Anthony McCarron, SNY.tv | Twitter |
In a short series between the two slugging-est teams of all time, there's no telling what might happen, which could make the Twins-Yankees AL Division Series a treat.
Home runs -- or suppressing them -- should play a huge role in the outcome and we'll certainly be hearing a lot about whatever karmic advantage the Yankees may or may not have because they've eliminated the Twins five times in October over the years.
Here's a look at six numbers that could determine which team advances to the AL Championship Series:
At Home on the Road
The Twins were MLB's worst guests this season and by that we mean that they kept clobbering the home team. Minnesota was 55-26 (.679) on the road this year and it'll be fascinating to see if that means they're equipped to thrive in the Bronx cauldron. This is how good the Twins were as visitors: the Rays (48-33) were the next-best road team. The Yankees were the third-best home team in MLB at 57-24, not exactly gracious hosts. And they are 14-2 in the Bronx against Minnesota since the start of 2015. What happens if it comes down to a Game 5 at Yankee Stadium? It's not like the home team in a winner-take-all postseason game has a stranglehold on victory -- the home team is 55-57 all-time in those deciding tilts.
Three is a Magic Number
It's baseball canon these days that letting a starter face a lineup a third time through isn't a good idea. The OPS against Yankee starters, for instance, climbs from .721 the first time through to .766 the second time through and then it leaps to .906. The average OPS in MLB this year was .757. Meanwhile, the OPS against a Yankees reliever in an opponent's first plate appearance is .724, which helps illustrate why the Yanks figure to be creative with their pitching and Aaron Boone likely will have a quick hook. In the six games between the teams during the regular season, New York starters had an 8.54 ERA. It's vital that the starters quell the Twins early this time so the Yanks can unleash a bullpen that helped them go 87-7 when leading after six innings, 90-2 when leading after seven and 90-1 when leading after eight. The Yankees have been giving their relievers rest down the stretch to prep them for October. They'll be relying on that bullpen.
Here Comes the…Well, You Know
A healthy Aaron Judge should impact any game and he could wreck the entire series himself with a few monster nights. He's been hot, too: Check out these numbers over his final 35 games: 15 home runs, a slash line of .301/.380/.714 and a 1.094 OPS. Yes, D.J. LeMahieu had a better year, but Judge is the Yankees' best player, especially when you factor in his terrific defense in right field. There's a flip side, though. Strikeouts, which get scrutinized in October, especially in New York (right, Giancarlo?) might be a problem. Judge fanned 50 times in his last 133 at-bats.
Hitting home runs is good. Giving them up? Ugh
The Yankees allowed the seventh-most home runs in MLB this season (248) and play in a ballpark generally thought to be homer happy. The Twins, who blasted a record 307 homers this season, hit 16 home runs off Yankee pitching in six games this year, including 11 against starters in just 26.1 innings. Nelson Cruz hit five homers off Yankee hurlers. The Twins allowed 50 fewer home runs than the Yanks during the regular season -- the fifth-lowest total in baseball -- though pinstriped sluggers hit 12 against them.
The Yankees, especially their bullpen, love to strike out hitters. As a team, the Yanks were fifth overall in strikeouts per nine innings (9.57) and their power-arm relief corps was third (10.16). But the Twins only struck out 1,334 times this season, the sixth-lowest total in MLB. Does that put pressure on the Yankees defense, ranked 22nd in defensive runs saved by Sports Info Solutions, to make more plays?
We don't really believe the past will affect the series, but it's handy to know the numbers in case you're asked while hosting your Division Series watch party: The Yanks eliminated the Twins in the division series in 2003, 2004, 2009 and 2010 and in the AL Wild Card Game in 2017. The Yankees are 13-2 against Minnesota in the postseason, including 7-0 on the road, and have won 10 straight playoff games against the Twins. Still, do we believe Cruz and Max Kepler will be wasting at-bats moping over what happened to the '03 Twins or how a bad call cost the '09 version? Heck, no.