Game 1 of the ALDS opens from the Bronx tonight in what promises to be an exciting series. Here’s how Minnesota can handle the Yankees in Game 1.
It’s here!! It’s time for October Baseball and instead of being sideline sitters, the Minnesota Twins are firmly in the mix! For die-hard Twins fans, today feels like Christmas. The club has been vexed by some bad post season luck in recent memory, but this team is special. The Bomba Squad matches up well against the Yankees and tonight’s Game 1 pitching matchup should be a fun one.
The starting pitchers for Game 1 are Jose Berrios for the Twins and James Paxton for the Yankees. At first blush, this looks like an even match up. Berrios is carrying a 3.68 ERA and a record of 14-8 in the regular season. Paxton’s ERA is slightly higher at 3.82 but his regular-season record was 15-6.
As Parker Hageman over at Twins Daily reports, Paxton is good. He’s been exceptional in the last half of the season. He has held batters to just .177 average in his last 11 outings, which is fifth in the league. He likes his four-seam fastball, especially early in the count. Batters are left either staring at or chasing his cutter and knuckle-curve if they find themselves behind in the count.
The remedy? Swing early and often. Paxton has a staggering 1.015 OPS against batters in the first inning. He simply doesn’t perform well against the top of a lineup. Hitters who get on Paxton early in the count are hitting .333 with a .598 slugging percentage in his first two pitches. Taking advantage of those weak points will be the key to putting the Twins in control early tonight.
The Minnesota Twins have had a heyday this season at the plate against left handed pitching. Paxton should be terrified when he takes the mound for Game 1. But why?
Paxton should be nervous because he’s a lefty. No team has hit better this season against lefties than the Twins and it’s not close. This season, the Twins have hit 95 homers against lefties, nine more than the Dodgers and Yankees with a .872 OPS. They have a .521 slugging percentage against left-handed pitchers, which is second only to the 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers.
League-wide, 22 players have a better than 1.000 OPS against lefties with 100 or more at-bats. Minnesota has 4; Nelson Cruz, who set a franchise record with a 1.207 OPS, Mitch Garver who is third all-time in the franchise with 1.170 and CJ Cron (1.020) and Miguel Sano (1.007). The next closest team has only two players with such statistics.
Besides the Twins’ success at the plate, Paxton has been dealing with a left glute injury that sent him to the showers early in previous starts. The forecast in the Bronx tonight is a cold one; not something Paxton wanted to see. T
he Yankees need to lean heavily on their starting rotation in this series and hope they don’t get chased early. They’re down a couple of key relievers in Dellin Betances and Domingo German. JA Happ is healthy but has given up 28 homers to right-handed batters, a stat which no doubt has the Bomba happy Twins salivating.
The bottom line is that the Twins need to take advantage of Paxton’s early inning struggles and capitalize. If they can manage a few runs in the early innings, not a difficult task in Yankee Stadium, Game 1 could fall our way.
Even better, if they can chase Paxton early and force manager Aaron Boone into his bullpen, it could change the entire strategy for New York. As always, anything is possible in October. It’s been a heck of a ride so far, now let’s see what the Twins can do in the Postseason!