By The Numbers: Blue Jays, Twins appear evenly matched ahead of wild-card
The Toronto Blue Jays are back in the American League playoffs as a wild-card qualifier for the third time in the past four seasons, and their Wild Card Series opponent is the AL Central-champion Minnesota Twins.
Toronto finished 89-73 to claim the final of the three wild-card slots in the American League, while the Twins won the AL Central with a record of 87-75 - the fewest win total of any AL team to qualify for the postseason.
American League playoffs qualifiers
|Seed||Team||Record||How they qualified|
|1||Baltimore Orioles||101-61||Won AL East|
|2||Houston Astros||90-72||Won AL West|
|3||Minnesota Twins||87-75||Won AL Central|
|4||Tampa Bay Rays||99-63||Wild Card 1|
|5||Texas Rangers||90-72||Wild Card 2|
|6||Toronto Blue Jays||89-73||Wild Card 3|
The Twins emerge as the winners of the weakest division in MLB - they were the only team of the five to finish with a winning record, whereas four of five teams in the AL East finished above .500. The AL Central has two of the four teams across the majors that finished with over 100 losses on the year in the Chicago White Sox and Kansas City Royals.
While Toronto struggled at times to score runs, they finished with the fourth-best team earned run average in MLB this year at 3.78. The Twins didn't trail by much, finishing sixth with an ERA of 3.87. Here's how the teams stack up against one another on both sides:
Blue Jays and Twins ranks in MLB
|Toronto Blue Jays||MLB rank||Minnesota Twins||MLB rank|
|Total runs allowed||671||6th||659||3rd|
|Team batting average||.256||8th||.243||21st|
|Team home runs||188||16th||233||3rd|
|Total runs scored||746||14th||778||10th|
|Team OPS with RISP||.732||20th||.811||6th|
The Twins, on paper, seem to be the easiest opponent available in the AL just based on their win total, but they've provided challenges for Toronto this season in their two series.
The Jays and Twins split their regular-season matchups, three wins apiece. Every matchup except for one - a 9-4 blowout on June 10 in favour of Minnesota - was decided by three runs or fewer.
Blue Jays vs. Twins in 2023
|Toronto Blue Jays||Minnesota Twins|
|Batting average with runners in scoring position||.222||.230|
|Runs in the final three innings of games||8||12|
An issue that often presented itself for the Blue Jays this season was hitting in clutch moments, be it with runners in scoring position or just hitting late in games in general. Those issues were certainly prevalent against the Twins, which helped decide a couple of games, including a 3-2 defeat in extra innings in Minnesota.
The last time these teams squared off was June 11, just 67 games into the 162-game campaign for Toronto. Both rosters will look a little different in the playoffs compared to what they featured earlier in the year.
Most notable for the Twins is the likely absence of outfielder Byron Buxton, who has been dealing with a knee injury and hasn't played a game since Aug. 1. The former All-Star and Platinum Glove winner has a career batting average of .273 against Toronto in 29 games, and has hit eight homeruns.
Game 1 of the series is set to go from Target Field in Minnesota on Tuesday, with Pablo Lopez the scheduled starter for the Twins, and Kevin Gausman likely to take the hill for the Blue Jays.
Lopez pitched in one game against Toronto this year, their second matchup of the season. The Jays lost that game 9-7, and Lopez allowed four earned runs in 5.2 innings of work. Meanwhile, the Twins have seen plenty of Gausman this season, as he started a game in both series, with vastly different results in each start.
Pitching in Toronto, Gausman earned the win when he allowed one earned run over 5.1 innings of work. However, in Minnesota, Gausman pitched one of his worst games of the season: he allowed seven hits and four walks in 4.2 innings, and left the game with the Jays trailing 6-1.
Game 1 pitching matchup
|Kevin Gausman||Pablo Lopez|
|2023 innings pitched||185.0||194.0|
|2023 ERA vs. opponent||6.30||6.35|
|2023 innings pitched vs. opponent||10.0||5.2|
|2023 strikeouts vs. opponent||12||6|
|Career ERA vs. opponent||6.35||5.59|
|Career innings pitched vs. opponent||56.2||9.2|
|Career strikeouts vs. opponent||65||15|
While both Gausman and Lopez were All-Stars this season, they have shaky track records at best against their foes in this playoff series.
Since the 2014 season, the AL playoffs have featured either the Twins or Jays - or both - every year except for 2018 and 2021. Despite the recent success for each of these franchises in qualifying for the playoffs, both teams have struggled to win postseason games.
Since 1993, when the Blue Jays beat the Philadelphia Phillies with Joe Carter's walk-off home run in Game 6 of the World Series, the Twins and Blue Jays have combined to win just three playoffs series.
Blue Jays' and Twins' playoff woes, last 30 seasons
|Toronto Blue Jays||Minnesota Twins|
|Furthest run||ALCS (2015, 2016)||ALCS (2002)|
This is not the first meeting between these two teams in MLB postseason history - when they last met in the American League Championship Series in 1991, it was the Twins and Hall-of-Famer Kirby Puckett who got the upper hand on Toronto. Puckett was named ALCS MVP after he hit .429 in the 4-1 series victory with two home runs.
The Twins would go on to win the World Series against the Atlanta Braves that year, with Dan Gladden's walk-off single that broke a scoreless tie in the 10th inning of Game 7 creating an eternal memory for Twins fans.
The Blue Jays look to rebound from a two-game Wild Card Series sweep at the hands of the Seattle Mariners in Toronto a year ago, and Gausman will take the mound looking to get started on the right foot.