Welcome to the Monday edition of The Cooler, where I’m hoping I still remember how to do this. Let’s get to it:
*I haven’t worked since July 19, except for ducking in for a long post about this year’s baseball road trip a week ago. Stepping off the train in downtown Minneapolis this morning was one of those “hey, this is familiar but I haven’t done it for a while” moments.
It was a great two weeks off, but it’s an even better feeling to be excited to come back to work. I mean, I write about sports. I know how lucky that makes me.
Anyway, here’s something I’ve been thinking about way too much lately considering A) The MLB postseason is still two months away; B) The Twins have a good chance of winning the division but it’s far from a lock and C) They can’t seem to stay healthy, particularly lately. But here it is anyway: If … the Twins are at full health and if … they do happen to win the American League Central … what would you say, here today on Aug. 5, is their best postseason playoff series batting lineup and starting rotation?
The lineup is a little easier to sort out, but there are still some questions. The rotation is far more intriguing. Let’s start with the easier question.
If everyone is healthy, here’s my preferred starting lineup and batting order:
1) Max Kepler, RF
2) Jorge Polanco, SS
3) Nelson Cruz, DH
4) Eddie Rosario, LF
5) Miguel Sano, 3B
6) Mitch Garver, C
7) Luis Arraez, 2B
8) C.J. Cron, 1B
9) Byron Buxton, CF
Bench: Marwin Gonzalez, Jason Castro, Ehire Adrianza, Jonathan Schoop
We can probably quibble about the 5-8 spots in the order and how they should be best arranged. And you will also notice it leaves some pretty good players on the bench. In the course of a five- or seven-game series, Castro probably gets two starts. Gonzalez gets into the mix. Maybe Schoop, too. Adrianza is strictly a reserve, but a good one.
If anything, looking at this is a reminder of just how deep the Twins are — and that if their position players are fully healthy, which they would be right now if Buxton wasn’t on the IL — and what a good problem Rocco Baldelli has when he fills out a lineup card.
The starting rotation is a more interesting question — and one far more subject to change based on performance over the next two months and perhaps even tailored toward the Twins’ opponent in the division series (again, in this scenario the Twins have won the AL Central).
Jose Berrios is the clear-cut No. 1 starter, and if they were able to line it up to have him start Game 1 the Twins certainly would.
After that (again, assuming everyone is healthy) … do you like Jake Odorizzi, who had a huge first half, then stumbled, but has rebounded and still leads all Twins starters in strikeouts per nine innings (9.4)?
Or do you prefer Kyle Gibson, who has more quietly put together a very nice season (11-4, 4.02 ERA, 9.1 Ks/9 innings).
Maybe you like Michael Pineda, who is sidelined now but has been gaining steam (2.85 ERA in his last eight starts, and 3.36 in his last 14).
Martin Perez seemed like a candidate early, but he’s fifth in the pecking order now. But if the Twins wanted a lefty, could Devin Smeltzer be a dark-horse candidate to crack a postseason rotation that figures to go four deep?
Here’s how I *think* I would line up the pitchers right now if everyone was healthy:
1) Jose Berrios
2) Jake Odorizzi
3) Michael Pineda
4) Kyle Gibson
Berrios is a no-brainer. Odorizzi carried a sub-2.00 ERA into June, and as long as his blister problem is resolved I think he gives the Twins the best chance of 5 or 6 innings with two runs or fewer allowed against a top lineup. He was drilled by the Yankees recently at Target Field, but he allowed a combined two earned runs over three starts against Houston (twice) and the Yankees (once) earlier this season. Pineda gets the nod at No. 3 because he seems to be ascending while Gibson has been steady all year but not necessarily pointing up.
I’d be more tempted to try Smeltzer if either the Yankees or Astros — almost assuredly the Twins’ ALDS opponent if they win the Central — had a weakness against lefties. Alas, Houston pounds lefties and the Yankees are only slightly worse (.803 OPS vs. lefties compared to .825 vs. righties). Smeltzer and Perez, though, would be great candidates to enter a game early if a starter not named Berrios was struggling and the Twins were trying to keep things close.
Of course, the wild card of all wild cards would be Brusdar Graterol. But it sounds like the flame-throwing righty phenom would be used out of the bullpen, if at all, in September or beyond. Graterol would need to be added to the 40-man roster by the end of August to be eligible for the postseason, but the Twins currently have only 39 players on the 40-man roster.
And *sarcasm font* the bullpen is all fixed, no problems there. So we don’t even need to talk about that.