With less than a week remaining until the conclusion of the regular season and the Twins' magic number to clinch the American League Central down to three, it's quickly becoming clear that manager Rocco Baldelli and his staff are going to face some tough decisions regarding several qualified options that could round out Minnesota's pitching staff on a potential postseason roster.
Kyle Gibson and Martín Pérez, once considered rotation locks, are both enduring extremely rough Septembers, while younger options like Devin Smeltzer, Cody Stashak, Randy Dobnak and Lewis Thorpe have thrived, leaving the Twins' decision-makers with tough decisions that could come down to matchup factors. On the other hand, it looks as though both Ehire Adrianza and Max Kepler could return from injury in time for a possible playoff run, which leaves few questions on the offensive side of the ball.
With all this in mind, MLB.com took one final shot at predicting how the Twins might build their roster if they are able to qualify for the AL Division Series for the first time since 2010.
What's changed? Nothing. Garver was pulled from Sunday afternoon's game against the Royals with what the Twins described as right hip tightness, but he indicated after the game that he was removed out of an abundance of caution as he experienced additional stress due to an increased workload over the last week.
Though the Twins used a platoon of Garver's right-handed bat and Castro's left-handed bat for most of the season behind the plate, Baldelli's catcher usage over the last week is likely telling for how he might play his backstops in the postseason. Garver started five of the Twins' last seven games, including two against right-handed starters, and appeared in all but one of those contests.
Seeing as how Garver is on pace to break the Twins' single-season record with his .634 OPS in 2019, the 28-year-old could be in line for the lion's share of playoff starts, with Castro and Willians Astudillo available to spell him when needed.
What's changed? Adrianza had been briefly removed from the projection after an oblique injury that was sustained during the Twins' series against the Nationals in mid-September, but the ailment appears to be milder than originally suspected, and the switch-hitting utility infielder could already be nearing full strength.
Adrianza's status appears to be the only thing up in the air for this position group. Sanó and Polanco should start every playoff game, and Arraez should also start most contests, unless Baldelli would prefer to have Schoop's bat in a power-heavy lineup against a tougher left-hander. Either way, having Arraez or Schoop available off the bench would be a luxury for the Twins in different ways.
The Twins also appear confident that their new way of managing the symptoms of Cron's thumb injury could help the first baseman play more consistently, with less impact to his swing. That would be a big defensive lift to the Twins, though Marwin Gonzalez has also proved more than capable at first when needed.
What's changed? Kepler (left rhomboid strain) still hasn't made a full return to the lineup, but given that he has been hitting in the cage and could progress to swinging against a velocity machine early this week, the encouraging signs of improvement will keep him in this projection.
Rosario, Kepler and Gonzalez could get the majority of starts in the outfield as the best offensive and defensive options, but plenty of responsibility should also fall on Cave, with Gonzalez's versatility likely to pull him out to first base at times, especially if Cron's thumb continues to prove troublesome. Fortunately for the Twins, Cave's .904 OPS in the second half shows that he's likely up for the challenge.
Designated hitter (1): Nelson Cruz
What's changed? Nothing. Cruz will likely deal with continued soreness in his left wrist, in which he ruptured a tendon earlier this season, but it isn't anticipated to be a serious issue for the slugger who is enjoying another 40-homer season at age 39 and has made all of his starts this season at designated hitter. Barring further injury, this spot should belong to Cruz, and Cruz alone, during the postseason -- at least until National League play might get involved.
Utility (1): Willians Astudillo
What's changed? Is the baseball world collectively ready for some Playoff Tortuga action? Byron Buxton's season-ending surgery opened a clear path for Astudillo to join the postseason roster.
Astudillo could be a plug-and-play option primarily at catcher, first base and third base, and should help make manager Rocco Baldelli's late-game decisions much easier with his defensive flexibility. Due to Astudillo's uncanny contact ability, he is also a valuable bench bat for situations where putting the ball in play is a priority -- say, with a man on third and less than two outs -- and Baldelli has already shown the willingness to use Astudillo in several such situations in September.
What's changed? Pérez could end up being the odd man out on this pitching staff. As mentioned at the top of the article, continued inconsistency from Gibson and Pérez in September have suddenly given the Twins plenty to think about regarding the composition of their pitching staff.
This month, Gibson has an 11.05 ERA, while Pérez has posted a 7.00 ERA. Though Berríos and Odorizzi should be available for somewhat normal usage in the postseason, Gibson and Pérez could be limited to shorter stints due to their struggles -- if one or both are, indeed, included on the roster. Given the timing of off-days in the ALDS and the depth of the Twins' relief corps, it could make a lot of sense for Minnesota to utilize bullpen games instead.
It looks like the Twins could line up for a first-round series against the Yankees and their fearsome lineup of right-handed sluggers, which would pose a matchup nightmare for Pérez, who has allowed 21 of his 22 homers this season to right-handed hitters, who entered Sunday with a collective .825 OPS against the southpaw.
What's changed? This is the same group of eight pitchers that were featured last week, but it proved an increasingly difficult decision to keep Smeltzer and Stashak off the roster in light of their success over the past week.
If the Twins plan to "bullpen" their way through at least one game in the ALDS, they will likely need to carry two of their stretched-out rookie arms in the bullpen. Dobnak has continued to show that he can get Major League hitters out with his hard sinker, while Thorpe has flashed his strikeout ability, which gives him the edge for now over the contact-oriented Smeltzer. Stashak, who has 23 strikeouts, only one walk and a 3.13 ERA this season, could also push for Dobnak's spot, though he wouldn't be able to provide the same length.
It's difficult to imagine any version of a Twins postseason roster that doesn't involve Rogers, Romo, Duffey, Littell and May. Even with Dyson on the sidelines, Duffey and May in particular have posted stellar strikeout numbers and have been used in a wide variety of situations by this coaching staff throughout the season, which can only help their versatility for the postseason.