The Major League Baseball playoffs kick off today, with four American League games on the slate. The Minnesota Twins host the Houston Astros in a matchup between the American League Central Division Champion Twins and the sixth-seeded Astros. The Oakland Athletics and Chicago White Sox play in Oakland, with the AL West champions hosting the seventh-seeded South Siders.
The late games start with the Tampa Bay Rays, the top-seeded champions of the AL East, playing the eighth-seeded Toronto Blue Jays in St. Pete. And the final game on the schedule for today is a blockbuster matchup between the Cleveland Indians and the New York Yankees with Shane Bieber dueling Gerrit Cole on the mound.
— MLB (@MLB) September 29, 2020
The National League won’t start their postseason until tomorrow, so the AL gets all of the attention today. The current betting favorites to win the AL pennant are the Tampa Bay Rays at (+305), followed closely by the New York Yankees (+313), with the Oakland A’s priced third at (+525).
But what if I told you that despite the betting odds, that the Minnesota Twins were actually the favorites to win the AL pennant? In this article, I am going to give you the five reasons why the Minnesota Twins are the real favorites to win the American League in 2020! Let’s get started!
They Have the Easiest Path
The American League has several good teams. It is hard to argue that the Yankees don’t have the most talent in the AL when healthy. The Rays have played the best this season of any American League team, finishing with the best record. I can even listen to a case that the Cleveland Indians are a sleeper to win the pennant with their elite starting pitching staff.
But in a stroke of luck for Minnesota, the Twins won’t have to play any of those teams until the ALCS. Instead, Minnesota gets a first-round matchup with the Houston Astros. While the Astros are the sixth seed, they actually finished with the worst record of any playoff team, with a losing record on the year at 29-31. The Astros avoided the eighth seed because of how MLB seeded teams, with the second-place team in each division, seeded higher than the two wild card teams. Houston has been in free fall in the last month, and Minnesota should have no problem sweeping them out of the postseason.
The 2020 MLB playoff bracket is set‼️
RT if your team made the postseason: pic.twitter.com/po2ZZrMpZ0
— FOX Sports: MLB (@MLBONFOX) September 27, 2020
In the second round of the playoffs, the Twins have a potential matchup with either the Chicago White Sox or the Oakland Athletics. And while both of those teams spent some time looking like legit World Series caliber teams this year, they both hit the postseason playing poorly. The White Sox completely fell apart down the stretch, going from first place to third in the last two weeks of the regular season when they lost nine out of their last twelve games.
For Oakland, the Athletics also backed into the playoffs, as they lost five out of their last eight games and were 8-8 in their final sixteen games. The A’s had a big lead in their division, and they didn’t need to really win any of those games, but you hate to hit the postseason playing your worst baseball of the year, and that seems to be the case for both the A’s and the White Sox.
— Minnesota Twins (@Twins) September 28, 2020
To win the AL pennant, you are going to have to beat good teams, but in my opinion, the top half of the AL playoff bracket is significantly tougher than the bottom half, giving the Twins a big advantage. Cleveland and New York play each other in a brutal first-round series, and the winner will likely matchup with the top-seeded Rays in round two. No team in the AL has a clearer path to the ALCS than the Twins do, and that makes them the team to beat in my opinion.
In his first season playing for the Twins, starting pitcher Kenta Maeda has been outstanding for Minnesota. Maeda finished the regular season with a 6-1 record and a 2.70 ERA. His K/9 rate of 10.8 was elite, and he led all of baseball in WHIP at 0.75. The Twins knew that they needed an ace to break through with a deep postseason run, and Maeda has been every bit an ace this year.
Kenta Maeda is the first @Twins pitcher ever to strikeout 8 straight batters!
— FOX Sports: MLB (@MLBONFOX) August 19, 2020
The Twins have a potential matchup with the Chicago White Sox in the second round, and the Cleveland Indians in the ALCS. Against those two teams this year, Maeda has been very good as he is 4-0 in five starts with a 2.50 ERA. He has 34 Ks in 28 innings, and opposing batters are hitting below .200 against him. The AL Central got more teams into the playoffs than any other division, and that familiarity is going to help Maeda and the Twins if they end up playing one of those teams, which at this point, seems fairly likely.
The age-less one, Nelson Cruz, continued murdering baseball this season, despite turning 40 years old this year. Cruz finished fifth in the American League in home runs, while only playing in 53 games. Cruz hit .303, good for seventh in the league, and his .595 slugging percentage and .992 OPS were fourth and fifth in the AL, respectively.
Since joining the Twins, Nelson Cruz has 29 HR and 86 RBI in 71 games against AL Central opponents. pic.twitter.com/5zjCdQUFvW
— MLB Stats (@MLBStats) August 9, 2020
Last year, the Twins hit more home runs than any team in Major League Baseball history. This year they underwhelmed a bit at the plate as they finished tenth in the American League in runs scored. The home runs were still there, though, as they finished third behind the Chicago White Sox and New York Yankees. Cruz paced the Twins in home runs, but Minnesota did have a balanced attack in terms of dingers as Miguel Sano, Eddie Rosario, and Byron Buxton all hit 13, with that group tied for the second-most homers on the team.
All of the 2020 stats aside, one thing that really sticks out to me about Nelson Cruz, is his wealth of postseason experience. Cruz has played in 44 playoff games, including 12 World Series games and 16 ALCS games. And he has been an absolute monster in the playoffs, as he has 17 home runs in those 44 games. If you extrapolate that home run pace over a full 162-game regular season, you end up with 62 home runs. Yeah, the guy can hit the baseball and loves to smash in the postseason.
Cruz never goes very long without hitting a home run, and he hasn’t homered in his last nine games. I expect that he snaps out of that mini skid quickly once the bright lights of the postseason are turned on. The Twins should walk through the Astros in round one, and I can’t imagine they will have much trouble with the A’s or White Sox either, as both of those teams are playing poorly right now.
40-year-old Nelson Cruz is tied for the league lead in homers. 👀 pic.twitter.com/hn0ymgIMxp
— MLB (@MLB) August 29, 2020
So, a trip to the ALCS seems imminent for the Twins. We already talked about all of Nelson Cruz’s postseason success, but he has really shined in the ALCS in his career. In 16 career ALCS games, Cruz is hitting .328 with 8 homers and 20 RBI while slugging .845. If and when the Twins find their way to the championship series, you can expect Nelson Cruz to help carry them to the World Series as he did twice in his career when playing for the Texas Rangers.
Underrated Pitching Staff
In the last couple of years, nearly all of the talk surrounding this Minnesota Twins pitching staff has been about their ability to hit the long ball and score runs. But what most people don’t realize this season is that the Twins have one of the best pitching staffs in the American League as well. The Twins went out and retooled their staff in a major way in the offseason when they brought in guys like Kenta Maeda, Homer Bailey, and Rich Hill.
Bailey hasn’t been a factor as he has been hurt and hasn’t pitched, but we all saw how great Maeda has been, and Rich Hill is doing what Rich Hill always does, and that is be a serviceable arm for a team in contention as a hired gun. Hill has an ERA of just 3.03 in eight starts and has done more than enough to give his team a chance to win each and every time he pitches.
Big Mike on the mound.
— Minnesota Twins (@Twins) September 26, 2020
Michael Pineda rejoined the team on September 1st, after missing time to a PED suspension, and has been solid, with a 3.38 ERA in five starts, and the Twins have won all five games. Minnesota has used eight different relief pitchers for at least 15 appearances this year, and all of them have been solid. Matt Wisler (1.07 ERA), Tyler Duffey (1.88 ERA), Tyler Clippard (2.77 ERA), Jorge Alcala (2.63 ERA), and Caleb Thielbar (2.25 ERA) all posted sub-three run ERAs.
They Are Getting Healthy At The Right Time
Every team is going to have bouts of injuries, and the 2020 Minnesota Twins have been no different. But one of the major reasons why I like them so much as we hit the postseason, is that they are getting all of their players back on the field late in the year, and are one of the healthiest teams in the American League right now.
In September, the Twins have welcomed Michael Pineda, Josh Donaldson, Cody Stashak, Max Kepler, Jake Odorizzi, Alex Avila, Mitch Garver, Byron Buxton, Luis Arraez, and Homer Bailey all back to the team. Kepler, Arraez, Donaldson, and Garver are all big-time power hitters that should help get this Twins back to hitting like they did last season. And adding Pineda, Bailey, and Odorizzi back to the pitching staff gives them a lot of quality veteran arms to call on and allows them to get very creative if they want to with how they use their starters.
— Minnesota Twins (@Twins) September 27, 2020
We already talked about the instant impact that Pineda has had, as the Twins have yet to lose when he starts, but the player I am most excited to see back on the field for Minnesota is Josh Donaldson. Donaldson is a former AL MVP winner and had a breakout season for the Atlanta Braves last year after spending several years banged up.
He again fought injuries this season that cost him the entire month of August and has yet to start hitting since he rejoined the team at the start of the month. But when you look at his history as a hitter, he has a 162-game average season of 34 homers and 100 RBI and has received MVP votes in six separate seasons, coming in both leagues, you have to know that he is going to start hitting sooner rather than later. The Twins decided to leave him off of their roster for the wild card round, but you can expect Donaldson to take the field at some point and make an impact when he does.
The other guy that has had an immediate impact has been Buxton. Buxton missed the end of August with an injury, and the speedster has really helped spark this recent run for the Twins. Buxton is a former Gold Glove winner in center field and is one of the best baserunners in the game. Buxton’s bat has never been his strong suit, but this year, he is having a career year at the dish.
— MLB GIFS (@MLBGIFs) September 29, 2020
Buxton has 13 home runs this season in just 39 games, which are the second-most he has ever had in a season. He hit 16 bombs back in 2017 but needed 140 games to do it. His recent power surge has been unprecedented in his six-year career with the Twins. In September, Buxton is hitting .290 with 8 home runs and 15 RBI, with all eight of those home runs coming in the Twins final fourteen games of the regular season.
It is no surprise that the Minnesota Twins are one of the favorites to win the AL pennant, as they came into the season as one of the heavy favorites to win both their division and the American League. But what is a bit surprising, is that I can get them at such an attractive price right now, at (+575).
They were 16-8 in September, one of the best records in the league, and they have all of their best players back on the field for the playoffs. Not only do I think the Twins show outrageous value at the current price, I think they are the team to beat and will represent the AL in the Fall Classic. Thanks for reading and make sure that you stay tuned to TheSportsGeek all October long, as we bring you breakdowns, analysis, and high value betting picks for the entirety of the Major League Baseball playoffs!