HOUSTON AT TWINS
Wild-card series at Target Field
Tuesday: Game 1, 1 p.m., Ch. 5
Wednesday: Game 2, noon, ESPN2
Thursday (if necessary): Game 3, time TBD
The defending American League champions were 29-31 and are the No. 6 seed as the team with the worst record among second-place teams. MLB ranks: Batting average .240 (16th). Home runs 69 (19th). Slugging percentage .408 (16th). ERA 4.31 (13th). WHIP 1.31 (14th). Strikeouts 526 (12th).
Won the AL Central at 36-24 and are the No. 3 seed. Have lost a record 16 consecutive postseason games. MLB ranks: Batting average .242 (14th). Home runs 91 (sixth). Slugging percentage .427 (14th). ERA 3.58 (fourth). WHIP 1.20 (fourth). Strikeouts 535 (ninth).
Houston’s Dusty Baker, 71, is the only manager to lead five different teams to the postseason. After 23 seasons, he is 15th all-time in victories. He stepped in after A.J. Hinch was suspended because of the 2017 sign-stealing scandal. Rocco Baldelli, 39, is in his second season with the Twins, and was AL manager of the year last year when the Twins won 101 games before being swept by the Yankees.
Astros: RHPs Zach Greinke (3-3, 4.03 ERA), Jose Urquidy (1-1, 2.73) and Lance McCullers Jr. (3-3, 3.93). Twins: RHPs Kenta Maeda (6-1, 2.70), Jose Berrios (5-4, 4.00) and Michael Pineda (2-0, 3.38).
• Baker hasn’t announced his Game 2 starter, and could use LHP Framber Valdez. Greinke is a six-time All-Star with 16 postseason starts (3-6, 4.21). Maeda pitched in 24 postseason games with the Dodgers, with only three starts. Greinke and Maeda tied for ninth in MLB in WAR (2.1) among qualified pitchers.
• The Twins bullpen ranked sixth in the majors in ERA (3.62) and fifth in strikeout percentage (.274), but there have been late-season hiccups. Ex-Twins RHP Ryan Pressly (3.43 ERA, 29 Ks in 21 IP) is Houston’s closer. The Twins have gone between LHP Taylor Rogers (nine saves) and RHP Sergio Romo (five); both have 4.05 ERAs.
Astros: Yuli Gurriel (6 HR, 22 RBI, .232 average)
Twins: Miguel Sano (13, 25, .204)
• Sano led MLB in strikeouts (90) and strikeout percentage (.439) and is a streaky hitter. Gurriel, 36, defected from Cuba in 2016. He served a five-game suspension in 2018 for a racist gesture at Yu Darvish in the 2017 World Series vs. the Dodgers.
Astros: Jose Altuve (5, 18, .219)
Twins: Luis Arraez (0, 13, .321)
• Altuve is a three-time AL batting champion and six-time All-Star who fell flat this season. Arraez has battled a knee problem but appears healthy after a stay on the injured list.
Astros: Alex Bregman (6, 22, .242)
Twins: Josh Donaldson (6, 11, .222)
• Donaldson was a big-name free agent whose played in only 28 games because of calf issues. Bregman, the AL MVP runner-up last year, missed 18 games, mostly because of a hamstring injury.
Astros: Carlos Correa (5, 25, .264)
Twins: Jorge Polanco (4, 19, .258)
• Both players are former All-Stars who saw a dip in slugging production during the shortened season. Polanco rates as the better fielder, according to fangraphs.com’s ultimate zone rating.
Astros: Kyle Tucker (9, 42, .268)
Twins: Eddie Rosario (13, 42, .257)
• Each player led his team in RBI. Tucker had one too many at-bats last season to qualify as a rookie this year. The durable Rosario led the Twins in games (57).
Astros: George Springer (14, 32, .265)
Twins: Byron Buxton (13, 27, .254)
• Buxton missed 21 games, but he was second in MLB in at-bats per home run (10.0) behind the Yankees’ Luke Voit among qualified players. Springer has 15 home runs in 50 postseason games.
Astros: Josh Reddick (4, 23, .245)
Twins: Max Kepler (9, 23, .228)
• Both players are excellent fielders. Reddick is a 12-year veteran with 61 postseason games. Kepler missed time this season because of a groin injury.
Astros: Martin Maldonado (6, 24, .215)
Twins: Mitch Garver (2, 5, .167)
• Maldonado won a Gold Glove in 2017. Garver, coming off a 31-homer season, had his 2020 mostly wiped out because of an intercostal strain.
Astros: Michael Brantley (5, 22, .300)
Twins: Nelson Cruz (16, 33, .303)
• Both players led their teams (among qualified players) in batting average, with Cruz supplying a lot more power.
Astros: OF Myles Straw, IF Abraham Toro, IF Jack Mayfield, IF Aledmys Diaz, C Dustin Garneau.
Twins: IF-OF Marwin Gonzalez, OF Jake Cave, C Ryan Jeffers, C Alex Avila, IF Ehire Adrianza.
• For the Astros, 2019 AL Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander (elbow), closer Robert Osuna (elbow) and 2019 AL Rookie of the Year OF Yordan Alvarez (knee) are out. For the Twins, Buxton (head contusion) is probable, Donaldson (calf) is questionable. RHP Jake Odorizzi (finger blister) could be available.
The inside edge
• The teams have never met in the playoffs. The Twins were 24-7 at Target Field this year (including a “road” game against Detroit); the Astros were 9-23 on the road. The Twins had the top home winning percentage (.774) in the major leagues and the Astros were second (20-8, .714). The Twins did not lose back-to-back games at home.