FAQ: What's next for Twins after clinch

September 27th, 2020

The Twins' spot in the 2020 postseason is secure. After their 7-3 win over the Reds on Saturday night, home-field advantage in the Wild Card Series is also secure. The only questions that remain: Who will the Twins face in that first round? And will Minnesota repeat as the American League Central champion?

The division will come down to the final day of the season, as the power bats and much-improved pitching staff of the White Sox put up a hard fight until a late-season slump. The Twins’ offense didn't perform as expected despite the addition of Josh Donaldson, but the pitching staff did enough to carry the team for large stretches of the season, and the depth of both the rotation and bullpen could be X-factors for the Twins come October.

With Minnesota headed to the playoffs in consecutive years for the first time since 2009-10, what's next for the Twins as they jostle for playoff seeding? Let's take a look.

What could the postseason roster look like?

Position players (14)

C: Mitch Garver, Ryan Jeffers, Alex Avila
1B: Miguel Sanó
2B: Luis Arraez
SS: Jorge Polanco
3B: Josh Donaldson
INF: Ehire Adrianza
LF: Eddie Rosario
CF: Byron Buxton
RF: Max Kepler
OF: Jake Cave
DH: Nelson Cruz
UTIL: Marwin Gonzalez

Pitchers (14)

SP: Kenta Maeda, José Berríos, Michael Pineda
RP: Taylor Rogers, Sergio Romo, Tyler Duffey, Tyler Clippard, Trevor May, Cody Stashak, Matt Wisler, Jorge Alcala, Caleb Thielbar, Jake Odorizzi, Randy Dobnak

Are there moving pieces on that roster?
Yes -- many of them. Unfortunately for the Twins, there's at least some level of injury consideration with Buxton, who is dealing with mild concussion symptoms the club is optimistic will clear up by Tuesday. Still, considering his history of concussions (at least one during his Minor League career and one that required a stint on the injured list last year), some degree of caution is to be expected. If Buxton isn’t eligible to play, LaMonte Wade Jr. would likely be next up.

The same goes for Donaldson, who also exited Friday's game with cramping in his right calf, the same muscle that he strained in July, leading to a month-long stint on the IL. His absence appears more precautionary, but if he's unable to play, Gonzalez would likely start at third base, which would create a possible opening for Willians Astudillo or Travis Blankenhorn on the roster.

There's also some uncertainty as to what the pitcher-hitter split will be. The Twins would likely carry only 13 position players for a five- or seven-game series to load up on pitching depth, but the three-game WCS will diminish the importance of that and make it more significant to have the proper matchups available off the bench late in games. There's at least some question as to whether that would manifest in a third catcher or additional depth elsewhere. President of baseball operations Derek Falvey indicated that the final few roster spots would depend on the Twins' first-round opponent.

What is the schedule for the Wild Card Series?
AL teams will begin the best-of-three Wild Card Series on Tuesday -- two days after the final day of the regular season -- at the home ballparks of the top four seeds. With no off-days between games in the series, Games 2 and 3 will follow on Wednesday and Thursday.

Who could the Twins meet in the first round?
For a while, it appeared like the Twins were on another inevitable collision course with the Yankees. The White Sox looked to have the AL Central on lock, leaving Minnesota with a second-place matchup against New York, second in the AL East.

Then, the White Sox collapsed, ceding the division lead back to the Twins. Now, the possibilities are numerous.

Depending on the outcome of Sunday's games, Minnesota could finish as either the No. 2, 3 or 4 seed, with five different first-round opponents still possible: Cleveland, Chicago, Houston, New York and Toronto. If the Twins win the division, they would face Cleveland, Chicago or Houston. If they lose the division, they would be up against New York or Toronto.

Given how things stand after Saturday's games, a rematch against Cleveland or Chicago appears most likely. The Twins went 7-3 against the Indians and 5-5 against the White Sox this season.

OK, so what's the best-case scenario?
Given the structure of the playoff bracket, the No. 3 seed actually appears to draw a more favorable matchup than the No. 2 seed. The former will match up against a Houston squad that will limp into the playoffs at or below .500. The latter will draw the third-place finisher in the AL Central -- either Chicago or Cleveland.

There's a narrow path to the No. 3 seed for Minnesota. It would require a Twins loss, White Sox loss and A's win on Sunday. That's likely the best-case scenario, especially considering the Astros are 9-22 away from Minute Maid Park this season.

What will the rotation look like for the Wild Card Series?
Though the ordering has essentially been set since the Twins had to line up Maeda, Berríos and Pineda this week to get them on proper rest leading into the postseason, manager Rocco Baldelli officially confirmed as much on Saturday, locking in Maeda as his Game 1 starter, Berríos in for Game 2 and Pineda for a possible Game 3.

Baldelli and Falvey have also indicated that Odorizzi will likely be on the Wild Card Series roster, as the veteran right-hander has made an encouraging recovery from a ruptured blister on his right middle finger. Perhaps he could factor in as a possible Game 3 starter if the matchup is favorable, though Pineda's consistency since joining the Twins last season likely still gives him the edge.

Could other starters factor in as relievers?
In a best-of-three Wild Card Series, it should be all hands on deck for the Twins' loaded rotation, whether in starting roles or in relief. Though Dobnak was optioned to the taxi squad as part of a roster crunch, the rookie right-hander would make sense to flex into the bullpen considering his experience and versatility in moving between roles last season and his success in doing so (1.59 ERA in nine games)

Hill and Odorizzi have considerably less recent experience pitching out of the ‘pen. Hill made a relief appearance during the 2018 regular season and later did so again in Game 6 of that year’s NLCS. On the other hand, Odorizzi hasn't pitched in relief in any setting since ‘13, his age-23 season.

It's also worth wondering if Hill will be on the Wild Card Series roster at all. He's scheduled to be Minnesota's starter on Sunday, and his typical rest period following that would likely render him ineligible to pitch during the WCS, especially considering that the Twins have been cautious with his rest schedule all season. There could be a slim chance that he makes a relief appearance in lieu of a scheduled side session -- the Twins did that with Kyle Gibson last year -- but that may be unlikely.

What's the Twins' biggest strength in this playoff format?
Thought to be the lineup entering the 2020 season, the Twins' greatest strength has instead been its pitching depth, both in the starting rotation and in the bullpen. Minnesota's six starting options (Berríos, Maeda, Pineda, Hill, Odorizzi, Dobnak) have already been covered, but the relief corps has also come up big despite heavy usage, including six bullpen games in the 60-game season.

Beyond the late-inning core of Rogers, Romo, Duffey, May, Clippard and Stashak, the Twins have had surprise contributions Wisler (1.09 ERA), Alcala (2.70) and Thielbar (2.41), who have all pitched in tight games and given the Twins important bullpen depth.

Why is that particularly significant in 2020? The lack of off-days during each postseason round leading up to the World Series means that pitching depth will be tested more than ever. Gone are the days of relying on three starters and three or four core relievers, and the Twins are uniquely positioned for success in that regard.

How important will home-field advantage be for the Twins?
Very important. Entering Sunday, the Twins have an MLB-best 24-6 record at Target Field, and a win in the season finale would secure the highest single-season home winning percentage in MLB history. Though Cleveland and Chicago are both 17-13 on the road this season, the rest of Minnesota’s potential first-round opponents are below .500 away from their home parks in 2020.

Twins pitchers entered Saturday with a 2.86 ERA at home and a 4.38 mark on the road. Opponents were hitting .215/.280/.339 at Target Field entering Saturday and a much more robust .251/.321/.414 against Minnesota in their own ballparks.

Maeda has been elite everywhere, but he’s been just about untouchable at home (1.91 ERA, .319 opponents’ OPS), a step up from his road numbers (3.48 ERA, .672 OPS). Berríos also has been markedly better at home (3.38 ERA, .602 OPS) than on the road (4.65 ERA, .793 OPS) in a small sample size this season.

Nobody can pinpoint why exactly that's the case. Some have pointed to the comfort of being able to sleep at home. Others have suggested that the familiarity with the home clubhouse, the ballpark and the batter's eye could also factor in.

There's no guarantee that the comfort aspect will carry through to the postseason, since the Twins have been isolated at a hotel in Minneapolis during their final homestand. As Falvey pointed out, the AL "bubble" in Southern California could negate home-field advantage after the Wild Card Series, anyway, but the Twins need to win that first series to get there -- and any edge could prove important.