One-game playoff preview: Twins vs. Tigers

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Will the Twins’ dramatic late-season turnaround continue long enough for them to defeat the Tigers in a one-game playoff tomorrow and then make some noise in the playoffs for the first time since 2002?
Who knows. Minnesota’s one-game playoff against Chicago last year ended in disappointment and the Twins’ last furious late-season comeback against Detroit merely led to being swept out of the postseason.
However, unlike last season tomorrow afternoon’s one-game playoff is in Minnesota and the Twins are clearly the favorites with Scott Baker facing Rick Porcello at the Metrodome.
All of which isn’t to suggest that Porcello is a pushover. He may be a 20-year-old rookie, but he’s turned in one of the best seasons of all time for a 20-year-old pitcher and has shown no signs of slowing down thanks to the Tigers smartly limiting his workload for most of the year. Porcello is 5-2 with a 3.19 ERA in 12 starts since August 1, including 6.1 innings of one-run ball versus the Twins last week.
He doesn’t miss many bats with just 81 strikeouts in 165 innings and subsequently has allowed a .270 opponents’ batting average, but makes up for it by inducing the most ground balls in the league. Don’t expect the Twins to do much power hitting, but they’ll have some chances to string hits together and Porcello’s modest workloads should mean several innings from the Tigers’ often shaky bullpen.
And of course the guy taking the mound for the Twins is pretty good too. Baker got off to a terrible start, beginning the season on the disabled list before going 0-4 with a 9.15 ERA and eight homers allowed through four outings. However, since then he’s 15-5 with a 3.79 ERA in 28 starts, including five innings of one-run ball versus Detroit last week. Nick Blackburn has thrived in big-game situations, but Baker has been the Twins’ best starting pitcher over the past two years.
While the Twins were going 16-4 without Justin Morneau and 30-14 since mid-August, the Tigers went 11-15 after extending their lead to a season-high seven games in early September. They’re also just 36-46 on the road, while the Twins are 47-33 at home, and as we saw (and heard) yesterday the Metrodome isn’t going quietly. All of which means surprisingly little, because anything can happen in one game for everything. Hell, as this weekend and the past month or so have shown, anything can happen, period.
What we do know is that the Twins are playing at home with their best starter on the mound as slight favorites for a spot in the playoffs, where the slate is wiped clean, 11 wins equals a championship, and flaws and injuries give way to luck and small-sample-size heroics. By tomorrow night the Twins and Tigers will be either finished playing until next spring or heading to New York for a first-round matchup against the Yankees. And for the first time all season the latter possibility is actually more likely for Minnesota.

Yankees acquire James Paxton from Mariners

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The Yankees announced that the club has acquired starter James Paxton from the Mariners in exchange for three prospects: pitcher Justus Sheffield, outfielder Dom Thompson-Williams, and pitcher Erik Swanson.

Paxton, 30, has been among the game’s better starters over the past few years. In 2018, he went 11-6 with a 3.76 ERA and a 208/42 K/BB ratio in 160 1/3 innings. The lefty has two more years of arbitration eligibility remaining after earning $4.9 million this past season.

Sheffield, 22, is the headliner in the Mariners’ return. He made his major league debut in September for the Yankees, pitching 2 2/3 innings across three appearances. Two of those appearances were scoreless; in the third, he gave up a three-run home run to J.D. Martinez, certainly not an uncommon result among pitchers. MLB Pipeline rates Sheffield as the Yankees’ No. 1 prospect and No. 31 overall in baseball.

Thompson-Williams, 23, was selected by the Yankees in the fifth round of the 2016 draft. This past season, between Single-A Charleston and High-A Tampa, he hit .299/.363/.546 with 22 home runs, 74 RBI, 63 runs scored, and 20 stolen bases in 415 plate appearances. He was not among the Yankees’ top-30 prospects, per MLB Pipeline.

Swanson, 25, was selected by the Yankees in the eighth round of the 2014 draft. He spent most of his 2018 campaign between Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Overall, he posted a 2.66 ERA with a 139/29 K/BB ratio in 121 2/3 innings. MLB Pipeline rated him No. 22 in the Yankees’ system.

This trade comes as no surprise as the Yankees clearly wanted to upgrade the starting rotation and the Mariners seemed motivated to trade Paxton this offseason. To the Mariners’ credit, they got a solid return for Paxton, as Sheffield likely becomes the organization’s No. 1 prospect. The only worries about this trade for the Yankees is how Paxton will fare in the more hitter-friendly confines of Yankee Stadium compared to the spacious Safeco Field, and Paxton’s durability. Paxton has made more than 20 starts in a season just twice in his career — the last two years (24 and 28). The Yankees are likely not done adding, however. Expect even more new faces before the start of spring training.