The Twins’ fan base is likely already apprehensive about playing the big, bad New York Yankees in the American League Division Series. That’s understandable given the Twins’ history. But there is something this fan base needs to understand: The 2019 Twins don’t give a damn about that history and odds are strong Rocco Baldelli’s team is relishing the chance to vanquish the Yankees from the postseason.
This might sound crazy considering the Twins have lost 10 consecutive playoff games to the Yankees, have dropped 13 of 15 overall to New York in the playoffs and have been ousted in five consecutive postseason series by the Bronx Bombers. The Twins won the AL central title in 2003 and were bounced from the AL Division Series in four games by the Yankees. The same thing happened in 2004. The Yankees swept the Twins out of the division series in 2009 and 2010 and two years ago New York beat the Twins in the AL wild card game at Yankee Stadium.
So why would the Twins want to play the Yankees? “Organizationally, I just say it’s time to slay the dragon, right?” Twins president Dave St. Peter said on SKOR North last week.
In the same interview, St. Peter pointed out that the Twins failures against the Yankees aren’t Rocco Baldelli or Nelson Cruz’s history. That is the key. There is nothing about this current collection of Twins that reminds you of the past. That is a credit to Baldelli, who in his first season as a manager is nearly a lock to win AL Manager of the Year, but it’s even more of a credit to a clubhouse that includes guys like Cruz, Marwin Gonzalez and Sergio Romo.
The stage that they will be playing on in the Bronx isn’t going to be too big for them and because of that their younger teammates also should lack any fear. Cruz has appeared in nine playoff series, including two World Series. Gonzalez has been in seven playoff series, including helping lead the Astros to a seven-game victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2017.
Gonzalez’s home run off Dodgers closer Kenley Jensen in the top of the ninth inning of Game 2 tied the score at 3-3 and sent the Astros to a 7-6, 11-inning victory. Romo, obtained near the trade deadline from Miami, has been in four playoff series and three World Series. Romo won a title in each of his World Series appearances with the Giants and has four postseason saves overall.
This is no guarantee the Twins will beat the Yankees, but the veteran presence on this team should guarantee that nobody begins Game 1 looking like this is a lost cause because the Yankees are, well, the Yankees.
These Yankees can hit the baseball a long, long way but so can these Twins. This could be a collection of games in which the final score looks like something we saw when the Kicks were playing indoor soccer at Met Center. We got a preview of how a Twins-Yankees postseason matchup could play out during a three-game series in July at Target Field and it was great fun.
The Twins won only two of six games against the Yankees this season, but it was the three games in Minneapolis that ended up being a heavyweight fight. The Twins won the opener 8-6 before dropping a thrilling 14-12 game in 10 innings that ended with New York center fielder Aaron Hicks making an outstanding diving catch of a Max Kepler drive to left-center with the base loaded and two outs. The Yankees took the third game, 10-7, in large part because Twins starter Jake Odorizzi gave up nine runs and 10 hits before being yanked after four.
There have been rumblings that Odorizzi might be the Twins’ choice to start the opener of the ALDS on Friday and not Jose Berrios. If the Twins end up on relying on their starters to win games, there is little chance they are going to win this series. The formula for success has to be that Cruz and his teammates can hammer Yankees pitching to the tune of eight to 10 runs per game — James Paxton, Luis Severino and Masahiro Tanaka will have something to say about that — and that the Twins reconstructed bullpen will be lights out after the starters (Odorizzi, Berrios and Randy Dobnak, perhaps) are done.
Is this ideal? Probably not. But both the Twins and Yankees are known for their offense after finishing 1-2 in the big leagues in home runs this season. Both shattered the Major League single-season mark for homers, with the Twins hitting 307 and the Yankees 306.
None of this guarantees that the Twins will be able to push through to the American League Championship Series for the first time since 2002, but at least we know Baldelli’s team isn’t going to cower at the sight of the Yankees logo and in these parts that has to be considered a sign of progress.