The Yankees have known for pretty much the last three months that they would be playing in the postseason, tallying 103 wins for the best record in the Bigs, and an eight-game margin in the AL East. The Twins have known about their inclusion in the playoffs for less than 24 hours by the time the series starts in the Bronx, as they squeaked in thanks to a thrilling 6-5 victory in 12 innings in a one-game playoff with Detroit. On paper, the Yankees have the distinct advantage, having swept all seven games in the season series.
The Yankees win if: They avoid the expectations they have succumbed to in the playoffs in the recent past. The end of Joe Torre’s tenure in New York was marked by teams that grossly underachieved come October. It’s been eight years since they lifted a banner in the Bronx, and the pressure is mounting by the day. And they could get caught looking past the Twins to the prospect of a meeting with either their arch-enemy Red Sox or their playoff albatross Angels in the ALCS. Across the board, the Yankees have the superior talent (lineup, bullpen, starters). But a defeat or two at the hands of the Twins could bring out the boo-birds and the thoughts of “here we go again,” both in and out of the clubhouse.
The Twins win if: Their starting pitching keeps things together just enough. Offensively, the Twins aren’t going to blow anyone away. Losing top RBI man Justin Morneau hasn’t helped, but it has made the team refocus its efforts on small ball and producing runs station to station. It may be too much to ask for a staff who’s most experienced postseason performer is Carl Pavano against the most prolific offense in the majors this season. But with a strong bullpen anchored by perennial All-Star Joe Nathan, young starters like Nick Blackburn, Brian Deunsing, and Scott Baker may not need to be exceptional, but merely solid to give them a chance.
The X-factor: The Twins’ momentum. The Twinkies finished the season with 17 wins in the final 21 games to win the Central, all since Mourneau went down to injury. They have a proven star and leader in Joe Mauer, good veterans in Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel, and just enough offensive cover to sustain their small ball style. They’re a plucky, hard-nosed team that lives off solid defense. Sound like 2007 Rockies? Also, keep in mind that while the Yankees won all seven meetings this year, six were decided by two runs or less, and momentum in the postseason can be the great equalizer.
The verdict: I wish I had the courage to say the Twins would topple the odds and the Yankees, but the combination of a possible letdown, exhaustion, and the Yankees strong lineup make the ALDS another uphill battle for the Twins. Ultimately, Jeter, A-Rod, and Mo will survive and advance. Anything more than four games would be a distinct surprise.
-Matthew De George ’10