This is a tough draw for the Blue Jays. Toronto has rocked one of the majors’ best rotations this season (3.85 ERA, third in MLB), but the Twins have been better (3.82 ERA). These are the two best starting groups in baseball, guaranteeing runs will be hard to come by in this series.
— Thomas Hall (@ThomasHall85) October 3, 2023
López and Gausman are both high-strikeout righties coming off fantastic regular-season performances, so that’ll be an airtight first matchup. It would appear Gray (2.79 ERA) has the edge over Berríos, while Bassitt comes in with more confidence and pedigree than Ryan.
The Twins rotation has a series edge in pitch efficiency. Minny’s starters produced a 20.3% K-BB rate, while Toronto came in at 16.7%. Blue Jays starters, however, have an advantage in batted ball profile. The two clubs allow home runs at a similar rate, but Twins arms allow a slightly higher fly-ball rate, which could help spark a Jays offence that’s struggled to find power surges all year.
Minnesota has more thump in its lineup this season than Toronto. The Twins don’t have any 30-homer guys, but as a club they racked up 233 longballs (seventh in MLB) compared to the Blue Jays’ 188 jacks, which put them 13th in baseball. Minnesota has also been hot over the last 30 days (.816 OPS), but that’s where the good times stop for the Twin City offence.
The Twins were quite weak at hitting for contact (.243 team BA) and struck out at an MLB-worst 26.6% rate during the regular season. The evidence suggests high-whiff guys such as Gausman and Berríos can exploit Minnesota’s hitters once they settle into a rhythm.
On an individual level, the Blue Jays have more players with game-breaking ability. George Springer, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette and Brandon Belt offer significantly more upside than some combination of Edouard Julien, Jorge Polanco, Carlos Correa and Max Kepler.
The Blue Jays had decent success hitting at Target Field earlier this season, slashing .248/.303/.465 with five home runs as the club took two out of three versus Minnesota in late May. Bichette (1.063 OPS) and Springer (.954 OPS) have had tons of historical success at Target Field and should be watched closely this series.
The Blue Jays have a better bullpen than the Twins, but it’s not a slam-dunk conclusion. Toronto bested Minnesota in notable stats such as ERA (3.68 vs. 3.95) and K-BB rate (17.6% vs. 15.9%), but other elements are far closer. For example, the two ‘pens are exactly even in HR/9 (1.1), and Twins relievers actually kept opposing hitters to a lower batting average (.231) than Toronto’s arms (.234).
Toronto separates itself with a knack for smooth pitching in high-stress situations, an intangible that is far more important in postseason play. The Blue Jays bullpen generated a 4.51 ERA in high-leverage appearances this year, while the Twins were a bit uglier at a 5.84 ERA.
Minny also allowed a higher home-run rate (1.1 HR/9) than Toronto (0.7 HR/9) in high leverage, leaving the Twins slightly more susceptible to game-deciding longballs with runners on base.
In terms of late-game nastiness, it’s hard to find anyone more deadly than Twins closer Jhoan Duran. The 6-foot-5 flamethrower will be a menacing presence throughout this wild-card series, though Jays closer Jordan Romano is arguably just as impactful and even carries a higher bWAR (2.1) than Duran (1.9).
Baserunning and defence
Unsurprisingly, the Blue Jays defence is levels above the Twins’ crew in both outs above average (OAA) and defensive runs saved (DRS). Toronto has very few weak links, but Minnesota has several leaky areas scattered across the diamond.
Shortstop Correa and centre fielder Michael A. Taylor are exceptional defenders, but the Twins corner infield and corner outfield, for example, were significantly below average, per OAA, during the regular season. Alex Kirilloff (-7 OAA), Donovan Solano (-5 OAA) and Jorge Polanco (-5 OAA) are the club’s sketchiest defenders.
The Blue Jays and Twins are about equally effective on the base paths. Both clubs were slightly below average in Statcast’s Runner Runs (-3), but Toronto ranked 16th in average sprint speed, while Minnesota ranked 22nd. The Jays also won the stolen-base race, besting Minnesota 99 to 86.