attempting to take down groups for which that they had as soon as suited up on this stage. These private pasts, these intertwined experiences add zest to the autumn festivities.

That’s why we’re all so excited to see Twins catcher Christian Vázquez pitted in opposition to his former Astros teammates within the American League Division Sequence that begins Saturday at Minute Maid Park.

Oh, and apparently Carlos Correa used to play for Houston, too!

Anyway, all narratives apart, this collection is finally about what occurs on the sphere. So how do the AL West and AL Central champs match up, place by place? Let’s have a look.

Catcher
The Twins have paired the veteran Vázquez, whose bat has waned however who remains to be very a lot a plus defender, with the blossoming Ryan Jeffers, whose 134 OPS+ (34 p.c higher than league common) was tops amongst these with at the very least 80 video games caught and who ranked eighth amongst catchers in Baseball Reference’s Wins Above Substitute metric. The Twins ranked sixth in MLB in caught stealing share (24.2 p.c), whereas the Astros ranked sixteenth at 19.6 p.c.

The Astros have had unmatched postseason success in recent times regardless of a .174 common and .517 OPS from Martín Maldonado in 168 plate appearances as their main postseason catcher since 2018. They worth his management and game-calling — traits which have served them effectively. Regardless of the emergence of rookie Yainer Diaz, who slashed .282/.308/.538 with 23 homers and 22 doubles in 104 video games, Dusty Baker continued to lean on Maldonado in essentially the most essential video games down the stretch. Provided that dynamic, a Twins staff getting extra constant run manufacturing from this place, to go along with the great protection, has the sting.

First base
Veteran José Abreu has been some of the achieved run producers in MLB since arriving from Cuba in 2014. However his first season in Houston has, at finest, been forgettable — his 87 OPS+, or 13 p.c worse than league common, is by far a profession worst. Abreu did end the common season sturdy, with 14 extra-base hits and 28 RBIs in September and October. So maybe he’ll rise to the postseason event.

However due to Abreu’s pronounced struggles a lot of the 12 months, we’ll go along with the Twins right here. They started the 12 months with Joey Gallo at first base however have a tendency to gravitate towards a platoon of Alex Kirilloff in opposition to righties and Donovan Solano in opposition to lefties. It has been a reasonably efficient pairing, as Minnesota posted a .790 OPS from the place that ranked twelfth in MLB.

Second base
Royce Lewis’ limitation to DH duties in his return from a left hamstring pressure had veteran Jorge Polanco at third base for the Wild Card Sequence and Edouard Julien beginning right here. The rookie Julien has definitely earned the postseason alternative with an elite chase price that contributed to a powerful .840 OPS and 130 OPS+ in 408 plate appearances this 12 months.

However at 33, Jose Altuve stays a marvel. He missed the beginning of the season after struggling a fractured proper thumb within the World Baseball Basic, solely to return in mid-Could and rake, as regular. He slashed .311/.393/.522 — good for a 151 OPS+ that was tops amongst these with at the very least 80 video games performed at this place.

Shortstop
Oh yeah, right here’s your juicy narrative people — Correa vs. the child who changed him! They don’t really duke it out on the sphere, so let’s play it out on paper just like the drama fiends that we’re.

Correa definitely didn’t have a famous person season (in actual fact, he was under common offensively and defensively). However he’s a famous person. He confirmed it when he returned from plantar fasciitis and made two of the very best defensive performs of the postseason to this point. Correa has a protracted historical past of assembly the second within the postseason, so we’re inclined to aspect with him right here, even in a down 12 months.

That stated, regardless of how pedestrian Jeremy Peña’s two-year observe report on the plate within the common season could also be (.259/.307/.403 slash, 98 OPS+), there’s no method to full this vital train with out noting that the 26-year-old is already a postseason legend. He was the MVP of each the AL Championship Sequence and World Sequence final 12 months. A troublesome act to observe, however he might, in fact, wow us but once more.

Third base
The Twins have been everywhere at this place. Simply when it appeared Lewis had the new nook nailed down, he acquired damage. Then he got here again … and acquired damage once more. Now, he’s again once more, however he was restricted to DH within the Wild Card Sequence. If that continues to be the case (and we’re presuming as a lot on this train), Rocco Baldelli’s choices embody Polanco, Solano, Willi Castro and Kyle Farmer.

It is far more clear-cut with the ‘Stros. Alex Bregman had a subpar begin to 2023, solely to complete with a darn close to duplicate of his terrific 2022 when it comes to the slash stats (.259/.366/.454 final 12 months, .262/.363/.441 this 12 months). He had a success in all however two of the Astros’ 13 video games final postseason, with a number of hits in three. His 1.109 OPS in his profession within the Division Sequence is second finest amongst all gamers with at the very least 100 plate appearances on this specific stage.

Left area
These position-by-position analyses can get goofy when groups rotate gamers at positions. (Cease doing that, groups, it’s hurting the trigger.) Such is the case for the Astros in left area. Although Recreation 1 is more likely to function Chas McCormick in left (on the heels of a breakout season) and Mauricio Dubón in middle — and despite the fact that Yordan Alvarez can be an choice in left — we’re going to focus on Michael Brantley right here, as a result of the veteran lately returned from proper shoulder surgical procedure and began three of the final 4 video games in left (all must-wins). He stays inordinately tough to strike out, and his high-contact talent set can actually play up within the postseason.

That’s a distinction from Twins rookie Matt Wallner, whose 31.5 p.c Okay price was a priority in an in any other case splendid season. Although we’re deferring to the Brantley-led Astros choices right here, you can also make an excellent argument for Wallner after he slashed .249/.370/.507 in 76 video games and confirmed off a terrific arm.

Middle area
Once more, transferring elements for the Astros. McCormick is our point of interest right here, as a result of he began extra video games in middle than in left, however he’ll proceed to separate his time between the spots. McCormick had some massive moments final postseason, together with an unbelievable catch to protect the Recreation 5 win within the World Sequence. Then he caught hearth offensively this season, with a 130 OPS+, 22 homers and 19 stolen bases in 115 video games. When he doesn’t begin in middle, it’s the versatile Dubón.

With Byron Buxton restricted to DH this 12 months when he was accessible (and he hasn’t been since Aug. 1) , the Twins turned to Michael A. Taylor to imagine the majority of begins in middle. He’s a gifted defender, among the best within the sport. And he can present some energy (21 homers), although the 33.5 p.c Okay price holds him again on the plate. Different choices embody Castro and Andrew Stevenson.

Proper area
Cheers to Max Kepler after his finest offensive season since 2019. He slashed .260/.332/.484 with 24 homers and 22 doubles to go along with his regular sturdy exhibiting within the area.

However Kyle Tucker has the apparent edge right here. Although he fell wanting the MVP season some forecast for him, the 26-year-old Tucker continued his star ascension with a .284/.369/.517 slash line, 29 homers, 37 doubles, 30 steals and an AL-leading 112 RBIs. He’s nonetheless not essentially the most well-known title on this Astros lineup, however he’s all the time a significant menace to alter a recreation. 

Designated hitter
Alvarez has performed left area solely sparingly this season and spent the overwhelming majority of his time at DH, as he has handled an assortment of accidents. However in 496 plate appearances, he remained some of the feared sluggers within the sport, amassing a .293/.407/.583 slash line, 31 homers, 24 doubles and 97 RBIs. Then, in fact, there’s his postseason pedigree, which incorporates an ALCS MVP flip in 2021 and a large Statcast-projected 450-foot go-ahead homer in final 12 months’s World Sequence clincher.

Alvarez is our man right here, and hopefully that’s comprehensible. But when we’ve realized something on this Twins season, it’s that any given recreation can turn out to be the Royce Lewis Present. Tormented by accidents in his professional profession, the primary total Draft choose from 2017 broke by way of this season (even amid extra accidents) with a .920 OPS that included 4 grand slams amongst his 15 homers in solely 239 plate appearances. Then he homered in his first two journeys to the plate within the postseason. As famous above, he might wind up again within the infield, particularly if Buxton returns to the roster. There are numerous transferring elements within the postseason.

Beginning pitching
Look, we’re going with the Twins right here. They’ve earned that. Their 16.5 starters’ WAR (per FanGraphs) was second solely to the Phillies, their 3.82 ERA was second solely to the Padres, their 1.16 WHIP was second solely to the Mariners and their 4.35 strikeout-to-walk ratio was No. 1. Although they needed to expend themselves for an additional spherical whereas the Astros sat, the schedule permits them to start out Pablo López and Sonny Grey in Video games 2 and three on common relaxation after they sported two of the highest 20 anticipated ERAs in MLB (López was No. 1) after which shoved in opposition to the Blue Jays. Recreation 1 starter Joe Ryan’s season was uneven, although at occasions dominant. And with two legit aces available and Bailey Ober (125 ERA+) accessible after an excellent 2023, the Twins are very well-situated right here.

All that stated, will we be ok with taking the Twins over the Astros? No, in fact not. Justin Verlander and Framber Valdez took statistical steps again this season, however they had been nonetheless greater than 20 p.c higher than league common in ERA+. Cristian Javier had a disappointing 12 months, however he completed sturdy and was clearly sensible in final 12 months’s postseason. Rookies J.P. France and Hunter Brown are uncooked choices however good ones. The Astros’ rotation doesn’t come into this collection with the identical shine it as soon as had, particularly after posting a 4.72 ERA within the second half. However that might be rendered moot at any second.

Benefit (for now): Twins

Reduction pitching
In an effort as an example that these are each sturdy staffs total, let’s present some steadiness and take the Astros right here. They’ve been right here and carried out that. We’ve seen basically this actual forged shine on this stage, and their 3.55 aid ERA was sixth finest in MLB (the Twins ranked fifteenth at 3.95). Although Rafael Montero took an enormous step again this season and nearer Ryan Pressly was not as invincible as he as soon as was, Bryan Abreu (zero runs allowed since July 15) and Hector Neris (1.71 ERA, 1.05 WHIP) are two of the very best in baseball at shortening video games. Houston can meet the high-leverage moments.

Once more, although, we don’t be ok with this choice. Choose the Twins’ bullpen not on the full-season stats however on what it could roll out proper now. Having lately added a wholesome Chris Paddack and Brock Stewart to the combo anchored by flame-throwing nearer Jhoan Duran and tossed-in starter Kenta Maeda, Minnesota’s group is essentially the most stacked it has been all 12 months. It had a 30 p.c strikeout price in September and was untouchable in 7 1/3 innings within the Wild Card Sequence.

Benefit (for now): Astros

Prediction
The Astros virtually by no means lose within the postseason (six straight ALCS appearances, with three AL pennants and two World Sequence titles since 2017). The Twins, till very lately, actually couldn’t win even a single postseason recreation for darn close to 20 years.

None of that issues now. All that issues is the Astros shaking off their weird 2023 dwelling struggles and warding off a Twins staff that is available in with Correa and with confidence. The pitching edge, as talked about, can simply go in both route. The secure wager is the Astros, whose expertise on this stage is to not be underestimated. However we’re not right here to play it secure. We’re right here to be aggressive and say the Twins have the facility and the one-two rotation punch to snap the Astros’ ALCS streak. It has to occur finally, proper? Proper?!

Twins in 5. Take a bow, Christian Vázquez!



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