What are the Keys to Victory for the Twins vs. the Astros?
The Twins are obviously favored, but what must they do to seal the deal?
There are some strange winds swirling at Target Field this morning, as it appears the Minnesota Twins will bring along one of their very best prospects when they open the American League Wild Card Series with the Houston Astros this afternoon.
Alex Kirilloff is getting the call at a pretty intriguging time, per MLB Pipeline’s Jonathan Mayo.
What that means for Josh Donaldson and/or Byron Buxton is unclear heading into Game 1. It’d seem to make the most sense that he’s insurance against Buxton’s concussion symptoms since Kirilloff is primarily an outfielder, but it’s also possible he’s just one of the most talented hitters in the organization and the Twins want as much thump as possible.
In a video-game environment, we’d simply see Miguel Sano move back to third base and Kirilloff slide in at first if Donaldson couldn’t go; we don’t live in that universe, however.
So we’ll know more for sure here shortly when the Game 1 lineup and ALWS (?) roster are released.
On Monday night, we looked at what the Astros bring to the table.
For now, let’s focus on what the Twins need to do to get past them and into the ALDS.
On the surface, it’s a pretty strong matchup for the Twins. They were 24-7 at home this season, 18-12 against teams that finished over .500 and played terrific baseball in September (16-8). They have the better lineup, rotation and bullpen.
But in October — much like 2020 overall — you can throw those things out the window.
The Twins need to get to Zack Greinke early. He’s the kind of guy who can play the mental game on the mound that’ll tie hitters in knots — and make it worse the deeper he goes into games.
He’s had a very good year, but he’s backed by a shaky bullpen — outside of Ryan Pressly — and he’s been vulnerable to right-handed hitters all season.
The following things about Greinke line up well for the Twins:
Winless with a 4.59 ERA away from home
.845 OPS allowed to right-handed hitters
2.19 ERA in August, 6.08 in September
It feels almost too simple, but it seems like the Twins can take full control of the series within the first inning or two if they can get to Greinke.
Greinke is their backbone and their stability. If he loses, it’s suddenly in the hands of an extremely young and/or inexperienced pitcher in Game 2 — most likely Framber Valdez — and then Lance McCullers Jr. in Game 3.
It would behoove the Twins to not let this get to a Game 3 (well, obviously), as McCullers has been red-hot of late. This is his first go-round after Tommy John surgery, and since Sept. 1 he has a 1.53 ERA, .538 OPS against, 24-7 K/BB ratio and 12.2 K/9 in 17.2 innings.
Offensively, there isn’t much in terms of specifics to look for when facing the Astros. Sure, Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman and Carlos Correa have had down years — but again, it’s still talent over short sample sizes. This won’t be a pushover.
As things stand heading into Game 1, the Twins are the more talented team. They have the ability/skill to outlast the Astros through three games if it comes to that.
But I also believe their best chance is to jump all over Greinke early. If they do that, they have a good chance to sweep.