The No. 6 Toronto Blue Jays and No. 3 Minnesota Twins kick off their best-of-three AL Wild Card series with Game 1 from Target Field on Tuesday afternoon. First pitch is set for 4:38 p.m. ET. It’s a star-studded matchup on the mound, with Jays ace Kevin Gausman (12-9, 3.16 ERA) going up against Twins righty Pablo Lopez (11-8, 3.66).
The Twins enter as -120 favorites on the moneyline at DraftKings Sportsbook, with Toronto at +100. The run total is set at 7.5.
Blue Jays-Twins Wild Card Game 1 picks: Tuesday, October 3
Out: C Danny Jansen (finger)
Probable: SS Carlos Correa (foot), 3B Royce Lewis (hamstring)
Doubtful: OF/DH Byron Buxton (knee)
Kevin Gausman vs. Pablo Lopez
Giving the ball to Gausman is about as easy a Game 1 decision as a manager could make. The righty has been one of the very best pitchers in baseball this year, a Cy Young candidate in a world where Gerrit Cole doesn’t exist and the AL’s leader in strikeouts with a whopping 237. He’s also been dialed in of late, coming into this start riding a 13-inning scoreless streak with 15 Ks over that span. He’s had mixed results against Minnesota this year, throwing 5.1 innings of one-run ball with eight strikeouts in late May but getting shelled for six runs in 4.2 frames in June. The righty is prone to the occasional crooked number when his splitter is hanging up in the zone (20th-percentile barrel rate), but when he has it cooking, the pitch is basically unhittable. It’ll be fascinating to watch him match up with an offense as all-or-nothing as the Twins’. (It’s also worth noting that Gausman has yet to translate his success into the playoffs; in his lone October start in each of the past two seasons, he’s allowed four runs while failing to complete six innings.)
The Twins have an embarrassment of starting pitching riches, but it’ll be Lopez who gets the ball opposite Gausman in Game 1. The righty caught fire in the second half, posting a 2.79 ERA over his last 13 starts — including a span of 19 scoreless innings in August. He did struggle a bit to close the year, though, allowing 11 runs over 15.1 innings across his final three starts (granted, the Twins have been in maintenance mode for the past couple of weeks, so it’s unlikely that Lopez was maxing himself out). The righty didn’t pitch particularly well in his one start against the Jays so far this year, allowing four runs on five hits (two homers) in 5.2 innings. This will be just his second postseason start, with the first coming in the 2020 NLDS while a member of the Marlins; Lopez struck out seven while allowing two runs over five innings in a hard-luck loss to the Braves.
This is a tough one: The Jays obviously have a ton of offensive talent — even if they haven’t really hit like it for much of this season — while the Twins closed the season on a tear at the plate. (Fun fact: Minnesota was the best offense in the Majors in September.) Both of these pitchers match up well with these opposing lineups: Gausman will be tough on a Twins team that led the league by a mile in strikeout rate against righties, while Lopez’s .597 OPS allowed to right-handed hitters will come in handy against Bo Bichette, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., George Springer and the gang.
Pick: Under 7.5
Minnesota’s all-or-nothing approach offensively — they do loads of damage on contact, but don’t make very much of it, especially against pitchers like Gausman — has me a little spooked here. Toronto started to warm up at the plate a bit down the stretch, and I trust Gausman slightly more than Lopez, certainly enough to take the Jays at plus odds in what feels like a coin flip.
Pick: Blue Jays +100