3 keys to how Twins can win ALDS Game 3

October 7th, 2019

MINNEAPOLIS -- The odds are against the Twins.

In the history of Division Series with the current 2-2-1 format, only three of 30 teams have gone on to win the best-of-five series after losing the first two games on the road. Not only did the Twins lose the first two games at Yankee Stadium, but they were also blown out in both games and got away from the aggressive pitching mindset and strikeout-averse hitting that served them so well during the regular season.

With a young Twins roster leaving the hostile environment of Yankee Stadium, they will finally have a chance to regroup during Sunday's off-day before taking the field for Game 3 on Monday, which will be the first playoff game at Target Field since 2010.

Here are three things the Twins need to do in front of their home crowd in Games 3 and 4 in order to send the ALDS back to Yankee Stadium for a decisive Game 5.

1) Pitch more aggressively in the strike zone

The Twins' pitching staff had the second-lowest walk rate in baseball (7.0 percent) following the All-Star break. Through the end of the regular season, Minnesota pitchers challenged hitters with their best stuff in the strike zone and didn't get themselves into trouble, for the most part.

That went out the window in Games 1 and 2 of the ALDS, when Twins pitchers issued a combined 16 walks and hit two batters. The Twins had not issued more than 15 walks in any three-game series during the second half. Five of the Yankees' 10 runs in Game 1 reached base via walk or hit-by-pitch, as did three of New York's eight runs in Game 2.

"Maybe trying to be too fine with approaching the 6-foot-7 guy who's batting in the two-hole and the 6-foot-5 guy batting in the five-hole," said reliever , referring to Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton. "They're big guys, and they're imposing, and it's Yankee Stadium. But there has to be a point where our aggressiveness in the zone that we've had all year has to be there."

Devin Smeltzer walked three batters in 3 1/3 scoreless frames of relief on Saturday, but he said after the game that he was OK with throwing more "chase" pitches out of the zone to hitters that were bad matchups for him and being much more aggressive against the left-handed hitter on deck. But in general, the Yankees haven't been going after those "chase" pitches in this series, and the Twins just need to present their best stuff -- and if a talented Yankees lineup can hit that stuff, so be it.

"It's one of those things like you've got to go out and attack them," May said. "If they hit the home runs -- if they hit eight home runs in a game -- they probably deserve to win that game. So you have to make them earn it and not just create chances for them, and give them opportunities to take advantage of those chances. You just keep them out of those chances from the beginning."

2) Expect the unexpected on offense

The Yankees' pitching plan caught the Twins off balance in the Bronx. Several of the Twins' hitters said after Game 2 that the Yankees subverted their expectations, leading to some degree of tentativeness at the plate from the Twins, and catcher stressed the need for the Twins to simplify their approach and make better in-game adjustments.

"It seems like we're swinging at a lot of balls and taking a lot of strikes," Garver said. "It's almost like our approach is a touch backwards, one pitch ahead or one pitch behind. Guys are looking for something, they're getting the opposite."

New York's offspeed-heavy approach was a particular factor in Game 2, when the Twins only mustered four singles and two doubles as they struck out 14 times and walked only once, while Yankees pitchers, headlined by Masahiro Tanaka, lived at the edges and outside the strike zone against an aggressive Twins offense. Yankees hitters have refused to chase at balls during this series, and the Twins might also do well by seeing more pitches to better evaluate Luis Severino's game plan early in Game 3.

"You could see that the pitchers were super comfortable out there," C.J. Cron said. "We didn’t put any second thoughts in their head. They did whatever they wanted to do, both games. Hopefully we can get back to us -- be comfortable at the plate, swing hard and be aggressive."

3) Get a deep start from Odorizzi in Game 3

This goes without saying, of course. But much of the Twins' pitching trouble in Games 1 and 2 was the product of short outings from starting pitchers (four innings) and Randy Dobnak (two-plus innings), which forced manager Rocco Baldelli and the Twins' coaching staff to dig into the depth of their bullpen to bridge the gap to their late-inning options.

That meant that needed to be used early in games to sort out messes, instead of as a late-inning option, and younger pitchers like Smeltzer and Cody Stashak have had to play more prominently into gameplans instead of Minnesota's bullpen stalwarts like and Taylor Rogers.

"We would have needed all of those other pitchers that we're kind of referencing here to keep pitching," Baldelli said of the Yankees' third-inning rally on Saturday. "It wouldn't have been enough to just get three outs in that spot and just kind of end your night. Probably would have needed four outs, five outs, maybe six outs from some of those guys."

There's something to be said for more creatively deploying one's bullpen assets on a postseason stage, where every out matters more. But it would also help Baldelli and his coaching staff to regroup and get back within their pitching plan if went out in Game 3 and threw five or six innings to avoid the Twins needing to rely on their less experienced bullpen options in big moments.