The eyes of the Tribe will be focused on ESPN on Tuesday night as the Minnesota Twins and New York Yankees go to battle in the one-game American League Wild Card Game from Yankee Stadium. The victor earns the privilege of coming to Cleveland to face off against an Indians’ club that took home the top record in the AL this season.
The Twins (85-77) will be an easy underdog in the matchup. On paper, they boast an inferior starting rotation, a bullpen depleted when its best arm was dealt at the trade deadline, and a lineup down its most powerful bat in Miguel Sano, who is not on the roster for the play-in game. While the Twins briefly bought before the trade deadline, they dealt off that acquired piece (Jaime Garcia) to the Yankees and later moved their closer Brandon Kintzler to Washington. While the moves could have spelled the end for the Twins, it seemed to ignite them as Minnesota went 20-10 in August before cooling off to a 15-14 mark in September/October.
For the Yankees (91-71), they gave a good scare to the Boston Red Sox down the stretch with a 20-9 mark in September/October, making the AL East tight down to the final week of the season. They fell just short, but won the top Wild Card spot by six games over the Twins. They handled those Twins well during the season, posting a 4-2 mark against them in six games while outscoring them, 27-19. The Twins have had problems in New York in recent years, losing eight of nine games at Yankee Stadium, where the Yankees posted an AL-best 51-30 home record this season. The Bronx Bombers hit .297 against Minnesota pitching on the year, the third-best mark that they had against any one opponent during the 2017 season.
PITCHING PROBABLES and NOTES
Tuesday, 10/3, 8:00 PM ET – RHP Ervin Santana (16-8, 3.28 ERA) vs. RHP Luis Severino (14-6, 2.98)
A pair of American League All-Star teammates will square off against one another on Tuesday night.
The 34-year-old right-hander Santana put together a career year for the Twins in his third season in Minnesota. He finished the season 16-8 with a career-best 3.28 ERA. He matched his career high with 33 starts on the season and set new personal highs (while tied with Cleveland’s Corey Kluber for the MLB lead) in complete games (5) and shutouts (3) this season.
Santana is 6-10 against the Yankees in his career with a 5.66 ERA and a 1.52 WHIP in 20 starts. He faced New York once this season, taking a tough loss after allowing a pair of runs on seven hits with a walk and three strikeouts in five and two-thirds innings. He was significantly better on the road this season than at Target Field, posting a 10-3 record with a 2.71 ERA and a 1.05 WHIP in road contests, while recording a 6-5 mark with a 3.90 ERA and a 1.21 WHIP at home.
It will be his first postseason appearance since 2009 (ALCS with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim against the Yankees) and his first playoff start since 2008 (ALDS with the Angels against Boston).
The 23-year-old hard-throwing Severino wrapped up his breakout season on the mound with a healthy 14-6 record with a 2.98 ERA and a 1.04 WHIP for the year. He amassed 230 strikeouts in 193 1/3 innings scattered over a career-best 31 starts. His strikeout total and winning percentage were fourth-best in the American League, while his ERA and WHIP were both the third-best in the league.
He has faced the Twins one time in his three-year MLB career. In that start earlier this season, he allowed three runs on five hits in three innings in a no-decision of an 11-3 Yankees win, completing the three-game sweep of Minnesota in a game most notably remembered as the contest that saw a child struck by a 100+ MPH liner off of the bat of Todd Frazier, leading to renewed discussions around baseball about extending protective netting. Severino has had much more success on the mound pitching at night, going 12-4 with a 2.37 ERA and a 0.97 WHIP in 21 starts while holding opposing hitters to a .198 average. He was 2-2 with a 4.45 ERA, a 1.20 WHIP, and a .231 average against in ten day starts.
TV – ESPN
Radio – ESPN Radio (national); Go 96.3, TIBN (Minnesota); WFAN 660, 101.9 FM (New York)
WHAT TO WATCH FOR – TWINS
Twins fans and those pulling for a Minnesota victory will once again see a lineup without Miguel Sano. The slugger and first time All-Star this season was activated from the disabled list on Friday after spending nearly a month and a half on the shelf with a stress reaction to his left shin. Sano’s timing was said to be off during his return to the field over the weekend, so the Twins have overloaded their bullpen for the one-game play-in contest.
The 24-year-old Sano finished the year with a .264 batting average and a .352 on-base percentage with 28 homers and 77 RBI in 114 games played. Two of the three home runs the Twins hit off of Yankees pitching this season came off of Sano’s bat. As they have had to for much of the last six weeks, the Twins will have to replace that production in the lineup.
Minnesota will need a better response from Buxton against the Yankees’ pitching. In three games and eleven trips to the plate against New York this season, he was 0-for-10 with a walk and seven strikeouts. After a notably slow start to his season (.216/.288/.306), Buxton picked it up strong in the second half, posting a .300/.347/.546 slash at the plate and hitting eight homers in August.
Dozier had a strong showing against the Yankees this season. He appeared in all six games played and hit .316 (6-for-19) with a double, a triple, and one RBI to his credit. He also drew seven walks in the half dozen games, giving him an even .500 on-base percentage against New York on the year.
Kepler hit the only other homer off of Yankees pitching this season, but did little else against them. He went 3-for-21 (.143) on the year with a double, the solo homer, and five strikeouts in six games.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR – YANKEES
Super rookie Judge, who will likely run away with the AL Rookie of the Year and a significant number of votes in the AL MVP balloting, was tied with Gregorius with two homers off of the Twins this season. He drove in a team-high six runs, adding a pair of sacrifice flies to his production. He led the American League in homers with 52, runs with 128, and walks with 127 in his second season in the Bigs. He was also the top strikeout man in baseball with 208.
Gardner owned Minnesota pitching in his six games against them this season. He was 12-for-23 (.522) at the plate with three doubles and four RBI. He also picked off three bases in four opportunities and scored a pair of runs.
The veteran Frazier struggled against the Twins this season, despite having a longer look at them last season while with the Chicago White Sox. He was just 1-for-10 at the plate with a single and an RBI while striking out three times. He did add a pair of walks, salvaging the .100 batting average with a .286 OBP. The rookie Frazier, a player that Tribe fans will have a vested interest in during Tuesday’s game, hit .385 against Minnesota this season with two doubles and a triple in 13 trips to the plate.
The Twins last played in the postseason in 2010, when they were swept by the Yankees in three straight in the ALDS. The starting designated hitter in the last game of their playoff run was?
Current Tribe reliever Boone Logan retired the only man that he faced in the eighth inning of that Game 3, needing one pitch to get a bases loaded pop up by another future Indians player, Jason Kubel, for the second out of the inning. Former Indians reliever Kerry Wood and future Cleveland free agent acquisition Nick Swisher were also part of the Yankees team.
TO THE VICTOR GO THE SPOILS
The winner advances to the American League Division Series and will head to Cleveland to face the top-seeded Indians in a five-game series, set to start Thursday night at 7:38 PM ET from Progressive Field.
Trevor Bauer (17-9, 4.19) will be the surprise Game 1 starter for the Tribe, as announced by the Indians Tuesday afternoon.
Photo: Abbie Parr/Getty Images