Astros Playoffs Preview: Wild Card round predictions

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - MAY 02: Jose Altuve #27 of the Houston Astros bats against the Minnesota Twins on May 2, 2019 at the Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Twins defeated the Astros 8-2. (Photo by Brace Hemmelgarn/Minnesota Twins/Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - MAY 02: Jose Altuve #27 of the Houston Astros bats against the Minnesota Twins on May 2, 2019 at the Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Twins defeated the Astros 8-2. (Photo by Brace Hemmelgarn/Minnesota Twins/Getty Images) /
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CHICAGO, ILLINOIS – SEPTEMBER 15: Nelson Cruz #23 of the Minnesota Twins bats against the Chicago White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field on September 15, 2020 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, ILLINOIS – SEPTEMBER 15: Nelson Cruz #23 of the Minnesota Twins bats against the Chicago White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field on September 15, 2020 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) /

Lineup

The Twins rely on the long ball, as they’ve had five players hit nine or more homers this year — and that doesn’t include former MVP Josh Donaldson, who was limited to 28 games. They’re led by MVP candidate Nelson Cruz with his .303/.397/.595 line and 16 home runs. Eddie Rosario, Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano and Max Kepler are all legitimate longball threats to go along with Cruz and Donaldson.

The Astros offense has the higher ceiling, but several players have underachieved at the plate this year, namely Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa and Yuli Gurriel. George Springer, Kyle Tucker and Michael Brantley have been good, and Martin Maldonado has come up with some big hits, but this offense has struggled mightily over the past few weeks. It’s feast or famine, and whether they show up in the playoffs could determine the series. ADVANTAGE: Even

Defense

This should be a well-played series on defense, as these two teams are tied for the fewest errors in the AL this year. The Astros have a slight advantage in the fielding percentage department, but the bottom line is defense is a strength for both of these clubs.

Donaldson and Buxton both played error-free ball this year, as did Springer. Correa is a contender for a Gold Glove, and we know what Bregman and Maldonado can do. It’s hard to say one club is any better than the other here, as both are excellent. ADVANTAGE: Even

Starting Rotation

MINNEAPOLIS, MN – September 23: Kenta Maeda #18 of the Minnesota Twins pitches against the Detroit Tigers on September 23, 2020 at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Brace Hemmelgarn/Minnesota Twins/Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN – September 23: Kenta Maeda #18 of the Minnesota Twins pitches against the Detroit Tigers on September 23, 2020 at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Brace Hemmelgarn/Minnesota Twins/Getty Images) /

Kenta Maeda became the Twins’ ace by going 6-1 with a 2.70 ERA in 11 starts this year and a ridiculous 0.75 WHIP. Jose Berrios (5-4, 4.00 ERA) is the likely starter for the second game, and Michael Pineda (2-0, 3.38 ERA) is in line to start a final game if necessary.

The Astros will counter with Zack Greinke (3-3, 4.03 ERA) in the opener with either Jose Urquidy (1-1, 2.73 ERA) or Framber Valdez (5-3, 3.57 ERA) in Game Two. The red-hot Lance McCullers Jr (3-3, 3.93 ERA) would be in line to start a Game Three.

The big difference here is in the aces. Greinke has pitched poorly in September (6.08 ERA) and was 0-3 with a 4.59 ERA on the road this season. Maeda has a 3.00 ERA in September and is 3-0 with a 1.91 ERA at home in 2020. The rest of the rotations may be fairly evenly matched, but the Game One matchup shifts this in Minnesota’s favor. ADVANTAGE: Twins

Bullpen

The Twins have had a few bumps at the back of their bullpen with three different players tallying multiple saves this year. But they have fantastic depth, boasting nine relievers with above-average ERAs. Tyler Clippard and Tyler Duffey have been lights-out, while guys like Matt Wisler, Jorge Alcala and Caleb Thielbar have emerged as weapons.

The Astros have had issues with closer Ryan Pressly, and they don’t have nearly the same depth Minnesota does. Rookies Blake Taylor, Andre Scrubb and Enoli Paredes have provided some meaningful innings, and Brooks Raley has served as a quality lefty specialist at times. But they’ll have to rely on rookie starter Cristian Javier and either Valdez or Urquidy to help out, as they’ll have pitchers on the roster they won’t want to use. ADVANTAGE: Twins

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