NEW YORK — The Twins will play host to the New York Yankees on Monday night hoping to keep their season alive after losing the opening two games of the American League Division Series at Yankee Stadium.
For those of us who said this series would be different from past Twins-Yankees playoff meetings, we have been wrong. Very wrong. The Twins have now lost 15 consecutive postseason games — a Major League record — and 12 in a row against New York. The Twins are 2-15 all-time in the playoffs against the Yankees and are one game away from losing a fifth postseason series to New York. That number grows to six if you include the 2017 wild card game.
So what went wrong in the Bronx on Friday and Saturday? Basically, everything. After Jorge Polanco homered in the second at-bat of Game 1, the Twins’ bats went quiet, the bullpen fell apart when it mattered most and manager Rocco Baldelli took the same approach he would have in a July game.
Here are a hat trick of things that went wrong:
WHERE HAVE ALL THE BOMBAS GONE?
The expectation entering this series from everyone, including the Twins, was that this would be a heavyweight offensive fight with the Yankees and Twins exchanging homers. Especially at homer-friendly Yankee Stadium.
But the Twins hit three solo homers (that’s not going to cut it) in a 10-4 loss in Game 1 — Polanco, Nelson Cruz and Miguel Sano — and then scored two meaningless runs in an 8-2 debacle in Game 2. The Twins looked helpless against Yankees starter Masahiro Tanaka on Saturday and are hitting a collective .197 (13-for-66) through two games. Luis Arraez, playing on a sore ankle, has three of the team’s four doubles to go with those three homers.
Max Kepler has yet to get a hit (0-for-6) and C.J. Cron also went hitless (0-for-4) on Friday before sitting on Saturday. Mitch Garver is 2-for-9 with three strikeouts, Eddie Rosario is 1-for-9 with four strikeouts and Sano is 1-for-8 with six strikeouts.
Arraez is 3-for-7 (.429) but the Twins have to get more offense starting Monday night against Luis Severino or the next time we see this team will be in February in Fort Myers. The lack of pop and hits in the first two games is a massive surprise considering the expectations on a team that set the big-league record with 307 home runs this year.
If scoring runs, and we’re talking eight to 10 per game, was the first expectation from the Twins entering this series, then the second was that the team’s remade bullpen would play a key role in Minnesota’s potential playoff success.
The problem was that did not come close to happening in Game 1. Jose Berrios was pulled after giving up three runs (one earned) in four innings and replaced by Zack Littell. The Twins had rallied to tie the score at 3-3 in the top of the fifth and were in good shape.
Littell and the bullpen took care of that and not in a good way. Littell, Tyler Duffey, Cody Stashak, Kyle Gibson and Brusdar Graterol combined to give up seven runs, four hits and six walks. Littell was charged with two of the runs, as was Stashak, and Gibson gave up three as he also walked three hitters in his one inning. Duffey replaced Littell after he walked and then hit a batter and after getting one out and then walking the bases full, he surrendered a double to Gleyber Torres that gave the Yankees a 5-3 lead.
The game was over after the third inning on Saturday as starter Randy Dobnak and Duffey gave up four runs apiece, with seven of them coming in the third inning. The Twins’ final five relievers — Devin Smeltzer, Stashak, Trevor May, Sergio Romo and Littell — gave up no runs in the final 5.1 innings but it didn’t matter at that point.
And, yes, Twins closer Taylor Rogers never took the mound at Yankee Stadium. Baldelli was asked after the game if he considered using Rogers or Romo to try to escape the third-inning, bases-loaded jam from which Duffey could not. Duffey had pitched the previous day, while Romo and Rogers were fresh.
“As far as that spot right there, whoever we bring in to finish out that inning, and it would have taken a lot of effort to get through that inning, we would have needed all of those other pitchers that we’re kind of referencing here to keep pitching,” Baldelli said. “It wouldn’t have been enough to just get three outs in that spot and just kind of end your night. Probably would have needed four outs, five outs, maybe six outs from some of those guys.”
A SENSE OF URGENCY, PLEASE
Baldelli’s decision to start Dobnak seemed a bit odd given that we had seen young pitchers (Littell and Stashak) come apart on Friday. Asked before Saturday’s game about going with Dobnak instead of veteran Jake Odorizzi, Baldelli said:
“I don’t think of this game as any different than any game that we’ve played. I don’t think, even in the five-game series, that there’s any added emphasis on today’s game. Every game is important. It doesn’t change the importance based on what happened in the previous game until you’re down to the last game and both teams know that they have to win that game, it’s not going to change the way that we’re really going to operate with our personnel.”
Does that make sense? Getting a split in Yankee Stadium was pretty much a must for survival and yet Baldelli decided to go with Dobnak, in part because he’s a ground ball pitcher and Odorizzi is a fly ball guy. OK, I’ll buy that but what didn’t make sense was throwing Dobnak out there in front of that crowd and against the Yankees in New York. Odorizzi hasn’t had great success against the Yankees but he does have experience pitching in the Bronx and understands how to approach it.
It’s one thing to say that Cruz and Marwin Gonzalez aren’t impacted by that environment but it’s another to think a rookie pitcher who started the season at Single-A Fort Myers wouldn’t feel the pressure.
Baldelli’s positive and even-keel approach have served him very well this season but there are times to feel the urgency of the situation and this was one of them.