The Twins are primed for their first playoff victory since 2004 because:
A. They earned their way to a division title.
B. They get to play at home, where they are 24-7, against the Astros, who are 9-23 on the road.
C. The Houston Astros cheated their way to a championship and are/were run by a bunch of whiny kleptocrats and suddenly look much less adept at the plate now that they don’t know what pitches are coming.
D. The Twins’ rotation, as underwhelming as it might seem to the Minnesota fan base, might be the deepest they have had entering a postseason since 1991.
The correct answer is: E. All of the above.
But the most important might be C and D.
Kenta Maeda and Jose Berrios will pitch in Games 1 and 2 for the Twins, and Maeda’s emergence as a prospective ace, combined with Berrios’ late-season resurgence, might give the Twins their best one-two postseason punch since ... 1987?
That year Cy Young winner Frank Viola started Game 1 and future Hall of Famer Bert Blyleven pitched in Game 2. In ‘91, the great Jack Morris started Game 1 and the estimable Kevin Tapani and Scott Erickson started Games 2 and 3.
Here’s a list of Game 2 postseason starters for the Twins since then: Joe Mays (2002); Brad Radke (2004); Boof Bonser (2006); Nick Blackburn (2009); Carl Pavano (2010); Randy Dobnak (2019).
None of them had the kind of stuff Berrios will carry to the mound for Game 2 of this series.
One of the major developments of this season might have been that the Twins didn’t spend what it takes to land an ace in free agency, and instead traded for a Dodgers spot starter who outperformed a lot of big-money pitchers.
“Kenta has been a star for us all year long, from the very beginning,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “He pitches his butt off. The results speak for themselves, and then everything you get in between his starts also inspires a tremendous amount of confidence.
“He’s been that guy.”
Maeda’s ascension has made the rotation a strength instead of a concern.
“We have all the pieces we need and then some,’’ Baldelli said. “We have high quality arms, we have depth, we have a great bullpen. We have guys who can go out and attack and get out different kinds of hitters.”
This year, Maeda is 6-1 with a 2.70 ERA. In previous postseasons he has pitched in 24 games, producing 32⅔ innings, and is 2-1 with a 3.31 ERA.
If the Twins had set up a probable three-man rotation in March, they might not have included Maeda. He has risen as his pitches have dipped.
“He throws five or six pitches and you can’t really tell which is which from the bullpen,’’ reliever Tyler Duffey said. “Everything’s just darting left and right.’’
Maeda will face Zack Greinke, who is 3-3 with a 4.03 ERA but posted a 5.73 ERA over his past seven outings. Greinke was 0-2 with a 4.68 ERA in the 2019 postseason.
“The way Kenta pitches, it’s art,’’ Duffey said. “You know he’s not throwing 95, he’s not throwing these crazy velocities, it’s just that everything moves and everything’s right where he wants it. He’s truly a pitcher.’’
Other than Astros banging trash cans, there is something else to watch for Tuesday. During the 2017 World Series, Astros first baseman Yuli Gurriel made a racist gesture toward Japanese pitcher Yu Darvish.
Maeda is Japanese. If the Twins build enough of a lead, I wouldn’t blame Maeda if he dented one of Gurriel’s ribs.
Asked about Gurriel, Maeda, through an interpreter, said: “I’m not really trying to let anything in the past affect what’s going on right now.’’
The Houston Astros will be staying in Minnesota for a few nights. Remember, if you come in contact with any of them, please sanitize your hands.
You don’t know where they’ve been. You only know what they’ve done.