Yankees Provide Opportunity, Not Fearful History, For Twins
Image courtesy of © Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY SportsI feel like I may have written something like this a year ago, but it rings true again today, and Rocco Baldelli’s club certainly has more to build on. Every time the Twins face New York in the playoffs there will be talk about the futility embedded in the matchup. That’s not a team problem however, and it isn’t even an organizational one. The reality is that the Yankees are often good, and they are often in the Postseason. This current group doesn’t care how things went for Torii Hunter and Michael Cuddyer.
Short of a colossal collapse from the Chicago White Sox, Minnesota will finish second in the AL Central and host New York in the Postseason. Nash Walker recently penned a great piece as to why it may make sense to welcome the Evil Empire. Beyond that, the only history that matters in 2020 is what can be gleaned from the 2019 sweep. Let’s get into that.
Where are the bats?
After setting a Major League record 307 single-season home runs in 2019, the offensive prowess went in the tank when it mattered most. Minnesota pushed across just seven runs in three games during the ALDS, and they led for a grand total of two innings throughout the series. The trio of Max Kepler, Mitch Garver, and Miguel Sano all became nonexistent, while 39-year-old Nelson Cruz failed to produce anything of substance as well.
In 2020 the offense hasn’t been at all what was expected. Thinking they’d light up the scoreboard every night, it just hasn’t been the case. The Twins have missed significant time from sluggers like Garver and Josh Donaldson, while the lineup hasn’t really clicked for any substantial period of time. Even still the results have shown up in the win column, and capable is a good descriptor for what Minnesota can do on any given day. The Yankees lineup is again daunting, but pitching won’t matter if the Twins can’t score.
Pitching, Pitching, Pitching
Going into the Postseason a year ago there were plenty of concerns about the Twins pitching, and it seemed like a lofty task to keep the Yankees in check. Jose Berrios struggled down the stretch, and Randy Dobnak was given the ball in game two as a matchup play instead of Jake Odorizzi. When the dust settled New York had plated 23 runs across three games against the Twins and Minnesota was swept in quick fashion. The bullpen had gone from massive question mark on Opening Day, to becoming a relative force by season’s end. It didn’t factor much as the Twins were behind early and often in these tilts, and any ability from that group was thwarted pretty quickly.
This season the Twins have gotten great efforts from a handful of guys. Jose Berrios has been rolling through his last six turns, while Kenta Maeda looks worthy of Cy Young votes. Michael Pineda returned and picked up right where he left off, and Rich Hill has rounded into form of late. If Jake Odorizzi’s finger is healed in time for October baseball, he too could provide a lift despite such an unfortunate string of luck in 2020. There are few question marks when it comes to the “who” on Rocco’s staff, and he should feel good about choosing any of them for the “when.”
Oh, Byron Where Art Thou?
A shoulder injury ended Byron Buxton’s season in 2019 and it was a crushing blow for the Twins. Their record in games he played was better to a lopsided degree, and his .827 OPS was as much an indicator as to why as his glove was. Max Kepler posted a breakout season defensively, but centerfield wore on him down the stretch and there’s no denying the upgrade Byron brings all over the diamond just by being in the middle of the grass.
Buxton has missed time in 2020 as well, but his 36-game sample has provided a banner year. Currently he owns an .880 OPS and has swatted 12 homers. His plate discipline could use work still as evidenced by the 29/2 K/BB, but he’s getting off an “A” swing plenty, and he’s making sure to do damage when he connects. Still the fastest man in baseball and one of the game’s best defenders, having him patrolling the outfield against any opponent is an upgrade that can’t be overstated.
It will never matter to the current collection of players what history has dealt to a franchise, and it shouldn’t. Recent history is something this collection likely wants to overcome however, and each side loaded up with one big new piece. Gerrit Cole was always destined for New York, and Josh Donaldson made a surprise splash in Minnesota. It’s time to tango, and Minnesota is as well positioned as ever.
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