A capsule look at the Astros-Twins playoff series

MLB

A capsule look at the best-of-three playoff series between the Houston Astros and Minnesota Twins in Minneapolis beginning Tuesday:

HOUSTON ASTROS

Record: 29-31.

Playoff Entry: second place, AL West.

Playoff Seed: No. 6.

Manager: Dusty Baker (first season).

Projected Rotation: RHP Zack Greinke (3-3, 4.03 ERA, 67 Ks), RHP Lance McCullers Jr. (3-3, 3.93, 56 Ks), RHP Jose Urquidy (1-1, 2.73, 17 Ks) or LHP Framber Valdez (5-3, 3.57, 76 Ks) or RHP Cristian Javier (5-2, 3.48, 54 Ks.)

Top Hitters: LF Michael Brantley (.300, 5 HRs, 22 RBIs, 15 doubles), CF George Springer (.265, 14, 32), RF Kyle Tucker (.268, 9, 42).

Top Relievers: RHP Ryan Pressly (1-3, 3.43 ERA, 12 saves), LHP Brooks Raley (0-1, 3.94, 1 save).

Series Summary: Last year’s American League champions limp into the playoffs as the only AL team to make the postseason with a losing record after dropping three straight and four of their last five. With ace Justin Verlander out due to Tommy John surgery, the Astros look for Greinke to get back on track in the series opener after the 36-year-old lost his last three decisions. Houston’s lineup isn’t nearly as potent as the one that reached the World Series last season, with designated hitter Yordan Alvarez out for the season and stars Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman having lackluster years. Houston’s outfielders, Brantley, Springer and Tucker, have paced the offense so far and will need to keep it going against the Twins for the Astros to reach the ALDS for the fourth straight season. Houston was 9-23 on the road, the third-worst record in the majors. Baker takes his fifth different team to the postseason.

MINNESOTA TWINS

Record: 36-24.

Playoff Entry: AL Central champions.

Playoff Seed: No. 3.

Manager: Rocco Baldelli (second season).

Projected Rotation: RHP Kenta Maeda (6-1, 2.70 ERA, 80 Ks), RHP Jose Berrios (5-4, 4.00, 68 Ks), RHP Michael Pineda (2-0, 3.38, 25 Ks in 5 starts).

Top Hitters: DH Nelson Cruz (.303, 16 HRs, 33 RBIs, .992 OPS), 3B Josh Donaldson (.222, 6, 11 in 28 games), CF Byron Buxton (.254, 13, 27 in 39 games).

Top Relievers: LHP Taylor Rogers (2-4, 4.05 ERA, 9 saves), RHP Sergio Romo (1-2, 4.05, 5 saves).

Series Summary: The Twins haven’t won a playoff series since 2002, failing to advance in eight consecutive rounds. They’re carrying a 16-game postseason losing streak, the longest in major league history and tied for the longest in major North American professional sports with the NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks (1975-79). This current team is only responsible for three of those defeats, a Division Series sweep by the New York Yankees last year that spoiled a 101-win season with an MLB-record 307 home runs. The Twins won their second straight AL Central title this year at a pace that projected to 97 wins over a full season, but they got there in a much different way. They finished sixth in baseball in homers, but after ranking second in team OPS last year they were just 15th in 2020. The arrival of Maeda in a winter trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers provided a big boost to the rotation, even with 2019 All-Star Jake Odorizzi missing most of the season with injuries. The bullpen was sharp and deep, too, helping the Twins rank fourth in MLB with a 3.58 staff ERA. Their biggest advantage in this series will be playing at Target Field, even without fans. Minnesota’s 24-7 home record was the best in baseball. The greatest concern will be health, with injuries to Donaldson (calf) and Buxton (concussion) on Friday that raised questions about their availability for the series.

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