The Yankees and Twins played two three-game series this season with the Bombers taking two of three in New York and Minnesota. Even though the two teams last played in July, there is still plenty to be learned from those matchups.
Here are four takeaways from the season series:
1. The Twins’ right-handed power is scary
Derek wasn’t lying when he wrote that the Twins’ lineup is “nothing short of terrific” yesterday. Against the Yankees this season, they averaged over six runs per game.
The Twins hit an MLB-record 307 home runs this season, including 17 in the six games with the Yankees. Plenty of those home runs this season came against inferior competition, but they took it to the Yankees when they had the chance.
The major culprit in Minnesota’s offensive success against the Yankees was Nelson Cruz. The 39-year-old DH hit a home run in five of six matchups and batted a ridiculous .261/.370/.913 (226 OPS+). Juicy ball or no, that’s Ruthian. Derek already wrote about how lethal he is against just about any attack, but it’s worth emphasizing.
Meanwhile, the Twins also have the likely Silver Slugger for American League catchers in Mitch Garver. Rocco Baldelli is unafraid to bat him in the leadoff spot, where he did damage against J.A. Happ and CC Sabathia to the tune of three home runs. You don’t often see catchers in the top spot in the lineup, but you don’t often see catchers hit as well as him.
Beyond them, the team has Miguel Sanó, C.J. Cron and the switch-hitting Jorge Polanco for righty power. Cruz and Garver are the key batters for whom to watch out.
2. Neither team has seen each other’s best
Of the Yankees’ six starts against the Twins this season, two were by Happ. One by Sabathia. Minnesota faced an abbreviated start from James Paxton (the one where he injured his knee) and then lost two games started by Domingo German, who will miss the postseason while under MLB investigation for domestic violence.
Outside of three unrepresentative innings from Paxton, the Twins missed the Yankees’ top three starters. That’s an advantage early in the series for the Bombers.
However, that advantage evaporates if Happ takes the hill in a potential Game 4. Happ was rocked to the tune of 10 runs (four taters) in nine innings against Minnesota. Even with his late-season turnaround, will the Yankees be comfortable with him returning to Target Field and pitching a crucial game?
Meanwhile, the Yankees got to see presumed Game 2 starter Jake Odorizzi twice this year and hit .300/.383/.625 against the right-hander over two starts, one win and one loss. However, with Michael Pineda suspended, New York didn’t get to see much of Minnesota’s other potential starters in this series.
Expected Game 1 starter José Berríos has four career appearances against the Yankees with none since April 2018. That includes his only playoff appearance when he took the loss in the 2017 Wild Card Game. The 25-year-old faded some in the second half, but he is well rested going into this series.
3. Minnesota will test the Yankees’ bullpen
The Bombers will rely heavily upon their bullpen to pull out the series. Minnesota, however, won’t make it easy.
Of the Yankees’ top five relievers, only Tommy Kahnle (3.2 IP, 7 K, 0 H/BB) came away unscathed in matchups with the Twins. Adam Ottavino walked three batters in an inning during that 14-12 instant classic in July. The Twins failed to score after Chad Green relieved him only because of this:
Aroldis Chapman walked three in the same game and narrowly avoided a loss as well. The Yankees’ closer, though, has sterling individual numbers against the Twins’ hitters outside of that messy outing.
Zack Britton had a rough matchup with the Twins. He allowed a two-run homer to Sanó and Cruz, respectively, in his two outings against Minnesota. This was before he reinvigorated his season with the introduction of more sliders, but Cruz and Sano could be tough outs for him regardless.
4. The Yankees hold the edge
In every facet of the game, the Yankees top the Twins. They have a deeper and somehow about-as-healthy lineup. Their rotation reliably goes three deep instead of two. And, despite a sneakily good bullpen from Minnesota, the Yankees have the advantage there as well.
What does that mean? Combined with homefield advantage and whatever stock you want to put in their combined postseason history, the Yankees are the favorites.
But Minnesota is nearly as good as the Yankees in every phase of the game and could be better for 3-of-5. These aren’t the 2009-10 Twins that were cannon-fodder for the Yankees. They can actually come out and win this series without the Yankees playing awful baseball.
If the Yankees set the tone in Game 1 and can get to Berríos, they have a chance to make this a quick series. Otherwise, expect this to be more of a fight than previous clashes between these franchises.