Anthony McCarron, SNY.tv | Twitter |
With Twins-Yankees in the playoffs, there's always a temptation to chuckle and say, "The Yanks own Minnesota. The Twins have no shot."
Insert wisecrack here suggesting Minny will be in a fragile mental state for this latest AL Division Series between the teams, permanently scarred and scared by the past. After all, the Yanks have eliminated the Twins from the playoffs five times since 2003 and beaten them in 10 consecutive postseason games.
There! A fresh-baked hot take on Round 1. Bring on the Astros!
Except these aren't the old Twins. The Bomba Squad hits home runs like the Yankees and boasts a strong bullpen like the Yankees. The Twins have made some meaty additions this year, such as Nelson Cruz, a potential playoff-series destroyer.
So maybe the only thing for sure in this series, which begins next Friday at Yankee Stadium, is that someone -- or a bunch of someones -- will hit home runs.
Here's an early look at how the teams match-up, including more about home runs:
In the biggest homer year ever, they're the two biggest homer-hitting teams. Entering Saturday, the Yankees had 305 and the Twins 303. Whichever team finishes with more will own the single-season record. (Last year's Yankees did hold the record with what seems now like an embarrassingly low total of 267). Cruz leads the Twins with 40 while Gleyber Torres leads the Yankees with 38.
The Twins have 11 players in double-figures and five of those have at least 30 homers. Minnesota is the first team to have five 30-homer men. The Yanks have 14 in double-figures and seven with at least 20. The Yankees homer once every 18.1 at-bats, best in baseball. The Twins homer once every 18.7 at-bats, second-best. Got tickets in the outfield? Bring your glove and catch a souvenir.
The Yanks have long enjoyed the benefits of a catcher who can mash, but even Gary Sanchez might not give them an advantage here. Mitch Garver went into play Saturday with 31 homers and a .984 OPS in 92 games and Jason Castro has 12 homers. Sanchez, hopeful to return from a left groin strain, has 34 homers in 105 games. Neither the Twins (28 steals, last in MLB) nor the Yankees (55 steals, 24th) run very much, so if defense comes into play, it may be in framing and blocking. There will be scrutiny on Sanchez's defense, as always.
D.J. LeMahieu, who could see time at first and third, gives the Yankees a different look from their homer-centric attack, which could be crucial in a short series. Torres is one of the best young -- scratch that -- best players in baseball and showing off his power potential. While Didi Gregorius' numbers aren't flashy, he's made a successful return from Tommy John surgery and the shortstop had 10 RBI against the Twins as the Yanks won 4-of-6 this season. The Yankee infield is so good that one version of it means Gio Urshela (.894 OPS, premier defense at third) heads to the bench. The Twins enjoy terrific consistency from their infield, getting 22 homers from Jorge Polanco, 23 from Jonathan Schoop, 24 from C.J. Cron and 34 from Miguel Sano. But the Yanks' infield perhaps offers a higher ceiling.
Of the players starting in the outfield for the Yankees, Brett Gardner, surprisingly, has the most homers -- 28. Blame that on injuries that wiped out most of Giancarlo Stanton's season and kept Aaron Judge out for weeks, too. Judge has a .911 OPS and 26 homers and is proving to be among baseball's elite defensively. Max Kepler (36 homers) had a breakout year for the Twins and Eddie Rosario has 32 homers and 109 RBI. The Twins would be better if Byron Buxton were healthy, but he's out for the year, leaving a hole in center field.
Luke Voit and Edwin Encarnacion, if he's healthy, figure to manage DH and first base for the Yankees. Voit has a sports hernia and has only two homers since he returned. Both Yankee options can slug, but they don't compare to Cruz, who has a 1.023 OPS this season. He's also got a big postseason pedigree, which the Yanks know all about. He has 16 career homers in 41 postseason games and a 1.016 October OPS. He was the MVP of the 2011 ALCS when he hit six homers -- yep, you read that figure correctly -- and 13 RBI. Last time the Yankees tangled with Cruz in October, the lost the 2010 ALCS to the Rangers and he hit .350 with two homers, three doubles and a 1.235 OPS. By the way, he's a better hitter now.
Maybe we should consider this an incomplete until we're sure James Paxton will be healthy after leaving his start Friday after just 21 pitches because of a tight left glute. But the Twins have a better starter's ERA (4.18, 12th in MLB) than the Yankees (4.51, 15th), so maybe they deserve the nod. Jose Berrios (14-8, 3.68 ERA) and Jake Odorizzi (15-7, 3.51) are a nice 1-2 punch, but Michael Pineda, the ex-Yankee, was suspended after testing positive for a banned substance, weakening the rotation. Luis Severino's return figures to be a giant boost for the Yankees and Masahiro Tanaka has been a playoff force in recent years. Do they use an opener to start one game, too?
The Yankees have gotten big seasons from relievers such as Aroldis Chapman (2.25 ERA, 37 saves, 38 hits and 84 strikeouts in 56 innings), Adam Ottavino (1.79 ERA, 88 strikeouts and 46 hits in 65.1 innings) and Zack Britton (1.94 ERA, 37 hits in 60.1 innings) and have enough power arms to navigate any hole the rotation might create. Still, the Twins (4.18 bullpen ERA, 10thin MLB) is just one spot behind the Yankees (4.00 bullpen ERA, ninth). Taylor Rogers (2.65 ERA, 29 saves), Trevor May (2.98 ERA, 42 hits in 63.1 innings) and Tyler Duffey (2.22 ERA, 80 strikeouts in 56.2 innings) give the Twins a strong back-end core.
Things you should know
So Yankee Stadium is a fearsome den, eh? The Twins are 54-25 on the road this season. No other team has won 50 away games. Yankees pitchers are good at striking hitters out, sitting fourth in K/9 (9.58) overall and third for relievers at 10.22. But the Twins have struck out the sixth-fewest times in baseball so far.
The Yankees are slightly better than the Twins and their bullpen, not any leftover psychic baggage from playoffs gone by, gives them an edge.
PREDICTION: Yankees in five games