The Yankees are pretty locked into their playoff positioning: they are going to be either the four-seed or the five-seed in the American League. The Astros are in the sixth spot and trail the Yankees by four games, as do the Blue Jays who are in the eighth spot. With only five games remaining, the odds of either of those teams catching the Yanks are slim to none.
Right now the Yankees are the five-seed and would play the White Sox. Getting the four-seed would be big. If you aren’t aware, the first round (dubbed the “Wild Card Series”) will be played at the higher seed’s home park. At home this year, the White Sox are 17-10, the Twins are 23-5, while the Yankees are 21-7. At the time of this writing, the Yankees and Twins have two of the best home records in the entire league. So even while there will be no fans, you can be sure the Yankees are trying hard for that home-field advantage in the opening round.
Last night, the Twins overtook Chicago for first in the AL Central. While most would quickly say the Twins would be the better matchup given their woes against the Yankees in the playoffs, it is my due diligence to see which teams would actually be the better matchup under the assumption that the past is irrelevant.
As a team, the White Sox offense has not seen a lot of fastballs. Pitchers throw the fastball 32.8 percent of the time, 28th in the league. The Yankees are a spot above them, seeing 33.2 percent fastballs. Gerrit Cole is known for his fastball, both in terms of spin and velocity. By the metric runs above average per 100 pitches, it has been his second-best pitch this year (0.86 wFA/C) behind his slider (2.03 wSL/C). They have a good core of players who feast on fastballs, so it will be important for Cole to have his sharp breaking pitches. Someone like Masahiro Tanaka might fare well, as he is typically a savant in keeping hitters off balance with his arsenal.
Their team is seventh overall with a 39.2 hard-hit percentage and third overall with a 9.6 percent barrel percentage. The Yankees are tenth and eleventh in those categories, respectively, but are ahead of Chicago in average exit velocity (89.2 MPH vs. 88.5 MPH).
The White Sox’s lineup features possible MVP frontrunner Jose Abreu. Abreu is second in the AL with a 2.8 WAR, first with a 179 wRC+, and second in home runs with 19. Additionally, Tim Anderson is looking to win back-to-back batting titles, as he trails just DJ LeMahieu.
Some other stats to compare:
BB% (MLB rank)
K% (MLB rank)
wOBA (MLB rank)
wRC+ (MLB rank)
Clutch (MLB rank)
Clearly, the Yankees have been more disciplined at the plate than the White Sox have. Especially with a young, inexperienced team, perhaps the Yankees pitchers could exploit that. Additionally, the clutch factor comes in. It is extremely crucial to a team’s World Series hopes. Both teams were below average, but the White Sox were still less successful in clutch situations.
On the pitching side, the White Sox will likely trot out Lucas Giolito, Dylan Cease, and Dallas Keuchel in a three-game series. The Yankees have seen Keuchel before in the playoffs and have gotten to him, but they don’t have much experience against Giolito or Cease. Being that this is the White Sox’s first trip to the postseason since 2008, neither of those youngsters have ever pitched in October. With no fans, perhaps the pressure doesn’t get to them, but it is still interesting to see how they will perform.
As exciting as they have been this year, they may be slowing down — they have lost not only four in a row but also the AL Central lead.
I’m not going to spend too much time here as we have a good idea of who the Twins are. Sure, they added Josh Donaldson to an already deep lineup, but can they overcome their playoff woes?
The Twins will throw Kenta Maeda, Jose Berrios, and Michael Pineda, in that order. Maeda has never faced the Yankees, but how have the other two fared against the Yankees in their careers (regular season)?
While they are small sample sizes, the numbers aren’t great. How about their postseason history?
Pineda has never pitched in the playoffs, but Maeda has a lot of experience with the Dodgers, including being a part of two World Series.
Offensively, the Twins are no slouch. However, they are 13th in the league with a 102 wRC+ as a team, only slightly above average. They are also 14th in wOBA and 11th in slugging. But they are tied with the Yankees with 91 home runs, good for fourth.
All in all, I would typically lean towards wanting to play the Twins. However, the White Sox are 2-6 in their last eight games and their offense has gone cold at times. If Cole can continue to dominate and playoff Tanaka shows up, that might be a more favorable matchup for the Yanks, especially considering they are likely to be the road team. The Twins have been the league’s best team at home this season; Chicago, on the other hand, is tenth in terms of winning percentage.