The Yankees (91-71) overcame conventional wisdom, earning the American League's top wild card spot, and will host the Minnesota Twins (85-77) Tuesday night at Yankee Stadium in a one-game playoff to determine who will face the Indians in the ALDS. Truth be told, the Twins might be a bigger surprise after losing 103 games last season.
In the win or go home affair, the Yankees seem to be the favorite, but the factors are closer than one may think.
Yankees in Sept./Oct. - 20-9
Twins in Sept./Oct. - 15-14
Yankees' home record - 51-30
Twins' road record - 44-37
Season series - Yankees (4), Twins (2); Yankees won two of three in New York and Minnesota
The Yankees led the majors in home runs (241) and were second in the majors in runs scored (858, 5.3 runs per game) behind the Astros. New York posted a 108 wRC+, again second in the majors (Astros were first). The Yankees stole 90 bases -- good for 12th in the majors (seventh in the AL).
Meanwhile, the Twins were hardly a slouch at the dish this season. The Twins ranked ninth in the AL in home runs (205), but fourth in the AL (seventh in MLB) in runs (815, 5.0 runs per game). The Twins swiped a handful more bases than the Yankees (95), good for ninth in the majors (fifth in the AL).
Both the Yankees and Twins come into the wild card game on offensive hot streaks, with both clubs tying for the most runs scored in September/October with 169 (5.8 runs per game).
The Yankees might have the powerful middle of the lineup with Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, and Didi Gregorius leading the way, but the Twins answer with Brian Dozier, Eddie Rosario, and Miguel Sano leading their power supply. Each club has nine players with double-digit home runs. While both clubs have contributors top-to-bottom, the Yankees may be slightly deeper at the back-end of the lineup.
On the defensive side, the Twins generated a +17 in defensive runs saved, while the Yankees posted a +14 mark.
Luis Severino had a fantastic sophomore season, going 14-6 with a 2.98 ERA (3.08 FIP) and 1.04 WHIP with 230 strikeouts in 193 1/3 innings. Severino faced the Twins just one time this season and it was one of his worst starts of the season as Minnesota tagged him for three runs in three innings of work. Severino was knocked out after laboring through a 46-pitch third inning.
Ervin Santana went 16-8 with a 3.28 ERA (4.46 FIP), 1.13 WHIP and 167 strikeouts in 211 1/3 innings. Santana faced the Yankees one time this season, allowing two runs on seven hits in 5 2/3 innings. In Santana's career, current Yankees are slashing .272/.316/.481 against him.
The Yankees bullpen may be the best in the entire postseason. With five relievers who averaged more than 12 strikeouts per nine innings, they have the ability to seriously shorten the game, if necessary. While Tommy Kahnle and Dellin Betances have been inconsistent of late, Chad Green, David Robertson, and Aroldis Chapman have been lights out.
The Twins traded their initial closer, Brandon Kintzler, at the trade deadline, but the slack has been picked up nicely by Matt Belisle (converted nine of 11 save opportunities since the deadline). However, the rest of the bullpen has had some issues (entire bullpen ERA in the second half was 3.89 and 3.78 in the final month), giving the Yankees a chance to break a game open if they are able to get to Santana.
The manager certainly plays a role in the team's seasonal record, but in a one-game playoff, their fingerprints could be all over the outcome.
In my view, Joe Girardi has had better seasons behind the binder. Yes, the Yankees have exceeded expectations, but based on run differential (+198), the club could have been a 100-win team. In recent seasons, Girardi has outpaced the pythagorean record, while this season came up nine games short. Not all of that is on Girardi, but there were a number of circumstances this season in which he made very questionable decisions or failed to make moves altogether where it concerned pinch-hitters, lineups, and most notably the use of his bullpen.
As for the Twins, they landed two games above their pythagorean record. The Twins skipper, Paul Molitor, took a team that lost over 100 games last season to the playoffs, marking the first time that has ever happened. Molitor deserves some credit for keeping the club focused after the front office sold at the trade deadline, as they went 35-24 since Aug. 1.
The Yankees might have more dominant players per regular season production, but there are simply so many things that can happen in a one-game playoff. Expect both teams to have short leashes with their starting pitchers and figure the Yankees will be more apt to jump to their bullpen with a lead in the sixth inning, or even early on if Severino is not right. In the end, the Yankees should have enough to hold off a resilient Twins club.