Anthony McCarron, SNY.tv | Twitter |
Same old Twins? Nah. There's at least one enormous difference, a potential series-wrecker with a remarkable postseason resume and the powerful swing to perhaps light up the AL Division Series between the Yankees and their old October punching bags.
Nelson Cruz, one of the best playoff sluggers ever, wasn't on any of the five previous Twins teams sent home by the Yanks over the years. So he's unlikely to be fazed by any sour vibe attached to Minny for old postseason flops, if such karmic baggage actually exists.
And while Cruz, who led the Bomba Squad with 41 home runs, gets a lot of attention for his power, he's more than just a slugger, says one opposing scout who has evaluated him.
"He's a power threat every time he swings the bat, but he's also a very good situational hitter," the scout said of Cruz. "He's an experienced, educated bat with plus power.
"When you watch him, you expect him to produce. Very patient and knows what he's hunting."
Cruz, who turned 39 in July, also knocked in 108 runs in only 120 games. He batted .311 with a .392 on-base percentage and .639 slugging. His 1.031 OPS was fourth in MLB and his on-base percentage ranked 10th.
He's been tested in October's pressure-packed atmosphere, too. Cruz has 16 postseason home runs in 41 games, plus a 1.016 OPS. He and Carlos Beltrán are tied for ninth all-time in postseason home runs, though Cruz has had 89 fewer postseason plate appearances than Beltrán.
With Texas in 2011, Cruz was the MVP of the ALCS, slugging six home runs and knocking in 13 runs -- both postseason records -- to lead the Rangers over the Tigers. In that series, he became the first player ever to hit a walk-off grand slam in a postseason game. Cruz has four other postseason series with at least two home runs, too.
Not only has he helped the Twins' lineup with his bat, he's been talked up as an influence in their clubhouse, too, on a team with burgeoning young stars such as Max Kepler, Mitch Garver and Miguel Sanó.
Cruz has a wealth of experience to draw from, considering he first appeared in the majors in 2005, has played for five different clubs and served a 50-game suspension in 2013 after being linked to the Biogenesis scandal. He even knows the sting of an October gaffe -- he misplayed a ball in the outfield in Game 6 of the 2011 World Series while with the Rangers, allowing a Cardinals comeback.
He was exclusively a designated hitter for the Twins this year, which means that his bat could present quite a problem for the Yankees. He produced an average exit velocity of 93.7 miles per hour this season, third in MLB among qualified players, according to Statcast. The two players ahead of him were Aaron Judge (95.9 mph) and Sanó (94.4).
"That says it all right there," the scout said.
Should be fascinating to see how Cruz matches up with the Yankees' hard-throwing pitching staff because he's had a lot of success against high velocity this season. Against pitches clocked at 95 miles per hour or faster, Cruz batted .412 with an .838 slugging percentage.
As a whole, the Twins batted .295 against 95-plus pitches this year, 11 points better than any club in the Majors. We'll see if the Yanks feed Cruz and the Bomba Squad a diet rich in breaking stuff.
For all the talk this season about the Yanks' awesome power -- all of it deserved, considering they hit 306 home runs -- the Twins slugged one more homer, giving them the single-season MLB record. And Cruz hit the most homers of anybody playing in this division series.
He also homered five times in six regular season games against the Yankees this year.
When reminded of that stat, a second opposing scout chuckled.
"I don't think he plans to stop," the scout quipped.
"If he's on his game, he can get on a streak where he hits five home runs in three games and it's the difference in the Twins beating the Yankees."