Game 2 was a bit of a different story.
The Blue Jays had two valid options in José Berríos and Chris Bassitt — plus a defensible off-the-board pick in Yusei Kikuchi if the team felt strongly about exploiting the Twins' relative weakness to southpaw pitching.
Considering Kikuchi has significant bullpen utility, and he didn't finish the season on a particularly high note with a 4.76 ERA since August 15, he probably didn't receive much consideration in the end.
The other two starters are comparable enough that it couldn't have been easy to choose between them, but the team ultimately went with Berríos.
That could conceivably change based on the result of Game 1, but Game 2 will represent either the chance to eliminate the Twins or stay alive. It won't become significantly more or less important based on Tuesday's result, so for now it seems safe to assume Toronto will follow through on its stated plan.
For some, picking Berríos was a surprising move considering what Bassitt has done lately on his way to a 200-inning season. The 34-year-old posted a 2.11 ERA in his last six starts and went at least 6.2 innings with two or fewer runs allowed in five of them. He ended the series with a masterpiece: 7.2 scoreless innings, striking out 12 and allowing just six baserunners.
A strong finishing stretch like that is noteworthy, especially when Berríos allowed four or more runs in four of his final seven starts. If you're going off vibes, Bassitt is the call — but hot streaks can start and end at any time, and it's probably not the best idea to chase them when your season is on the line.
If Bassitt had gained a noticeable amount of velocity, discovered a new pitch, or radically changed his plan of attack down the stretch, it would be a different story, but he's just been the best version of himself.
Berríos has not, but the two pitchers have posted similar statistics over the course of 2023:
Berríos has slightly superior peripherals while Bassitt has managed contact better. The end result has been approximately a wash.
Even if you want to give a slight edge to Bassitt, there are a couple of splits that make Berríos appear slightly better for the task at hand. The first is his success early in games.
Because the Blue Jays will be working with a nine-man bullpen — that includes Kikuchi as a multi-inning option — the team won't need to push its starters deep into games in this series. Bassitt has been significantly better than Berríos at maintaining effectiveness the third time through the order, but that probably won't be needed in Game 2.
While Berríos has seen his effectiveness wane late in games, that shouldn't be an issue for this assignment, and what he's done the first two trips through the order has been more impressive than Bassitt:
Another relevant split is how the pitchers have dealt with left-handed hitters this season. Berríos has earned a reputation for struggling without the platoon advantage, but the .773 OPS he allowed to lefties in 2023 was dwarfed by the .840 mark left-handed bats managed off Bassitt.
The Twins use as many as five guys hitting from the left side against right-handed starters, which could make Bassitt's life difficult. In his one matchup against the Twins this season the veteran saw five lefties and allowed seven earned runs in four innings.
A single start doesn't tell us too much, but for what it's worth the matchup data available likes Berríos significantly more than Bassitt. Here's how current Twins hitters have fared against the two pitchers:
Bassitt has better strikeout and walk numbers, but he's been absolutely hammered in terms of both results and quality of contact. Berríos, on the other hand, has shut down Minnesota. He managed 5.2 scoreless innings in his only start against his old club in 2023 — albeit with a season-high five walks.
The sample sizes here are small, but the difference is significant, and the Blue Jays have to look at everything when it comes to choices this difficult.
While Bassitt enters the postseason with momentum on his side, Berríos is coming off a season of nearly-identical quality — and the deeper you dig the more he looks like a tougher matchup for the Twins.