Tag Archives: Byron Buxton

2019 MLB Power Ranking: Los Angeles Dodgers control top spot on June 1

Embed from Getty Imageswindow.gie=window.gie||function(c){(gie.q=gie.q||[]).push(c)};gie(function(){gie.widgets.load({id:’WZtW56oDQ1xl7HYPoJa5jQ’,sig:’gueSCKf2Vk9cyqrh6YG26PIB-lG_gYEf3FEb87VaK9g=’,w:’594px’,h:’396px’,items:’1054089512′,caption: true ,tld:’com’,is360: false })});//embed-cdn.gettyimages.com/widgets.js

Two-time defending NL champion Dodgers at top of rankings

When my final 2018 MLB Power Rankings were released eight months ago on October 1, 2018, the Phillies were tied with the Cincinnati Reds at 21st overall. With these first 2019 rankings, they are in a higher slot – but perhaps not as high as one might think.

The work done by general manager Matt Klentak this past off-season with the support of principal owner John Middleton was significant, resulting in a greatly improved everyday lineup. It is those additions and changes which have elevated the Phillies to the top of the NL East Division standings.
Still, there is much to be done in order for the club to make themselves a true World Series contender. Just as with last year’s mid-season bolt to the top of the division, the 2019 Phillies have once again largely outplayed their statistics.
How the Phillies brain trust addresses the needs on the mound and in bench depth will determine just how far this team can go as the summer of 2019 unfolds over the next few months.

A LOOK BACK AT THE 2018 PHILLIES

Last season, the Phillies spent much of July at the top of those NL East standings. However, they never ranked higher than 16th in my MLB Power Rankings. Here was my final October 1, 2018 evaluation of their season, and my commentary on what they needed to do in order to rise in the 2019 standings and rankings:
“…the Phillies were never better than a middle-of-the-pack ball club from a statistical perspective.
Second, you can also see that the team plummeted down five places over the final month. Any Phillies fan who sat through the last two months can understand why.
Finally, a look over the full rankings shows that the Phillies finished just fourth among the five National League East Division teams. In fact, when looking at the numbers behind the rankings, the club finished just ahead of Miami as well.
The 2018 Philadelphia Phillies finished in the middle-of-the-pack as far as the overall MLB standings are concerned. Their pitching staff was competitive enough to be ranked in the middle as well.
It was the club’s 29th-ranked defense and 21st-ranked offense that held them back. It will be the job of Phillies management and ownership to fix the position-player mix in the coming off-season if they want to truly become a contending team in the 2019 campaign.

RANKINGS METHODOLOGY

The MLB Power Rankings will be updated here at Phillies Nation roughly every two weeks for the remainder of the regular season. As with last season when I began this evaluation process, there is no subjectivity on my part. I look at key statistics and rank the teams based on their ability to actually win ball games, in addition to their performance on offense, on the pitching mound, and in the field.
Introduced and then upgraded during the course of last season, my formula for compiling the rankings gets another tweak to begin this year. By the end of 2018, I was researching each of the 30 MLB teams current position in the four categories of winning percentageruns scoredpitching OPS, and fielding percentage.
This year, runs-per-game will be replacing simple runs scored to get the offensive component. I then assign each of those component category team rankings a 1-30 value and add them up to determine an overall final ratings score. Where there was a tie, it was broken by W-L percentage.

2019 JUNE 1 MLB RANKINGS

  1. Los Angeles Dodgers
  2. Minnesota Twins
  3. Houston Astros
  4. Tampa Bay Rays
  5. New York Yankees
  6. Boston Red Sox
  7. Milwaukee Brewers
  8. Oakland Athletics
  9. Arizona Diamondbacks
  10. Chicago Cubs
  11. Colorado Rockies
  12. Atlanta Braves
  13. Cincinnati Reds
  14. Saint Louis Cardinals
  15. Philadelphia Phillies
  16. Texas Rangers
  17. San Diego Padres
  18. Cleveland Indians
  19. Los Angeles Angels
  20. Pittsburgh Pirates
  21. Kansas City Royals
  22. New York Mets
  23. Miami Marlins
  24. Washington Nationals
  25. Chicago White Sox
  26. Seattle Mariners
  27. Detroit Tigers
  28. Toronto Blue Jays
  29. San Francisco Giants
  30. Baltimore Orioles

SPOTLIGHT TEAM: MINNESOTA TWINS

There is no doubt that the Twins have been the surprise team in Major League Baseball during the 2019 season. In my MLB Previews and Predictions piece for Phillies Nation back on March 28, I picked the Twins for second place in the AL Central Division.
In my snippet on the division, I made the following comment: “The Twins have been the fashionable pick as a surprise American League contender. If that turns out true, I believe it will have to be for a Wildcard berth.” In that piece, I also made Twins center fielder Byron Buxton my choice for the American League’s Comeback Player of the Year Award.
Still just 25-year-old, the perennially injured Buxton has largely remained healthy this year. He is slashing .254/.311/.491 with five homers, 29 RBIs, and 29 runs scored. Buxton is second on the club with 27 extra-base hits, and leads the Twins with nine stolen bases. He is also playing exceptional center field defense.
Left fielder Eddie Rosario has been the Twins biggest run producer. The 27-year-old leads the club with 17 home runs and 49 RBIs. 29-year-old first baseman C.J. Cron is second with 13 homers and third with 35 RBIs. 26-year-old right fielder Max Kepler is second with 36 RBIs and third with a dozen home runs.
The best all-around hitter for the team has been shortstop Jorge Polanco. The 25-year-old is slashing .338/.409/.590, and the switch-hitter is leading the Twins with 30 extra-base hits.
On the mound, the Twins have received strong efforts from starting pitchers Jake OdorizziJose BerriosKyle Gibson, and Martin Perez. While the bullpen has not settled on just one closer as yet, they have gotten solid work from right-handers Blake ParkerRyne HarperTrevor MayMatt Magill, and Tyler Harvey, and lefty Taylor Rogers.
Philly fans have been excited to learn of the recent promotion of left-hander Devin Smeltzer. The 23-year-old southpaw is from Voorhees, New Jersey and attended high school at Bishop Eustace Prep in Pennsauken. Smeltzer was a 5th round choice of the Dodgers in the 2016 MLB Draft, and was dealt to the Twins as part of a package at last year’s trade deadline for second baseman Brian Dozier.
When I made my pre-season predictions, one award that I didn’t even mention as having a candidate from the Twins was the American League’s Manager of the Year honors. In hindsight, that was a foolish omission. But who could have ever foreseen the impact that first-year skipper Rocco Baldelli would have on this squad?
The Minnesota Twins (38-18) have the best record in the American League to this point in the 2019 regular season. The lead the AL Central Division by 10.5 games, 11 in the loss column. Their +103 run differential is the best in baseball. If the Twins can stay healthy, they are proving that they will be a serious contender for the American League pennant this season.
Originally published at Phillies Nation as 2019 MLB Power Ranking: June 1

First lineup changes of the season for Phillies as J.T. Realmuto gets a rest

Embed from Getty Imageswindow.gie=window.gie||function(c){(gie.q=gie.q||[]).push(c)};gie(function(){gie.widgets.load({id:’v7OSVxe9R3Z67iaNY7niNA’,sig:’wkDlebrtpevjl6QggCqdtxCXz2lkIUy0PM1giZcvmqw=’,w:’594px’,h:’396px’,items:’657487382′,caption: true ,tld:’com’,is360: false })});//embed-cdn.gettyimages.com/widgets.js

Andrew Knapp gets his first start of the season behind the plate

It’s one of the most commonly used and recognized phrases in the English language, understandable to anyone who hears it uttered: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Phillies manager Gabe Kapler has lived by that mantra over the first week of the 2019 Major League Baseball season. For the first six games the skipper has run out the exact same starting lineup. The Phillies have responded with a 5-1 record, with an average of 8.2 runs scored per game.
But it was only a matter of time before an injury or the need to give someone a blow would necessitate a change, and that first starting lineup comes today. It’s a fairly subtle change, however, one that should not be unexpected.
Kapler’s lineup for Saturday afternoon’s Interleague game against the visiting Minnesota Twins at Citizens Bank Park will see Andrew Knapp receiving his first start of the year behind the plate. That gives starting catcher J.T. Realmuto a needed break for a day game following a night game.
In order to keep the best all-around catcher in the game today fully healthy over the course of a long six-month season, Kapler is going to need to pick and choose these types of opportunities to give his starting backstop a rest. Fans should expect that Realmuto is going to get a couple of dozen of these breaks over the course of the year, or about once per week.

SATURDAY LINEUPS AND PREVIEW

Kapler is making just a minor change from his first six games. Realmuto gets the break behind the plater with Knapp getting the start and hitting seventh. That bumps both Odubel Herrera and Cesar Hernandez up one slot in the batting order to bat in the 5-6 spots respectively.
Twins skipper Rocco Baldelli is making a number of changes from his Friday night lineup. Exciting center fielder Byron Buxton is back after missing the last two games after bruising his ribs running into a wall this past Tuesday. Buxton has game-changing speed and is a Gold Glove-caliber defender in the middle of the outfield.
Former Phillies prospect Willians Astudillo is behind the plate and batting second. He is off to a hot start for Minnesota with three doubles, three RBI, six hits and five runs scored over his first dozen plate appearances of the 2019 season.
Jorge Polanco, who hit for ‘The Cycle’ last night when he produced a five-hit game, drops to the three-hole in place of Eddie Rosario, who is getting the day off. Ehire Adrianza gets the start at third base with Marwin Gonzalezgetting the day off as well.
Joining Gonzalez and Rosario on the bench is slugger Nelson Cruz. The Twins regular DH has still not played the field at all this season. While the moves take some pop out of the Minnesota starting lineup the late-game bench options are very attractive for Baldelli, if his team can keep the game close enough for that to matter.

SHIBE VINTAGE SPORTS STARTING PITCHING MATCHUP

  • Jake Arrieta (1-0, 1.50 ERA) vs Michael Pineda (0-0, 0.00 ERA)
  • On a bitter cold day during his first start Arrieta walked six Atlanta Braves batters. However, he also surrendered just one earned run and three hits while striking out six. Four of the walks came over the first three innings.
  • Arrieta has made five career appearances against the Twins. The first five of those came during his early career while with the Baltimore Orioles from 2010-13. In a June 21, 2015 outing at Wrigley Field during his Cy Young Award-winning campaign with the Cubs, Arrieta tossed a complete game shutout, allowing just four hits.
  • Pineda suffered a UCL tear in July of 2017 which necessitated Tommy John surgery. He missed the entire 2018 season as a result. In his first start back last week he went four shutout innings with five strikeouts and just one hit and walk allowed against the Cleveland Indians.
  • Pineda has two career starts against the Phillies, both coming at Citizens Bank Park. One came all the way back on June 17, 2011 during his rookie campaign with the Seattle Mariners. He went six innings that night, allowing just two hits in beating Roy Oswalt by 4-2. Then on June 22, 2015 while pitching for the New York Yankees, Pineda was beaten up for eight runs and 11 hits over just 3.1 innings with Maikel Franco homering off him.

PHILLIES NUGGETS PREGAME NOTES

  • Prior to the game the Twins designated first baseman Tyler Austin for assignment and called up right-handed pitcher Chase De Jong to help out a bullpen that went through five relievers on Friday night, three of those for more than an inning. Austin had been acquired from the New York Yankees last season in exchange for starting pitcher Lance Lynn.
  • Franco and Andrew McCutchen have each homered off Pineda during their careers.
  • The Twins have double-digit hit totals in each of their last four games including 11 in Friday night’s opener. Their 49 hits during that span ranks fourth in MLB. Minnesota is just 3-10 over their last 13 Interleague games vs NL opposition.

SATURDAY’S PROGRAMMING INFORMATION

  • First pitch scheduled for 2:05 pm. Weather: partly cloudy, 64 degrees, 0% chance rain, conditions steady.
  • Location: Citizens Bank Park, South Philadelphia.
  • Promotion: All fans receive pair of Johnson Controls Phillies socks. Tickets available.
  • TV: NBC Sports+
  • Radio: SportsRadio WIP 94.1 FM, WTTM 1680 (Spanish)

Minnesota Twins visit Citizens Bank Park for first time since 2010

Embed from Getty Imageswindow.gie=window.gie||function(c){(gie.q=gie.q||[]).push(c)};gie(function(){gie.widgets.load({id:’_7MkzayhTGlZAL4nnkr_fQ’,sig:’PCrzp44Q3HPs3qAgXkp_0mvXaziHNWLySXYrjlmoJ5A=’,w:’594px’,h:’396px’,items:’1134769764′,caption: true ,tld:’com’,is360: false })});//embed-cdn.gettyimages.com/widgets.js

First-year manager Rocco Baldelli leads the Twins into Philly

The Philadelphia Phillies (4-1) return home following a brief but eventful two-game series split with the division rival Washington Nationals down at Nationals Park in our nation’s capital earlier this week.

The pair of emotional games in D.C., especially Tuesday night’s nationally televised tilt, were important on many fronts. One was that it allowed these two teams, who many feel will battle for the NL East Division crown, to size one another up.
Another was that it allowed new Phillies superstar Bryce Harper to get the drama of returning to the place where he played the first seven seasons of his big-league career out of the way with in the early days of the season.
With that drama behind them the club can begin to focus on the lengthy six-month regular season. The Phillies should also begin to settle into much more of a normal baseball routine now as well. After experiencing three off-days over the first week there will be just two more over the rest of the month of April.

MINNESOTA TWINS COME TO TOWN

The Phillies welcome in the Minnesota Twins (4-1) of the American League Central Division for the first interleague series of the 2019 campaign. The two teams have not met since a three-game set at Target Field in Minnesota back in June of 2016, and this is their first series against one another at Citizens Bank Park since June of 2010. The Twins hold a 10-8 edge in the all-time series between the clubs.
Minnesota has won three in a row entering this series to take an early lead in that AL Central Division race. Each of their last two victories have come thanks to late inning rallies in Kansas City.
Despite the retirement of popular hometown franchise icon Joe Mauer, the Twins were a popular choice among many preseason pundits as a surprise American League playoff contender.

FRIDAY LINEUPS AND PREVIEW

MINNESOTA TWINS LINEUP

  1. Max Kepler (L), CF
  2. Jorge Polanco (S), SS
  3. Eddie Rosario (L), LF
  4. C.J. Cron (R), 1B
  5. Marwin Gonzalez (S), 3B
  6. Jake Cave (L), RF
  7. Jonathan Schoop (R), 2B
  8. Jason Castro (L), C
  9. Jake Odorizzi (R), P
The Minnesota offensive attack has been led by 38-year-old, 15-year veteran Nelson Cruz. The regular Designated Hitter, Cruz leads the Twins in RBI with six and has their only home run to this point. He has not played the field yet in 2019.
25-year-old shorstop Jorge Polanco is tied with Cruz and former Phillies farm hand Willians Astudillo for the club lead in hits with six and his three extra-base hits are tied with Astudillo and center fielder Byron Buxton for the Twins lead in that category.

The Phillies and the rest of baseball will no longer have to deal with Joe Mauer. The 6x AL All-Star and 2009 AL MVP has retired after a 15-year big-league career. (Keith Allison)
A 27-year-old second-year service time rookie, Astudillo has seen action at three positions including two games behind the plate. He was originally signed by the Phillies out of his native Venezuela as a 17-year-old back in December 2008.
Astudillo rose only to High-A Clearwater by 2015 and became a minor league free agent following that season, signing with the Atlanta Braves. He then bounced from Atlanta to the Arizona Diamondbacks before catching on with the Twins in November 2017.
The perennially underachieving or injured Buxton, easily Minnesota’s most talented ball player, finds himself banged up yet again after running into a wall on Tuesday night in Kansas City. He is out for the opener of this series and is considered day-to-day with bruised ribs.
Also out of the lineup is slugging third baseman Miguel Sano, sidelined following a laceration to his right leg during spring training. He is not due back until some point in May.
The Twins bullpen has been solid thus far, surrendering just five earned runs and a dozen hits over their first 16.2 innings. Three of those runs came in one burst, when lefty Martin Perez gave up a three-run double to former Phillies first baseman Carlos Santana in the eighth inning last Sunday.
One of the key arms in that bullpen is another former Phillies prospect. Right-hander Trevor May was the fourth round pick of the Phillies in the 2008 MLB Amateur Draft out of high school in Washington state. He was dealt to Minnesota in December 2012 along with pitcher Vance Worley in exchange for outfielder Ben Revere.
Willians Astudillo is projected to have a higher WAR/600 PA than Trevor Story, Anthony Rizzo, Lorenzo Cain, George Springer, and Matt Carpenter among others in 2020 (ZiPS)

See Beyond the Box Score’s other Tweets

This would appear to be a mismatch on paper, with the Phillies clearly possessing greater lineup firepower. The best chance for Minnesota would appear to be in keeping the games close into the later innings, allowing their bullpen to shut the Phillies down, and then picking up a big hit to steal a game or two. That was the winning formula in their previous series out in Kansas City.
Bryce Harper is slashing .500/.652/1.188, has homered in three straight games, and also has a pair of doubles and seven walks. Maikel Franco has slashed .400/.591/1.000 from the eight-hole with three homers, seven walks, and a team-leading seven RBI in the early going. Jean Segura is hitting .364 with a .391 OBP, two doubles and four RBI.

SHIBE VINTAGE SPORTS STARTING PITCHING MATCHUP

  • Nick Pivetta (0-0, 7.71 ERA) vs Jake Odorizzi (0-0, 1.50 ERA)
  • Pivetta was whacked around last weekend by the Atlanta Braves in his first 2019 outing and has never faced the Twins.
  • A 29-year-old right-hander, Odorizzi tied his career-high with 11 K’s while allowing just a solo home run in his first start this season against the Cleveland Indians.
  • Odorizzi has faced the Phillies just once previously. On July 22, 2015 while pitching with the Tampa Bay Rays he got the start at Citizens Bank Park, allowing two earned on five hits over five innings.

PHILLIES NUGGETS PRE-GAME NOTES

  • The Phillies have powered up for 39 runs over their first five games. That above lineup makes it a sixth consecutive game for manager Gabe Kapler filling out the exact same starting group. If it ain’t broke, why fix it? The lineup has produced at least eight runs in four of those five contests including a 10-run outburst on Opening Day.
  • Don’t be surprised if Cruz doesn’t get a start over this entire series, with Baldelli instead picking his spots to bring the big right-handed veteran bat off the bench at a key moment. He played just nine total games in right field over the prior two seasons with the Seattle Mariners and has not appeared in the field at all to this point in 2019.
  • Tonight is schedule as the Phillies “High School Series” event. High school students and their parents and teachers have been invited to go behind-the-scenes to find out what it’s like to work for a big-league team. They’ll hear from Phillies players and execs, take pictures, and then watch the game from the 200 level.

FRIDAY’S PROGRAMMING INFORMATION

  • First pitch scheduled for 7:05 p.m. with a 70% chance of rain over the first couple of hours
  • Location: Citizens Bank Park, South Philadelphia
  • TV: NBC10
  • Radio: SportsRadio WIP 94.1 FM, WTTM 1680 (Spanish)

2018 Twins provide lesson and warning for the 2019 Phillies

By Paul Morse - http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2005/07/images/20050724_p072405pm-0149jpg-1-624v.html, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1459062
Paul Molitor, Minnesota Twins manager
(Photo by Paul Morse via Wiki Commons)
In 2016 the Minnesota Twins finished with a record of 59-103. It was the worst record in all of Major League Baseball. But the following year the Twins shocked many with an 85-77 season and an American League Wildcard playoff berth.
That 2017 Twins team of a year ago were led by a number of exciting young players such as 24-year-old third baseman Miguel Sano, 23-year-old center fielder Byron Buxton, 25-year-old left fielder Eddie Rosario, and 24-year-old right fielder Max Kepler.
On the mound the Twins received a major boost when 23-year-old rookie right-hander Jose Berrios entered their starting rotation in the middle of May. Another rookie, 24-year-old Adalberto Mejia, provided the club with 21 mostly solid starting outings.
There were key veteran contributions mixed in from players such as Brian Dozier (30), Ervin Santana (34), Kyle Gibson(29), closer Brandon Kintzler (32), Minnesota native and favored son Joe Mauer (34), and even 44-year-old pitcher Bartolo Colon.
Though AL Manager of the Year Paul Molitor‘s club went down to the powerful New York Yankees in the AL Wildcard Game, they had set the stage for what appeared to be a regular run of contending seasons.
And then the 2018 season got underway. Injuries and poor performances plagued key youngsters Sano and Buxton all year. A Gold Glover last season, Dozier slumped in his free agency year and was dealt to the Los Angeles Dodgers at the July trade deadline. Kepler didn’t necessarily regress, he just failed to step up.
The struggles throughout the lineup have produced a 66-78 season that can be considered nothing less than a disappointment.
In the 2017 season the Philadelphia Phillies went 66-96, the third-worst record in Major League Baseball. It marked a fifth consecutive losing campaign from the Phillies, and the club’s third last-place finish in the division in four years.
But then the 2018 season got underway and the club appeared improved. They jumped to a 16-9 start by April 27, and then to 29-20 by May 26. By the MLB All-Star Game break the Phillies were at 53-42 and had taken over first place in the NL East.
On July 26, a third straight win pushed them to what would be a season-high 2.5 game lead in the division. Continuing to fight through ups and downs as they tried to learn how to win, the Phillies reached their apex on August 5 when a fifth consecutive victory raised their record to 15 games over the .500 mark at 63-48.
Since August 17, when back-to-back wins left them still 14 games above .500, the Phillies have collapsed. In the past month the club has gone just 6-16, and losses in eight of their last 10 games have virtually eliminated them from the postseason conversation.
However, there is no denying that this is going to be considered a step forward season for the Phillies. They are going to finish 10 or more games better in the standings than a year ago. They will be at or near the .500 mark for the first time since 2012 and could have their first winning season since the record-setting 2011 club.
Though they won’t reach the postseason as the Twins did a year ago, they will in many ways have replicated Minnesota’s worst-to-first climb.

There will be some who look over their roster and see young players such as Rhys HoskinsScott KingeryNick WilliamsAaron Nola, and Maikel Franco and think many of the same thoughts as were hung on this year’s Twins prior to the season.
The lesson of the 2018 Twins for the 2019 Phillies should be one of failure to significantly improve the roster with additions from the outside, relying almost solely on perceived natural growth and improvement from young players already here.
In Minnesota, the resources are simply not as great as they are here in Philadelphia. Twins ownership and management did not have the financial wherewithal to go out and add impact talent.
Twins general manager Thad Levine certainly did try. He signed 41-year old closer Fernando Rodney to an affordable one-year deal last December. He got veteran starter Lance Lynn to ink a one-year deal in the middle of spring training. And Levine made a trade with Tampa Bay to bring in starting pitcher Jake Odorizzi.
Phillies GM Klentak squarely on the hot seat this off-season
Rodney and Lynn ended up being dealt to Oakland and the Yankees respectively after the Twins season fell apart. Phillies GM Matt Klentak cannot think that small when putting together his 2019 Phillies roster.
Yes, the Phillies will have taken a step back towards respectability and even contention this year. Yes, there is some young talent on hand that should continue to grow and improve.
But the Phillies are also one of the worst defensive teams in the game by any metric. They are just 11th of the 15 teams in the National League in both OPS and runs scored. As I outlined just yesterday, their back-end starting pitching has largely collapsed over this past month.
Klentak is going to need to find a way to land two proven, impact run-producers for his everyday lineup. He is going to also need to bring in at least one proven, impactful starting pitcher.
The Phillies GM will have plenty of his financial assets with which to work. With less than $70 million in contract commitments the club can afford to take on three big contracts if they so wish. Perhaps more if Klentak can find a way to unload some of the $20 million currently budgeted to be wasted on a 33-year old Carlos Santana.
Those big contracts could take the form of any number of free agents. Bryce Harper and Manny Machado are the two most frequently mentioned. They would actually be perfect fits at shortstop and in right field, joining Hoskins to form as formidable a 3-4-5 lineup combination as the game would offer for years to come.
The list of free agent starting pitchers could include Patrick CorbinDallas KeuchelJ.A. HappMatt HarveyGio Gonzalez, and more. At the right price for the right number of committed years, any of them could help the rotation.
With a controlling owner in John Middleton who is hungry to win, getting ownership to lay out that financing will not prove to be a problem. It will be squarely on Klentak this winter to make the right moves, convincing the right players to come to Philadelphia in order to ensure that next year’s Phillies do not resemble this year’s Twins.

Why the Yankees / Twins will win the AL Wildcard Game

Twins visit the Yankees for the 2017 AL Wildcard Game

On Tuesday night at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, the New York Yankees will host the Minnesota Twins in the American League Wildcard Game.

The Yanks are skippered by Joe Girardi, who has never experienced a losing season in his 10 years at the helm.

Girardi has accumulated a 910-710 record, and led the team to three AL East Division crowns. He also guided baseball’s marquee franchise to their most recent World Series championship back in the fall of 2009.

Girardi accumulated 1,100 hits across 15 seasons in the big leagues, which included four in Yankee pin stripes. Those four years, from 1996-99, coincided with the franchise’ most recent dynastic run. Girardi would win three World Series rings as a player with those Yankees teams.

Over in the visiting dugout, the Twins will be guided by Paul Molitor. One of the greatest hitters of all-time, the Hall of Famer amassed 3,319 base knocks over a storied 21-year career. He was a 7x All-Star and a 4x Silver Slugger Award winner.

Molitor was the MVP of the 1993 World Series while a player with the Toronto Blue Jays, and was also runner-up for both the 1978 AL Rookie of the Year and 1993 AL Most Valuable Player awards.

As the Twins manager, the Saint Paul native has compiled a 227-259 record over three seasons. Two of his three years have resulted in winnings campaigns. But a year ago, his Twins club finished at 59-103, the worst record in baseball.

This season, Girardi’s Yankees finished at 91-71, just two games behind the arch-rival Boston Red Sox in the AL East. Molitor’s Twins team was one of baseball’s most unlikely stories, and finished 85-77, good enough to capture the second AL Wildcard spot by five games.

During the first decade of this century, the Yankees ousted the Twins from the American League Postseason four times. New York defeated Minnesota in the ALDS in 2003, 2004, 2009 and 2010, the last two coming in three-game sweeps.

The host Yankees will enter the game as favorites, and prohibitive ones to many prognosticators. However, there are very good reasons to believe that each of these teams can win, moving on to a date with the defending AL champion Cleveland Indians in the ALDS.

WHY THE YANKEES WILL WIN
The 2017 New York Yankees are an offensive juggernaut, one that is led by a rookie masher who has become one of the most feared sluggers in the game today.
The Yanks were second in all of Major League Baseball with 858 runs scored this season, trailing only the Houston Astros by just eight runs. Their 241 home runs led the big leagues, and their .339 cumulative On-Base Percentage was third in the game.
That feared rookie slugger leading the way is 25-year old Aaron Judge. In his first full season, the right fielder hit for a .284/.422/.627 slash line. He crushed 52 home runs, knocked in 114 runs, and scored 128 times.
Judge, the odds-on favorite for AL Rookie of the Year honors, is far from the only threat in the latest incarnation of the Bronx Bombers. Another young stud is 24-year old catcher Gary Sanchez, who hit for a .278/.345/.531 slash while producing 33 homers and 90 RBI.
At age 27, shortstop Didi Gregorius combines flashy defense with a productive bat. He banged 25 homers with 87 RBI. Veteran left fielder Brett Gardner provided 21 bombs and scored 96 runs while leading the club with 23 stolen bases.
While those four are the offensive leaders, there are a number of other veterans sprinkled throughout Girardi’s possible starting lineup and bench options, any of whom could prove to be difference-makers. Primary among those options are Matt Holliday, Jacoby Ellsbury, Todd Frazier, Aaron Hicks, and Chase Headley.

Taking the mound for New York will be the club’s youngest starter, but perhaps it’s most talented. 23-year old Luis Severino went 14-6 with a 2.98 ERA and 1.040 WHIP in his first full season in the big league rotation. Severino went to the All-Star Game for the first time this year. He allowed just 150 hits over his 193.1 innings, with a 230/51 K:BB ratio.

Theoretically, every arm on the active staff is available for this loser-goes-home game. But Girardi has an excellent variety of regular bullpen options in righties David Robertson, Tommy Kahnle, Chad Green, Adam Warren, and Dellin Betances, and lefties Jaime Garcia and Chasen Shreve.

At the end of games, Aroldis Chapman provides an overpowering closing option. Chapman struggled some at times this season, but allowed just 37 hits over 50.1 innings with a 69/20 K:BB ratio.

Severino provides a strong start in front of a juiced-up home crowd at Yankee Stadium, and the talented bullpen holds a lead. Judge and company provide offensive fireworks reminiscent of Octobers past in the Bronx. That’s the recipe for a Yankees victory, and it is what most would see as the most likely scenario to play out in this AL Wildcard Game.

WHY THE TWINS WILL WIN

The Yankees aren’t the only effective offensive attack in this game. Minnesota finished seventh in MLB, fourth in the American League, with 815 runs scored. Their clutch lineup finished sixth in RBI in all of baseball this season.

30-year old 2nd baseman Brian Dozier may be the best all-around player on the team, and is one of the most underrated in the game. Dozier led the club this year with 34 homers, 93 RBI, 106 runs scored, and 68 extra-base hits. His 16 stolen bases were second on the club.

Center fielder Byron Buxton is both dynamic and enigmatic. His 29 stolen bases led the Twins, and he also provided 16 home runs. One of the fastest and most exciting base runners in the game today, Buxton is a premier defender as well, and could prove to be a difference-maker in one game.

He just has a lot of ways to impact the game,” Molitor said per Jake Seiner with the AP. “He might not get a hit and might be the most important player on the field, and there’s not a lot of people who can fill that bill.

34-year old veteran Saint Paul native Joe Mauer is a local legend. The Twins first round selection way back in the 2001 MLB Draft out of high school has spent his entire 14-year big league career in a Twins uniform.

Mauer produced his best season in years, hitting .305 with a .384 OBP, 36 doubles, and 71 RBI. He has been a part of four Minnesota playoff teams, none of which has ever advanced past the ALDS. He is also another Twins player with the potential to take over and win one game all by himself.

I’m really excited for this group to experience this,” Mauer said per Seiner. “There’s a lot of guys in our clubhouse that this is their first go-round. I was just real happy. It’s been a special year to see these guys kind of grow.

Rather than one or two big bats, the Twins tend to nickle-and-dime teams to death. They receive clutch production up and down their lineup from those already noted, but also from players such as left fielder Eddie Rosario, shortstop Jorge Polanco, and third baseman Eduardo Escobar.

The Twins have a huge hole in their lineup for this Wildcard Game. The regular third baseman, Miguel Sano, crushed 28 homers and drove in 78 runs in just 114 games this season. Problem is, Sano fouled a ball of his shin back in August, causing him to miss more than a month. He was activated from the Disabled List just this past weekend, and went 1-8 in limited action.

The Twins considered activating him right up until today, and in fact Molitor himself believed his slugger would at least be available to pinch-hit as recently as Monday. However, late word is that Sano will not be available for this game in any capacity.

Starting on the mound will be 34-year old Ervin Santana. The veteran righty went 16-8 with a 3.28 ERA, allowing just 177 hits over a staff-leading 211.1 innings pitched this season.

Molitor’s bullpen is not nearly as strong as that of his counterpart Girardi. 26-year old righty Trevor Hildenberger may be his best option. He will also turn to righties Tyler Duffey, Ryan Pressly, and Matt Belisle and lefty Taylor Rogers.

Don’t be surprised to see the skipper turn to one of his key starters instead. Rookie righty Jose Berrios might be the most talented arm on the staff. The 23-year old was used out of the pen over this past weekend in order to keep him sharp and get him prepped for just such a possibility.

Santana keeps the Twins in the game for five innings. Berrios provides three big ones out of the pen. The Twins hunt and peck at the plate, chipping away for a couple runs here, a couple there, and pull out a tight victory. That’s the most likely recipe for an upset road victory, and a date with the division-rival Indians in the ALDS.

THE MATCHUP AND PREDICTION

The teams met six times during the regular season, with the Yankees taking four of the six games. The Twins captured two of three in Minnesota back in mid-July. The Yanks then swept a three-game set in the Bronx just two weeks ago.

Santana started and lost the opener of that September series in his only appearance against New York this season. Though it was a narrow 2-1 defeat, he did not pitch all that well, surrendering two runs on seven hits over 5.2 innings.

Severino pitched even worse in his September start against the Twins, his lone appearance against Minnesota this year. He gave up three earned runs on five hits over just three innings.

Another poor effort from Severino could prove disastrous for the hosts. But I believe he bounces back, pitching well enough to keep his team in the game. The bullpen then shuts Minnesota down. Meanwhile, big Yankees bats do damage.

We’re just going to try to treat it like we have the whole season coming here,” Judge said per CBS New York. “We played well at home. I think once Severy throws that first pitch and we get the game rolling, it will all be the same. I think the buildup before the game is nerve-racking, but once we step out on the field, it’s the same game we’ve been playing since we were little kids.

I’ll predict the Yankees to win by something like a 7-3 final score. That should set up quite an interesting matchup with the Indians in one ALDS beginning on Thursday night.