Tag Archives: Wildcard

Phillies now must buck the odds to make the playoffs

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For a second straight August, it all feels like it’s falling apart for a Philadelphia Phillies season that once appeared destined to end in October.

The Phillies lost to the San Francisco Giants by a 3-1 score on Saturday afternoon. It was the club’s fourth defeat in five games, their sixth in the last nine. They are 2-4 on a western swing through Arizona and NoCal that will end this afternoon by the bay.
This most recent losing stretch is part of a 27-35 performance since late May, one that has dropped the team from the top of the National League East Division standings into fourth place.

It’s not just that the Phillies are losing in San Francisco – they aren’t even showing up to play. Just three hits in yesterday afternoon’s defeat. One hit in Thursday night’s series opening loss to the Giants.

As recently as their postgame statements at the start of this past week, Phillies players were clinging to the hope provided by the standings. Fact was, they still controlled a National League Wildcard playoff berth.
That is no longer the case. The Phillies woke up on Sunday morning at two games behind both the Saint Louis Cardinals and Washington Nationals in the loss column. They also trail both the Milwaukee Brewers and New York Mets in that Wildcard race.
The stats show that the Phillies have earned this position. They have a -30 run differential. They are just 18th of the 30 MLB ball clubs in runs scored per game. The pitching staff is 22nd in batting average against and 23rd in OPS against.
In short, the Phillies are not a good baseball team right now, and they haven’t been one for a few months.
All of this is reflected in the updated Fangraphs MLB playoff odds. Taking a wide variety of factors into consideration, Fangraphs now ranks three teams from the NL East as having better than even odds of reaching the postseason. None of those is the Philadelphia Phillies.
The Atlanta Braves, who hold a five game lead in the loss column in the division race, have a 98.1% chance of reaching the playoffs. The second place Washington Nationals are at 67.8%. And now, the red-hot New York Mets are rated as having a 53% chance at the postseason.
The Phillies? They now have a miniscule 8.8% chance at making the playoffs. Their odds at winning a Wildcard spot are at 8.5%, and actually roaring back to win the division at just 0.3%. The Phillies odds to win the World Series are at a nearly impossible 0.1% level.
So, if the Phillies are going to reach the Major League Baseball postseason for the first time in eight years, they are going to need a major hot streak. At this point, that would be seriously bucking the odds.

With nine weeks to go, Phillies remain in Wildcard contention

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Gabe Kapler’s team is a clear Wildcard contender – for now

One week ago, I began a countdown as the Phillies attempt to push for a 2019 playoff berth, their first in eight years. That countdown began at ’10’, as in there were just ten weeks remaining in the regular season.

Here we are, one week later, and the countdown reaches ‘9’ with the club basically in the same spot. Last week, the Phillies were four games over the .500 mark, a half-game off the second NL Wildcard pace. They were 7.5 games behind the Atlanta Braves in the NL East.
As they enjoy an off-day in the schedule, the Phillies are five games above the .500 mark, and now sit one full game back in that National League Wildcard race. They trail the Braves by 6.5 games in the NL East Division standings after dropping two of three to Atlanta over this past weekend.
Here is where the Phillies currently stand in both the division and wildcard races. Also included are the schedules for this week of any other club in reasonable contention.

NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST DIVISION

  1. Atlanta Braves  62-44 (@WAS – 3, CIN – 4)
  2. Washington Nationals 56-49 (ATL – 3, @ARZ – 3)
  3. Philadelphia Phillies 55-50 (SFG – 3, CWS – 3)

NATIONAL LEAGUE WILDCARD (TWO AVAILABLE)

  1. Washington Nationals 56-49 (ATL – 3, @ARZ – 3)
  2. Chicago Cubs 56-49 / Saint Louis Cardinals (tied for NL Central lead and NL Wildcard, meet for 3 this week)
  3. Philadelphia Phillies 55-50 (SFG – 3, CWS – 3)
  4. Milwaukee Brewers 56-51 (@OAK – 3, @CHC – 3)
  5. San Francisco Giants 54-52 (@PHI – 3, @COL – 3)
  6. Arizona Diamondbacks 53-53 (@MIA – 1, @NYY – 2, WAS – 3)

This week could mark a last stand for Phillies 2018 postseason chances

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Kapler’s Phillies host the Nationals and Cubs in pivotal homestand

This has easily been the most interesting summer of baseball in Philadelphia in the last five years. 

Not since a too-little, too-late charge at the second NL Wildcard slot in September of 2012 have the Phillies provided fans with this level of sustained excitement.
On Friday, July 6 the Phillies crushed the host Pittsburgh Pirates by a 17-6 score at PNC Park to move into first place in the National League East Division. The club would remain perched atop the division standings for nearly six weeks.
Even after Sunday’s 8-3 win in Toronto, the Phillies have lost 11 of their last 17 games. The Braves have won nine of their last 16 in the same time frame. The result has been that Atlanta has slipped past them and built up a three-game lead in the division.
The Phillies are clearly reeling. All season long the club failed to score runs on a consistent basis and played unacceptable defense. But the starting pitching was mostly excellent, the bullpen got hot in July, and new manager Gabe Kapler kept the mostly young ball club believing in itself, enough to overcome their frequent mistakes.
That is no longer the case. Since sweeping a four-game set at home against the Miami Marlins at the start of August the Phillies have not managed to win any of their last half-dozen series.
The club now returns home to Citizens Bank Park for a pair of three-game match-ups. First will be the always tough Washington Nationals beginning with tonight’s 7:05PM series opener.
Zach Eflin, generally struggling since early July, will take the mound. The Phillies really need him to step up, but also need the offense to support him in order to get the week off on the right footing.
It would also be important to get the week started strong since Aaron Nola will take the mound for the Phillies in the second game on Tuesday night. Nola is having a Cy Young-caliber season, and will give the club an excellent chance at picking up a victory.
Following Wednesday’s series finale with Jake Arrieta on the mound the Phillies are scheduled to enjoy an off-day on Thursday. Next weekend it will be the team currently holding the best record in the National League invading South Philly as the Chicago Cubs come to town.
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Hamels is scheduled to take the mound for the Cubs next Sunday
If the rotation and weather hold up the Phillies would be scheduled to send Nick PivettaVince Velasquez, and Eflin out against the Cubbies. Should the Chicago rotation hold up, their start on Sunday, September 2 would go to old friend Cole Hamels.
Since a deal just prior to the non-waiver trade deadline sent the now 34-year-old lefty from the Texas Rangers to Chicago, Hamels has been phenomenal. Over five starts he has a 4-0 record, allowing just 24 hits over 34 innings with a 30/8 K:BB ratio.
It would not be at all surprising to see Kapler make the decision to bump Eflin back a day, starting Nola on his normal four days of rest against Hamels and the Cubs.
The further schedule reveals that the Phillies have a long nine-game home stand beginning on September 10. If they can fight to remain in the race, those would make for some seriously fun days and nights down at the ball park. And then you have seven of the final 11 games of the season with the Braves.

Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia quoted Phillies star Rhys Hoskins following yesterday’s important victory:

“I don’t think our feeling has changed. September baseball is what we’re looking at right now. We know we play the division a lot and if we play — I think Jake Arrieta said it a couple nights ago — if we play better baseball, if we play good baseball, we’re going to be right where we want to be come the last 10 days of the season.”

If the Phillies are to turn their season back around, now is the time to start playing that good baseball. Atlanta is already trying to separate themselves in the divisional race. The Phillies are battling three or four others for one of two Wildcard spots
If they can’t win this week, by the time Labor Day rolls around a week from now their 2018 season could be on life support, and that potential September excitement virtually gone.

Why the Diamondbacks / Rockies will win the NL Wildcard game

NL West rivals will meet in the NL Wildcard Game

The New York Yankees defeated the Minnesota Twins by an 8-4 final score in Tuesday night’s AL Wildcard Game.

I called it 7-4, Yankees, in yesterday’s AL Wildcard preview and prediction piece. Now it’s time to take a look at the National League matchup.

Wednesday night will find the NL Wildcard Game taking place at Chase Field in Phoenix, Arizona. There the Arizona Diamondbacks will host the NL West Division rival Colorado Rockies.

The winner of this win-or-go-home matchup will move on to face yet another division rival. That would be the Los Angeles Dodgers, who will host the NLDS opener beginning on Friday.

Arizona has a first-year big league manager in Torey Lovullo. The 52-year old played 303 games in Major League Baseball, mostly as a utility infielder, spread across eight seasons between 1988 and 1999.

Lovullo did have extensive minor league experience. He registered more than 5,000 plate appearances over a dozen minor league seasons from 1987-99. He then wrapped up his playing career overseas in the Japanese Central League in the 2000 season.

Following his retirement, Lovullo was hired as a minor league coach by the Cleveland Indians. He would rise during the 2000’s to become one of the most successful managers in the minors, becoming a frequent big league managerial candidate and interviewee.

Following stints as bench coach under John Farrell with both the Toronto Blue Jays and Boston Red Sox, Lovullo finally received his own chance to manage a big league club when hired to guide the Dbacks last November.

The Rockies are skippered by 60-year old Bud Black, a successful starting pitcher over 16 MLB seasons. Black compiled a 121-116 record over 398 games, including 296 starts. In all, the lefty tossed more than 2,000 innings with a career 3.84 ERA between 1981 and 1995.

Black’s best season came in 1984, when he went 17-12 in 257 innings over 35 starts for the Kansas City Royals. He notably surrendered both Reggie Jackson’s 500th and Mike Piazza’s first big league home runs, and was the starting pitcher for the Royals in the infamous George Brett ‘Pine Tar Incident‘ game.

Black became a pitching coach under Mike Scioscia following his retirement, and in that role was a member of the 2002 Anaheim Angels team that won the World Series.

In 2007, Black became manager of the San Diego Padres. Over nine seasons he compiled a 649-713 record. His 2010 Padres club finished 90-72 and in 2nd place in the NL West. He was fired as the Padres floundered early in the 2015 season. Black was then hired to manage the Rockies last November, just three days after Lovullo took the same job in Arizona.

So each club enters this game with a manager who just wrapped their first season guiding their club. The Dbacks finished 93-69 under Lovullo, tied for the fifth-best record in the game. The Rockies went 87-75 under Black, clinching their postseason berth on the final weekend.

Arizona was an expansion franchise that began play in 1998. The Diamondbacks have been to the postseason five times in their history, and won the 2001 World Series. This is the club’s first playoff game since the 2011 season.

The Rockies were also an expansion franchise, beginning play back in 1993. They have been to the postseason just three times, and were swept by the Boston Red Sox in their only World Series appearance in 2007. Earlier that October, Colorado had swept Arizona out of the NLCS in the only postseason meeting between the two clubs prior to this Wildcard Game.

WHY THE DBACKS WILL WIN
These are two high-scoring teams who match up fairly even in the offensive aspects of the game. But it is on the mound where the Diamondbacks enjoy a clear advantage.
The Arizona pitching staff compiled the third-best ERA (3.66) in all of Major League Baseball this season. The Dbacks arms tied for sixth in Batting Average Against (.240), and were sixth in strikeouts. The staff allowed the third-lowest home run total in the big leagues.
Drawing the starting pitching assignment for this Wildcard Game will be their ace, Zack Greinke. Turning 34 years old later this month, Greinke went 17-7 this year, allowing 172 hits over 202.1 innings across 32 starts. He had a fine 215/45 K:BB ratio, a 1.072 WHIP, and a 149 ERA+ mark.
Since this is an “all hands on deck” situation, Lovullo could turn to any of his remaining starting pitchers. Most likely that would mean lefty Robbie Ray or right-handers Taijuan Walker and Zack Godley.
In addition to those strong starters, Lovullo has a variety of effective options among his normal relief corps. Those include righties J.J. Hoover and Jimmie Sherfy, and lefties Jorge De La Rosa and Andrew Chafin.
When it comes down to the late innings, a pair of right-handers at opposite ends of the career spectrum can shut things down. 25-year old Archie Bradley is a converted starter who has been lights-out in the bullpen. 40-year old Fernando Rodney saved 39 games and is a 3x All-Star.
Offensively, Arizona was 8th in Runs, 7th in OPS and Steals, and 6th in Total Bases. They can hit, run, and score with any team.
That offense is led by perennial MVP candidate first baseman Paul Goldschmidt. The 30-year old slashed .297/.404/.563 this season with 36 homers, 73 extra-base hits, 120 RBI, 117 runs scored, and 18 steals.
Lefty-swinging third baseman Jake Lamb turns 27 years old next week. He had strong final numbers of 30 home runs and 105 RBI, but hit just .204 after June. Center fielder A.J. Pollock’s return after missing most of last season has been huge. He leads the club with 20 stolen bases, and had 53 extra-base hits in just 466 plate appearances.
While Lovullo’s lineup has a variety of weapons beyond that handful, a late-season addition has proven to be the single most dominant over the last couple of months.
30-year old right fielder J.D. Martinez was obtained from the Detroit Tigers prior to the trade deadline. All he did after the trade was slash .302/.366/.741 with 29 homers and 65 RBI over just 257 plate appearances in 62 games. 
When I first came, I really wasn’t doing that well,” said Martinez in an interview with Marly Rivera for ESPN. “I was struggling. I felt like I was trying to be someone that I wasn’t; trying to do a lot more. And the guys were like nothing, they were like, ‘Dude let’s go,’ every day picking me up, picking the whole team up. I felt a part of the team very quickly here.
If Greinke dominates for five or more innings, great. If not, Lovullo can become a Brian Kenny disciple and go “bullpenning”, as Girardi did with the Yankees last night. Dominating pitching, some big hits from Goldschmidt, Martinez, Pollock and company, and the Dbacks advance.

WHY THE ROCKIES WILL WIN

The Rockies offense got to the Dbacks strong pitching for five or more runs on seven occasions this season. They won five of those games. It’s my opinion that this will be the biggest single key for Colorado if they are going to win tonight – score at least five or six times.

The Colorado offense is equipped with the talent to score on anyone. The Rockies were third in Runs scored, second in Hits, and fifth in OPS this season in all of Major League Baseball.

Black’s attack is led by MVP candidate third baseman Nolan Arenado. The 26-year old is one of the best young players in the game. He has been an NL All-Star each of the last three years, and has won a Gold Glove in each of his four previous big league seasons.

This year, Arenado slashed .309/.373/.586 with 37 homers, 87 extra-base hits, 130 RBI, and 100 runs scored. Not just a Coors Field product, his numbers hold up on the road as well.

The Rox also have another legit NL MVP candidate in center fielder Charlie Blackmon. The 31-year old was an NL All-Star for the second time this year. He slashed .331/.399/.601, tying for the NL batting title. The long-bearded Blackmon bombed 37 homers, had 86 extra-base hits, drove in 104 runs, scored an NL-high 137 times, and stole 14 bases.

34-year old first baseman Mark Reynolds banged 30 home runs, reaching that 30-homer plateau for the first time in six years. He also provided 97 RBI. Shortstop Trevor Story added 24 homers and 82 RBI.

The Rockies’ second baseman, DJ LeMahieu, is one of the most underrated players in the game. The 29-year old made the NL All-Star team for the second time in three years this summer. He hit .310 with a .374 OBP and scored 95 runs.

Veteran catcher Jonathan Lucroy came over from the Texas Rangers in a trade deadline deal, adding yet another solid offensive weapon to the mix. Lucroy hit .310 with a .429 OBP in 46 games following the deal.

On the mound, Black is sending out 25-year old right-hander Jon Gray to start the Wildcard Game. Gray was the Rockies first round pick at third overall in the 2013 MLB Amateur Draft.

I have a lot of positive emotions coming in here, and it leads me to think it’s going to be a lot of fun,” said Gray per Patrick Saunders at The Denver Post. “I don’t think it’s going to be a tight game for me. I don’t think I’m going to be feeling that nervous. I’m just going to go out there and control what I can. The results are the results. But the effort is going to be 100 percent for me.

Gray was sidelined by a stress fracture in his foot from mid-April through nearly all of June. He returned to go 10-4 over the final three months of the season, striking out 103 batters over 98 innings in that period. Should Gray falter at some point, Black would likely turn to a mix of his starters and regular relief corps.

Black’s top righty options on the mound would likely be German Marquez, Antonio Senzatela, Adam Ottavino, and Pat Neshek. From the left side it would mean Kyle Freeland, Chris Rusin, Jake McGee, Tyler Anderson, and Mike Dunn are the best bets to see action.

The regular closer is Greg Holland, a 31-year old right-hander who was one of baseball’s biggest comeback stories this season. He saved 41 games, allowing just 40 hits over 57.1 innings with a 70/26 K:BB ratio. It all added up to an NL All-Star season for Holland, who missed all of last season following Tommy John surgery.

The Rockies recipe for victory is to have their bats come out hot, putting pressure on the Dbacks offense to match them. Arizona is very capable of that, so I would see a Colorado win coming only via out-scoring the Dbacks in a high-scoring affair in which both pitching staffs are battered around the ballpark, with perhaps Holland finally shutting the home team down to secure the win.

THE MATCHUP AND PREDICTION

As NL West Division rivals, these two clubs are extremely familiar with one another. They met 19 times during the regular season, with Arizona taking 11 of the head-to-head matchups. 

Only the Dodgers had a better record at home than the Dbacks 52-29 record at Chase Field. However, the Rockies battled them to a 5-5 split of their 10 games in the desert this season.

We’ve spent a lot of hours breaking it all down,” Arizona GM Mike Hazen said on Tuesday per MLB.com’s Steve Gilbert. “But in the end, once 5:08 p.m. (WDT) hits tomorrow, it’s about executing. It’s about going out and playing a good brand of baseball that we have all year. It’s about going out there, making our pitches, making them work on their side of it. And that’s all there is to it it’s a baseball game. The more relaxed and freer we’re going to play tomorrow, the better chance we have for good results.

The forecast high is for 98 degrees today in Phoenix, and so the roof will be closed this evening, making this an indoor playoff game.

Greinke made five starts this year against Colorado. He allowed just 30 hits over 34.1 innings in those starts with an incredible 37/2 K:BB ratio. He won the last three of those outings, including a pair of dominant starts at home.

Gray made just three starts against Arizona, but two of those came in September. In those two more relevant outings he allowed 12 hits over 12 innings with a strong 16/3 K:BB ratio. On September 12, Gray struck out 10 Dbacks hitters over seven strong innings, leading the Rockies to a 4-2 win at Chase Field.

While that recent outstanding outing by Gray provides some hope for the Rockies faithful, I don’t see a repeat happening tonight. I do, however, see the 14-year veteran Greinke posting up a big game. He and the Dbacks bullpen should shut Colorado down enough for the bats to open it up at some point. I’m calling it 9-4 in favor of the Diamondbacks, who advance to Dodger Stadium on Friday.

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.