Monday, October 2, 2017

A trip down memory lane: Twins v. Yankees

The old saying in sports never gets old for me: That's why they play the games.

It's used in the context of upsets and underdogs. Just because a team is Goliath when it comes to odds, stats and analytics, doesn't mean Goliath will win. They play the game to find out.

I bring this up in reference to the AL Wild Card game set for Tuesday night in the Bronx between the Minnesota Twins and New York Yankees. Just based on a few random buzzings I've heard about this game, there's an attitude out there that suggests they shouldn't even play. I mean, the Yankees are just going to the American League Division Series. The Wild Card game is just a formality. (I write that with a heavy dose of sarcasm. Please re-read accordingly.)

The numbers and the history between these two teams in the postseason, and regular season as well, point toward an obvious David and Goliath situation. Or a curse, if you believe in that kind of thing. Or, as Minnesotans like to harp on, there's the standby: "Minnesota sports. We can't have nice things."

Looking at the past
Ok, so let's look at some of the history. The Twins were an AL Central powerhouse in the 2000s with six division titles but just one postseason series win. They've been swept out of their last three ALDS appearances (2006, 2009, 2010). The Twins are 2-15 in the postseason since 2003, 2-12 against the Yankees (Oakland swept the Twins 3-0 in 2006.). The Twins last postseason victory came in game 1 of the 2004 ALDS to the Yankees - 13 years ago, so maybe that's lucky. Their other postseason victory was also game 1, in 2003.

The Twins beat the A's in 2002 in five games before losing in the AL Championship Series to the eventual World Champion Los Angeles Angels (or were they just Anaheim back then?). It was a great showing for a team that would win back-to-back-to-back division titles. But the success really stopped there.

The playoff format was slightly different, so the Twins kept facing the Yankees because Boston was also in the postseason. I believe the rule was the wild card winner could not face their division winner in that first round. The Twins didn't end up with homefield advantage much either (2006, 2010).

Good starts turn into late losses
In 2003, the Twins beat the Yankees 3-1 to take a 1-0 series lead. They couldn't get the offense going and were outscored 16-6 in the 3-1 series loss. The next year brought some late/extra inning heartbreak. Johan Santana pitched seven innings for a 2-0 Twins shutout in New York in game 1, with Shannon Stewart hitting an RBI single and Jacque Jones hitting a home run.

The Twins had leads in the series. Justin Morneau and Corey Koskie tied game 2 in the 8th with RBI knocks. Torii Hunter homered in the 12th inning as fans got excited about heading to the Metrodome up 2-0 in the best-of-five series. Instead, Alex Rodriguez doubled in the bottom of the inning off Joe Nathan to tie the game, then Hideki Matsui provided the game-winning sac fly. The Twins lost 7-6 in 12 innings, making a 1-1 series feel like a deficit.

In game 4, the Twins were up 5-1 through seven innings before the Yankees tied it with a three-run homer from Ruben Sierra in the 8th. The winning run scored on a wild pitch from Kyle Lohse in the 11th inning for a 6-5 loss and another series loss to the pinstripes.

More heartbreak in the later years, too 
I've written about 2006 before and how heartbreaking that was for fans. Used to the routine, the two teams met up again in 2009. It was another sweep, with game 2 being the big disappointment. The Twins had a 3-1 lead in the 9th after RBI singles from Nick Punto and Denard Span in the 8th. But Nathan couldn't close it out, giving up a single to Mark Teixeria and homer to ARod to tie the game. The Twins lost in 11 innings, 4-3, with a walk-off homer from Teixeria.

The last time the Twins were in the postseason was 2010. They hosted the Yankees this time, so everyone hoped it would be a different outcome. Unfortunately it left a bigger feeling of emptiness with another 3-and-out. The Twins were outscored 17-7 and couldn't solve legendary closer Mariano Rivera as he notched two saves. Phil Hughes (that's right) earned the win in game 3 for the Yankees.

Familiar foes, new setting
So now here we are. The Twins and Yankees meet again. The Twins went 2-4 v. the Yankees during the 2017 regular season, including two wins at home and then getting swept in New York a couple weeks ago. Yes, rookie superstar Aaron Judge homered off Twins pitching. It will be Twins ace and veteran pitcher Ervin Santana, a 16-game winner, versus the Yankees ace Luis Severino. The Twins got to him early on in New York, before the Yankees won that game 11-3.

Santana started out in perhaps the best way possible this season, hardly allowing runs and recording more complete games than the rest of baseball. His ERA came back to earth a bit the rest of the year, but his veteran presence on the mound makes him the go-to guy. Jose Berrios is also available out of the bullpen; he got the victory in relief the other night against Detroit as the Twins skipped his start in the rotation.

Miguel Sano returned to the team over the weekend, getting some at-bats after missing more than a month with a shin injury. Put a bat in his hand, and he's still a threat to knock one out of the park. Guys like Eddie Rosario, Byron Buxton (with his defense, especially), Jorge Polanco and Brian Dozier have all stepped up in the second half to provide an offensive spark.

This isn't the same team
The encouraging thing about this Wild Card game is it's just one game, and this is a completely new Twins team. The Twins don't have to win a series against the big, bad pinstripes; they just need one win. Anything can happen in one game, so that's reason enough to not count the Twins out.

Again, this Twins team is not the same one that got knocked around in the last decade. Joe Mauer and Glen Perkins are the only two players still on the roster from the 2010 squad. Paul Molitor is the new manager. One would think that should help with the mental side of things when it comes to this matchup, although maybe that's really more in the heads of fans at this point.

This 2017 Twins team has already accomplished something no other team in baseball has ever done: Make the postseason a year after losing 100 games. This season, the Twins have never fallen off the cliff, even during tough stretches. They grabbed one of two AL Wild Card slots and celebrated their postseason berth after such an improbable feat.

To me, it isn't a lock to choose one team or the other to win this game. You can analyze it all you want, but just because there's all this bad history going against the Twins doesn't mean it will continue. It's a new decade, a new group of guys in the clubhouse.

We'll just have to watch them play the game.

No comments:

Post a Comment