Photo by Jeff Wheeler/Star Tribune via Getty Images
One series will feature two of the best pitching staffs in baseball and the other will feature dingers.
After shutting down the Oakland Athletics in the Wild Card game, the Rays showed they’re equipped to take on any opponent. Their top three starters Charlie Morton, Blake Snell, and Tyler Glasnow can hold down any lineup not to mention they have Diego Castillo, Emilio Pagán, and Nick Anderson lurking in the bullpen. Yandy Díaz has figured out how to get the ball airborne, and no one is safe. The Astros may be a juggernaut, but the Rays—
Oh, oh my.
Okay, so the Astros are in whole other tier of baseball team. FanGraphs currently gives Houston a 30.9 percent chance of winning the World Series. The next likeliest champions are the Dodgers and Yankees who are tied at 16.1 percent. This is the Astros’ postseason to lose.
Houston’s most obvious strength is their starting pitching. Or maybe it’s their offense? No, no, it’s their starting pitching. Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole will likely finish first and second in Cy Young voting, and they’re backed up by Zack Greinke, a pitcher who is bored by the thought of throwing a no-hitter. Those are the only starters the Astros are running out, and those three have combined for a 60 ERA- and 68 FIP-.
Those three were major drivers in the entire Astros pitching staff leading the majors in strikeout rate. It’s a remarkable feat considering their offense also led the league in strikeout rate. Per Ben Lindbergh of The Ringer, that’s the first time that’s ever happened. Astros hitters led the majors with a 126 wRC+ as a team, and that’s without Carlos Correa for much of the year. A 126 wRC+ as a team is absurd. The NL Central winning Cardinals, for instance, didn’t have a single hitter surpass 126, but that’s what the average Astro did.
The core of José Altuve, George Springer, Alex Bregman, and Carlos Correa have all been overshadowed by Yordan Álvarez. The rookie hit for a 178 wRC+ half a season crushing 27 homers and posting a .342 ISO in the process.
The lineup is a veritable Murderer’s Row, but if anyone in the American League can stop them, it’s the Rays. The Rays pitching staff led in fWAR and FIP-. On Wednesday, they showed what they can do. They held a potent A’s lineup to just two hard hit balls: a ground ball from Robbie Grossman and a line drive from Marcus Semien.
The Rays have their work cut out for them, but if they can take down the Astros, they can beat anyone this postseason.
Minnesota Twins vs. New York Yankees
Never before had a team ever hit 300 home runs in a season. The Twins and the Yankees hit 307 and 306 respectively. Between the two teams, the Twins and Yankees had 16 20-homer hitters in 2019. The Twins had five 30-homer hitters. There will be a lot of dingers in this series is what I’m saying.
The Twins and the Yankees are the two top non-Astros offenses in the majors, so this series will likely hinge on which pitching staff can do a better job of keeping the ball in the yard. Over the regular season, that was the Twins who maintained an 84 HR/9+ which ranked second in the majors. The Yankees were 22nd at 107.
José Berríos, Jake Odorizzi, and Kyle Gibson are the remaining pitchers from Minnesota’s rotation that the Twins planned on bringing to the postseason. Randy Dobnak is replacing Michael Pineda, who is ineligible due to a PED suspension though the former indy leaguer has pitched effectively in nine games this year (2.90 FIP in 28 1/3 innings).
The Yankees just got Luis Severino back and not a moment too soon. He only got into three games this year, but he looked like his old self. If Severino were at full strength we might have seen him start Game 1 and a potential Game 5, but that responsibility falls on James Paxton. Walks and homers were a bit of an issue for Paxton in 2019 as he posted the highest HR/9 of his career and his highest walk rate since 2015.
The theme of this Yankees season was injuries. While they’ve gotten Edwin Encarnación and Gary Sánchez back, they’ll have to continue to do without Mike Tauchman, Dellin Betances, and Aaron Hicks to name a few.
The Twins are also dealing with their share of injuries. Byron Buxton is out and the best reliever the Twins picked up at the deadline, Sam Dyson, is out for the year. There’s potentially some good news on the injury front. At the time of writing, Luis Arraez, who was supposed to miss the series with an ankle sprain looks like he’ll be on the ALDS roster even if he can’t start Game 1.
There isn’t a clear favorite in this series. Each team won 100+ games after all, so of course both are deeply talented. I’m expecting a lot of lead changes and chaos.
Kenny Kelly is a writer for Beyond the Box Score and McCovey Chronicles. You can follow him on Twitter @KennyKellyWords.