NEW YORK — The expectation entering the American League Division Series between the Twins and Yankees was that this would be Rocco Baldelli’s Bomba Squad against Aaron Boone’s Savages.
The teams had combined to score 57 runs and hit 20 home runs — 12 by the Twins — in a memorable three-game series in July at Target Field and there was no reason to think it would stop now. Not with the first two games in the bandbox that is Yankee Stadium.
The Twins’ power display began quickly in Game 1 on Friday as Jorge Polanco, the second batter of the game, homered to left field in the top of the first inning. The Twins would get two more solo home runs, from Nelson Cruz and Miguel Sano, in a disappointing 10-4 loss.
The three home runs were the most hit by Minnesota in a postseason game, but the four runs weren’t nearly enough to win a game in this series. The lineup dodged many questions because the bullpen performed so poorly (eight runs in four innings), but there was no ignoring the lack of production for a second consecutive night in the Twins’ 8-2 loss Saturday in Game 2.
The Bomba Squad was defused as the Twins’ pitching again came unglued, leaving them with a big-league record 15-game postseason losing streak and one game from being eliminated by the Bronx Bombers for the sixth time in franchise history.
“(The quality of at-bats is) something we’re going to have to address going into Game 3,” said Twins catcher Mitch Garver, who is 2-for-9 in this series. “It seems like we’re swinging at a lot of balls and taking a lot of strikes. It’s almost like our approach is a touch backwards, one pitch ahead or one pitch behind. Guys are looking for something, they’re getting the opposite. The process might be right but it’s either you’re one pitch ahead or one pitch behind. It’ll be important for us to simplify our approach. Simplifying it, quality at-bats, putting the ball in play. Hard contact the way we know how, that’s what we’re going to be looking for.”
So what’s happened to the Twins’ bats? How are they hitting .197 (13-for-66) in these two games? Did continually beating up on the subpar pitching of the Tigers, Royals and White Sox lull us into a false sense of security about how good this team really was at the plate?
The Twins and Yankees became the first two clubs in big-league history to hit 300 or more home runs in a season with Minnesota edging New York, 307-306. But it was the Yankees who had all of the punch on Saturday. The big blow came with the Yankees leading 2-0 in the third inning when Didi Gregorius hammered a Tyler Duffey fastball to right for a grand slam home run and a 7-0 lead. New York scored seven runs and had six of its 11 hits in that inning.
The eight runs were too much for the Twins to overcome but that shouldn’t have been the case. Not when the expectation was the Twins would be capable of exchanging runs and home runs with a lineup as good as the Yankees.
Yankees starter Masahiro Tanaka had pitched in the Yankees’ regular-season finale on Sunday, taking the loss after giving up two runs and five hits in three innings against Texas, but he hadn’t started a game since Sept. 19 and had a 4.45 ERA in 2019.
Polanco was hit by a pitch from Tanaka with one out in the first inning and Cruz followed with a single to put runners on first and second. Eddie Rosario grounded into a first to shortstop to pitcher double play and Tanaka retired the next seven. The Twins were down 8-0 when Garver’s single to right scored Cruz with the Twins’ first run. Minnesota had seven hits on Friday and six on Saturday. They had a combined 27 strikeouts in the two losses, including seven against Tanaka.
“He threw 18 fastballs,” Garver said of the Yankees starter. “We’re a good hitting fastball team. He doesn’t leave too many off-speed pitches over the plate. We got runners on. (Eddie Rosario) hit a ball hard there, right to (DJ) LeMahieu and he was able to turn that.”
Second baseman Luis Arraez is hitting .429 (3-for-7) in the two games to lead the Twins. But Max Kepler is 0-for-6, Rosario is 1-for-9 with four strikeouts, and Miguel Sano is 1-for-8 with six strikeouts, including four on Saturday.
Twins first baseman C.J. Cron, who went 0-for-4 in Game 1 and did not play Saturday, said the Yankees staff did a good job of mixing their pitches and getting ahead in counts. “Once you give those type of caliber pitchers … once they are ahead in the count, it’s always difficult to kind of kick that back. I just don’t think we put enough pressure on them. We’re going to have to do a better job of that for sure.”
The Twins will attempt to get their bats back on track on Monday night against New York righthander Luis Severino in downtown Minneapolis. If that doesn’t happen, their season will be finished. “Hopefully, we can swing a little bit more aggressively, have the kind of at-bats we’re used to having and I’m pretty confident we’ll be able to figure it out,” Cron said.