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2019 American League Division Series Review: Minnesota Twins vs New York Yankees

How the Twins got swept (again) by the Yankees.

New York Yankees’ Shortstop Didi Gregorius striking a pose after hitting a ‘Grand Slam’. Cr: CBS Sports

It’s October, and that means October Baseball!

OK, that seems hilarious.

But when it comes to October Baseball, for me, as a fan of this sport, it’s obvious.

Hilarious. Just like that “We Play Loud” jargon that is widely promoted by the Major League Baseball (MLB) on TV.

The MLB is divided into two leagues: the American League (where pitchers don’t have any at-bat and are replaced by a Designated Hitter instead) and the National League (where pitchers allowed to bat).

The term “league” itself acted more as a conference, similar to other North American Sports Leagues such as the National Football League (NFL) or the Major League Soccer (MLS)¹. Each of the league in MLB consists of fifteen teams with five teams filling up each of the league’s three divisions (West, Central, East).

And as of 10 PM Central Time Zone, MLB just concluded four of its League Division Series. Interestingly enough, not only MLB of North America that is currently having its playoffs in the month of October. In fact, the Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) of Japan is also having one of its own.

The NPB, which also splits into two leagues consisting six teams for each league, is currently progressing to the classic Yomiuri Giants vs. Hanshin Tigers in the Central League Climax Series² while the defending champions Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks faces off against Saitama Seibu Lions in Pacific League Climax Series.

Reviewing other series aside from the Yankees-Twins.

Roberto Osuna, the Savior. Cr: News Toronto

The game was finished at 10 AM Jakarta/Bangkok time. On the last pitch of the game, it was Roberto Osuna’s 92-mph cut-fastball which blew past Ji-Man Choi that sealed the game for the Astros.

The game itself was actually closer to Gerrit Cole’s mad dash, again, which advances the 107-win Houston Astros to the League Championship Series as he struck out 10 batters in 8 innings of work in Game 5. The Astros eventually knocked-out the resilient wild-card winner Tampa Bay Rays in five games.³

We know going into the series that he can really strike hitters out (he struck out 326 batters in 212.1⁴ innings in the regular season) but we never expected that he would, almost single-handedly, made Austin Meadows and co. look like a bunch of goofy hitters.

Even when the walk-happy first baseman-slash-Running Man-guest-star Choi Ji-Man began to heat up. Choi himself eventually ended up being the guy who struck out to end the series.

The series itself began with Houston trotting their high-powered lineup combined with the deadly Verlander-Cole duo, which helped the Astros took the first two games at home. But the Rays, coming to Houston after knocking down Astros’ AL West rival, the Oakland Athletics, on the wild-card game, stormed back with their high-octane bullpen along with their innovative “opener” strategy initiated by their manager Kevin Cash.

But the absence of their corner infielder and designated hitter Yandy Diaz, who hit two home runs against the Athletics, proved too much for the Rays to overcome as they were unable to do anything on the road.

The rest of the Division Series, except for the Yankees’ usual whooping of the Twins, similarly ended in five games.

Meanwhile the first series in the National League Division Series ended in a backbreaking — rather than heartbreaking — fashion for the defending pennant winner and the no. 1 seed in NL, the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Doyers surprisingly blew a 2–0 lead as the wild-card game winner, Washington Nationals.

The Nats themselves got rid of their abysmal bullpen while successfully keeping their good part, which is the “two-headed dragon” in Daniel Hudson and Sean Doolittle, silenced the productive bat of Cody Bellinger and co. Which,eventually made the Scherzer-Strasburg-Corbin trio thrived against the Doyers’ 106-win team.

Their bats, as usual, was being really loud with the cleanup trio of Anthony Rendon, Juan Soto and Howie Kendrick each hitting a home run. The 34-homers pairing of Rendon and Soto each knocked a solo shot at the top of eighth inning against the future Hall-of-Famer left hander Clayton Kershaw (who was having his annual postseason choke moment dating back to 2008 and seven straight since 2013).

Kendrick’s own blast being a go-ahead grand slam⁵ at the top of the 10th inning against a 98-mph sinker from Los Angeles native Joe Kelly to knock out the Doyers from the postseason.

It’s crazy to think that the Nationals let their superstar, Bryce Harper, go to their division rival, the Philadelphia Phillies and they still knocked last year’s National League pennant runner-up Milwaukee Brewers out in the wild card game.

They achieved this even when the Brew Crew played without their superstar, right fielder Christian Yelich. And thanks to his replacement, Trent Grisham, for being the scapegoat of their heartbreaking 4–3 loss in DC with his fielding error.

The second series, well, was a thrilling battle between two of the most successful charter franchises of the National League, the Atlanta Braves and the St. Louis Cardinals.

Braves, having one of the nastiest 1–2–3–4 punch in the league (I dubbed them the Fantastic Four) in center fielder Ronald Acuna Jr (.260 BA/41 HR/ 101 RBI/38 SB)⁶, second baseman Ozzie Albies (24 HR/85 RBI), first baseman Freddie Freeman (38 HR/121 RBI). They rounded off their top 4 with the 2015 AL MVP, third baseman Josh Donaldson (36 HR/97 RBI) who unusually batted in the cleanup spot⁷.

They faced the Cardinals who didn’t really follow the ongoing trend of hitting home runs. Instead, they relied on walk-happy hitters such as Dexter Fowler and Matt Carpenter along with the recently acquired Paul Goldschmidt.

Pitching-wise, they were pretty similar in terms of their starting pitcher having a good record while also losing their closer (Vizcaino for the Braves and Hicks for the Cards). To counter these circumstances, Braves flipped some minor league players and prospects for three closers, Chris Martin from Texas Rangers, Mark Melancon from San Francisco Giants and Shane Greene from the Tigers, during the regular season.

On the other side, the Cardinals made former starter Carlos Martinez their official closer . This unprecedented decision was made while electing to keep the trio of John Brebbia, Andrew Miller and Giovanny Gallegos to throw multiple innings.

This series played pretty much like a boxing bout, with both the Braves and the Cardinals throwing their own respective punches, until game five. This game were known when out of nowhere Braves’ starter Mike Foltynewicz and Max Fried surrendered ten(!) runs in the first inning and eventually fifteen runs before Donaldson’s solo home run would prove to be the only consolation for the Braves.

The Cardinals, who owned 91–71 record as the NL Central Champions will face the Nationals who owned 93–69 record. The Nats should have owned the home-field advantage just like in 2012 NLDS considering that de facto-wise, they have the better regular season record. But since they’re advancing as the wild card team, they will face their old nemesis back from their first postseason series on the road, thus voiding their theoretical home-field advantage.

And the Astros, having “the upper hand” since they hold the home-field-advantage for the whole postseason, will face the Savages of the Bronx, again in the ALCS, just like 2017.

Minnesota Twins at New York Yankees, in a nutshell.

Tale of the tape: The Twins

Flex on ’em, boys. Cr: LA Times

When thinking about Minnesota sports franchises, they performed somewhat poorly, even when the newest franchise, the Minnesota United from the MLS came into the existence few years ago. We would also see the “bad luck and jinx” in fellow Minnesota-based sport franchises, like both of the city’s basketball franchises in the Timberwolves (NBA) and the Lynx (WNBA), their hockey franchise in the Wild (NHL) and their football franchise in Vikings of the NFL.

But not with the Twins. Since moving to Minnesota in the 1961 season, they went on to play in three World Series, winning two of them in 1987 (against the Cardinals) and in 1991 (against the Braves) while losing one (their only loss in the World Series were to the 1965 LA Dodgers led by Sandy Koufax).

They persevered as the Twins won 101 games in the regular season, winning the AL Central division by seven games while hitting homers after homers. They eventually shattered the record of 267 homers hit by the 2017 Yankees by 40 dingers, which means the Bomba Squad hit 307 Home runs during the regular season.

Led by their ageless Designated Hitter, Nelson Cruz, they became the first team with five players hitting 30+ home runs with Cruz himself, also known as the Boomstick, hits 41, Max Kepler, the German-born outfielder whose father hails from Poland⁸ hit 36, Eddie Rosario hits 34, Mitch Garver, who bats leadoff against LHPs as a catcher hit 31 and Miguel Sano who missed a few months, still managed to hit 34 dingers.

To balance that sort of power⁹, they got high-average hitters in Luis Arraez, whose patient approach in the batter’s box resulted in a crazy stat line in the minors (36 walks against 29 strikeouts)¹⁰ ¹¹. Puns aside ,though, because they left another contact-first bat in the cult hero utility man, “La Tortuga” Willians Astudillo who often swings wildly (5 walks, 8 strikeouts). They did this, because they thought that both Arraez and MarGo will recover on time they left the only remaining space to former Yankee minor farmhand Jake Cave.

Besides having a high-powered offense, they got some minor flaws in their pitching. Aside from Jose Berrios and Jake Odorizzi, they lost Michael Pineda who was suspended 80 games because of substance problems.

So for the rest of the season (including the postseason) they must rely on their fresher arms and using the “opener” style far more frequently since other regular starters like Kyle Gibson was demoted to the bullpen after he imploded in the second half and left-hander Martin Perez was also dropped because of similar reasons and eventually was left off the LDS roster.

Twins’ bullpen for all of the 2019 season is pretty intriguing, considering that this bullpen, other than rookie Brusdar Graterol and Trevor May, is not the prototypical ‘high-velocity-with-high-strikeout-rate’ like the Yankees have.

But indeed they lean on the craft of veteran sinkerballer Sergio Romo, rookie swingman Randy Dobnak (who surprisingly got the nod to start game 2). What made their choice pretty surprising is they only carried two left-handed pitchers, closer Taylor Rogers and rookie long reliever/starter Devin Smeltzer.

Tale of the Tape: The Yankees

The famous stripes from BX. Cr: Empire Writes Back

New York Yankees. The Bronx Bombers. The Savages. This team is the most decorated team in the world of baseball. The team who won 27 rings, ahead of 22 rings that Yomiuri had in NPB. But they did play the way that other team couldn’t probably survived.

They had a record of 30 players who went to the Injured List which is crazy enough considering that normally teams only have 25 active players for the season¹². Stars like Aaron Judge, Didi Gregorius, Gary Sanchez, and Giancarlo Stanton missed times because of injury, even guys who replaced them, like cult hero Mike Tauchman and Aaron Hicks, would also miss this round of the postseason¹³.

They lost first basemen Greg Bird (obviously), Luke Voit, and traded for Edwin Encarnacion who also missed time because of injury. Their solution was pretty much unorthodox because they kept Gary Sanchez off 1B , until the team played DJ LeMahieu, who never played first and let undrafted player Mike Ford to step into the position.

But their much-heralded pitching and bullpen is still nasty. Their rotation, even when they left both ye-olde-man CC Sabathia (who will retire after the season) and 18-game winner Domingo German (who was left off because of administrative issues) are still as vicious as before. Luis Severino is back, and he is joined by James Paxton, J.A. Happ (if he starts) and Masahiro Tanaka.

Their bullpen….

Well…

Who wants to face a bullpen consisting of flamethrowers in the regular season?

And who wants to face them in the postseason?

Other than the surprise choice lefty-specialist Tyler Lyons, who literally threw less than 95 mph, we already know for sure that the other arms in the bullpen such as relief ace Chad Green, Jonathan Loaisiga, Adam Ottavino, Tommy Kahnle and especially the cream of the crop of these folks, ‘the Cuban Missile’ Aroldis Chapman, are blowing high-velo fastballs and firing off devastating breaking balls off of hitters.

Luis Cessa also took part as the another hard-throwing fella after they lost their usual setup-man in Dellin Betances, who only played one game before he re-injure his back.

The Series

The Yankees, as the team with more wins (103–59), hosted the Twins (101–61) in Game 1 of the series.

Lineup-wise, the Yankees is pretty confident by starting James Paxton. Leading off the batting lineup for the Yankees was their usual utility infielder DJ LeMahieu, followed by customary big man Aaron Judge. But surprisingly, they put Brett Gardner (coming off a career-high 28 home run this season) in front of Encarnacion, who was strictly playing as a DH while also batting cleanup.

Then followed by their last-season DH, the other big man in Stanton who shifted to left field even when he had limited playing time during the regular season. The team’s home run leaders, Gleyber Torres and Gary Sanchez, bat sixth and seventh accordingly. Then the Dutch shortstop Gregorius bat eighth and batting in the bottom of the lineup is the second-best pure hitter in the lineup in Colombian third baseman Giovanny Urshela.

Twins countered with pitcher Jose Berrios who started the game, and to many surprise, they tabbed Mitch Garver to bat leadoff then followed by usual 2–3–4 hitters in Jorge Polanco, Cruz and Rosario.

Miguel Sano bat fifth, then followed by the usual leadoff man Max Kepler, MarGo who started in the left field then Cron. And to many surprise, they decided to sit regular second baseman Jonathan Schoop who was Gregorius’ teammate in the Netherlands national team back in 2017 World Baseball Classic and instead kept Arraez.

Things started badly for the Yankees as Paxton surrendered a first-inning homerun to Polanco (the second batter he faced in the game) and walked Cruz straight after that. Later in the third inning, Cruz himself mashed an opposite field home run to made the game 2–0 for the Twins.

But, in the bottom of the same inning Yankees caught fire when LeMahieu and Judge each hit singles off Berrios, which was then followed by a sacrifice fly from Gardner, and then a two-base hit by Encarnacion which cut the lead. Then a walk from Stanton followed by a double from Torres blasted the door and eventually the game.

Twins tied the game when Polanco sent Arraez to the home plate with a double off Paxton. And after that, the game seemed to belong to the Yankees even when Miguel Sano blasted a home run off Kahnle. Eventually after Twins gained some momentum, The Yankees stormed back again with home runs from LeMahieu and Gardner following another 2-bagger by Torres. And eventually as the killing blow, LeMahieu blew past the Twins defense with his own bases-clearing-double.

The Twins seemed to have a postseason stutter beginning in the f. Some few things that I observed from this game is that they weren’t able to maximize Garver’s .995 OPS¹⁴ in the regular season to at least hit an RBI, while only managing to hit solo shots. Max Kepler also struggled since coming back from injury and they got no proper support from the bullpen.

Game 2, Randy Dobnak, a.k.a. the Uber Driver, surprisingly got the nod to start the game for the Twins as he faced 2013 Eiji Sawamura Award¹⁵ winner, Masahiro Tanaka. Dobnak was thrown into fire when LeMahieu doubled, Judge walked and a sacrifice fly by Gardner sent LeMahieu to third base which resulted into an RBI by Encarnacion.

The Twins offense wasn’t showing their ability to smash the ball, and their defensive setup is pretty unusual. Jake Cave, originally a center fielder in the minors, manning left field, Eddie Rosario manned right for the second straight game, while Max Kepler kept his place in the center field.

Those decisions made by Baldelli again backfired, and it became obvious in the bottom of the third inning when Dobnak was running out of gas after letting both Judge and Encarnacion to get on base and was eventually relieved by Tyler Duffey. This decision also proved costly as Duffey allowed Stanton to hit a sacrifice fly to bring home Judge, then Torres hit a single to score Encarnacion.

After those ruckuses, he hit Gary Sanchez to load the bases and let Gregorius to have an at-bat. Gregorius, who destroyed Twins pitching two years prior with a three-run home run off Ervin Santana to tie the wildcard game, got his chance to cement his name in Yankees’ history as the first shortstop to hit a grand slam in the postseason, something that legends like Phil Rizzuto, Bucky Dent, and even Derek Jeter himself couldn’t.

On the 1–2 count, Duffey fired a 94-mph fastball high and inside to the big Dutchman who hit that money pitch to the deep right field off the house that Jeter built.

Grand Slam.

A titanic home run followed with an unusual bat-flip from Gregorius.

7–0.

Basically riveted the Twins’ fate for a hardly-thought comeback in the city of Minneapolis.

I realized that the Twins didn’t have enough pure battle-proven arm in the bullpen besides Romo. But knowing Sam Dyson’s condition who made his 2020 season in jeopardy made me realize that they are fouled up and was really not prepared for a beatdown.

Singles from Garver and Arraez did spare two runs for the Twins, but for the deciding game in Minneapolis, they really needed another right-handed, free-swinging bat to turn things around. Astudillo was left off the roster and I — and everyone — knew that facing that kind of bullpen who regularly struck out everyone, Twins were practically heading home much faster than expected.

Game 3 in Minneapolis practically served as a knockout punch to the Twins. Jake Odorizzi did a better job than Dobnak. He lasted five innings but still allowed a second-inning solo home run to Torres and a one-run single to Gardner in the third inning.

Luis Severino, on the other hand, baffled the Twins’ lineup for four innings after allowing a mere two base-on-balls which Twins’ offense did not capitalize at all. Yankees’ bullpen came through with Tommy Kahnle, Adam Ottavino, Chad Green, Zack Britton and Aroldis Chapman threw the last four innings while only conceding one run off Rosario’s solo dinger against a limping Britton.

So why Twins lost?

There are at least seven reasons why the Bomba Squad went silent against the Yankees.

1. They left Astudillo’s free-swinging bat. Twins filled the bases but they went nowhere after that.

2. Baldelli made some questionable decisions such as starting Rosario in right field and Cave playing center.

3. They didn’t have enough nasty arm who could shake off the patient approach by Yankees’ hitter off the ‘pen, as they left both Ryne Harper and was unable to brought Sam Dyson, who was injured.

4. They didn’t start 2017 wild-card game starter Jason Castro at catcher as Garver’s energy went down and he didn’t frame the pitch well in game 1 and 2.

5. They lost Buxton and his presence in outfield. Therefore they didn’t defend very well and back to point number two.

6. Arraez wasn’t fit enough to play second base and the Twins’ reluctance to start the more experienced Schoop at least to face lefty starter backfired.

7. Max Kepler, quo vadis?

To Conclude….

Basically, the Twins couldn’t bring their maximum capability to stop the Yankees as they still didn’t bring up their top prospects in Nick Gordon and Hunter Greene into the big leagues in order to take this painful experience (and streak) as a lesson to bounce back and eventually make it to the World Series just like 1991.

The Yankees should still be unstoppable even when they face the three-headed dragon in Cole, Verlander and Greinke. We just have to wait and see what this core‘s attempt to bring title number #28 back to the Bronx.

¹NPB itself also had the same,if not similar, ruling, with Pacific League using DH just like AL and pitchers bat in Central League just like in NL.

²Climax series itself differs from the LDS-LCS system, which the best 3 teams from each league played a stepladder-based playoffs, and actually, a full home-field advantage which the home team played in their own respective ballpark until the Japan Series. These kind of playoff series also applied in World Baseball Classic but only in Round 1 and Round 2 games.

³The LDS itself is a best-of-3 series which consisted into 2–2–1 format. In this format, the team

⁴Here .1 is one-third of an inning and .2 is two -thirds of an inning.

⁵A home run with 3 bases full of runners, so it automatically clears the bases and scores 4 runs. The term Grand Slam is a play of the term Grand Salami.

⁶BA: Batting Average; HR: Home Run; RBI: Runs Batted In; SB: Stolen Bases.

⁷Considering that he is the customary 2-hole hitter in the 2015–2016 ALCS-reaching Toronto Blue Jays almost usually batting in front of both similarly power hitting (both ex-third basemen) outfielder Jose Bautista and designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion.

⁸His actual name is Maximilian Kepler-Roz.

⁹Which considered out of those big lumbering guys they still had middle infielders Jonathan Schoop and Jorge Polanco which both of them hit more than 20, first basemen CJ Cron (25 HRs) and Marwin Gonzalez (15) also hitting double figures in home run and even backup catcher Jason Castro hit 13 when playing sparringly before mentioning bench players Jake Cave who hit 8 albeit only gaining playing time after the regular outfielder Byron Buxton was ruled out for the season. Cited from https://www.baseball-reference.com/teams/MIN/2019.shtml, accessed October 11th, 2019

¹⁰Considering that he torn his ACL at 2017. Cited from Star Tribune.com, “Did Luis Arraez, the Twins’ big surprise, come out of nowhere? (No, Iowa)”, http://www.startribune.com/did-luis-arraez-the-twins-big-surprise-come-out-of-nowhere-no-iowa/561561052/, accessed October 11th,2019.

¹¹His batting approach is slightly different from many hitters nowadays in in MLB and in my opinion is better suited to play in more small-ball approach-friendly NPB. Cited from Beyond the BoxScore,

“Luis Arraez is succeeding for the Twins in an unconventional way“ https://www.beyondtheboxscore.com/2019/9/21/20876569/luis-arraez-minnesota-twins-launch-angle-plate-discipline-juan-pierre-postseason, accessed October 11th,2019.

¹²The 25-man roster in the current rule (until 2020) stands for almost all the season, but teams could add a player or 26th man for doubleheaders and until the September call-up which expanded the roster into 40 players.

¹³Tauchman would be available in the World Series, but Hicks are ready for the League Championship Series if they progressed, which they did.

¹⁴On Base percentage which Is a metrics to count how frequently a batter reaches base.+ Slugging percentage which is a metrics to is a measure of the batting productivity of a hitter. It is calculated as total bases / at bats.

¹⁵Award given to the best pitcher in the Nippon Professional Baseball, similar to Cy Young Award in MLB.

Written by Farhan Muhammad Aditomo,and edited by The Amateurs editorial team.

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The Amateurs.

The Amateurs.

A sports blog from an amateur’s perspective.