ALDS preview: Twins, Yankees prepare for postseason slugfest

The Minnesota Twins and New York Yankees were the most prolific home run hitting teams throughout a season in which the ball left the yard at a historic rate. So it’s only fair that the long ball kings of 2019 should meet in the postseason.

That’s right, it’s the Bronx Bombers vs. the Bomba Squad.

There’s more than one way to build a 100-win team, but these two clubs seemed to have followed a similar formula. Beyond their historic home run figures, both have gotten incredible contributions from unexpected players. Both have some serious question marks surrounding their starting rotations. And both have reliable arms in the back-end of the bullpen.

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Both have health concerns all over the field and will be missing their incredibly athletic center fielders to injuries. Both will be down an arm in the rotation due to off-the-field transgressions.

Aaron Boone’s “savages” have their starpower back after persisting through a record-breaking amount of injuries in the regular season. Rocco Baldelli proved he can be the ringleader in a potential slugfest during his first year as manager.

Game 1 is nearly 15 years to the day since the Twins’ last postseason victory. They’ve lost 13 consecutive playoff games since Johan Santana stifled the Yankees at the Stadium in 2004.

Oct 2, 2019; New York, NY, USA; New York Yankees designated hitter Aaron Judge (99) waits to take batting practice during a workout day before game 1 of the ALDS at Yankees Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 2, 2019; New York, NY, USA; New York Yankees designated hitter Aaron Judge (99) waits to take batting practice during a workout day before game 1 of the ALDS at Yankees Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

SCHEDULE

Game 1: Friday, Oct. 4, in New York, 7:07 p.m. ET (MLB Network)

Game 2: Saturday, Oct. 5, in New York, 5:07 p.m. ET (FS1)

Game 3: Monday, Oct. 7, in Minnesota, 8:40 p.m., (FS1)

Game 4*: Tuesday, Oct. 8, in Minnesota, 8:07 p.m., (FS1)

Game 5*: Thursday, Oct. 10, in New York, 5:07 p.m. ET (FS1)

* if necessary

PREVIOUSLY

This will be the fifth postseason meeting between these two teams since 2000. The last time they squared off in the postseason was in the 2017 Wild Card game, which Minnesota lost at Yankee Stadium. The Yankees won four of six in the regular season series, which included one of the most exciting games of the year. On July 23, Yankees center fielder Aaron Hicks’ game-saving diving catch secured the final out of a 14-12 victory at Target Field. Hicks (elbow) won’t be available in the playoffs.

PITCHING MATCHUPS

Game 1: Jose Berrios (14-8, 3.68) vs. James Paxton (15-6, 3.82 ERA)

Game 2: TBD vs. Masahiro Tanaka (11-9, 4.45 ERA)

Game 3: Luis Severino (1-1, 1.50 ERA) vs. TBD

Game 4*: TBD vs. TBD

Game 5*: TBD vs. TBD

Paxton rewarded the Yankees decision to stand pat at the trade deadline by pitching like an ace down the stretch, going 10-0 with a 2.51 ERA in his final 11 starts. Tanaka has been the most reliable member of the rotation, mainly because he’s been able to stay on the field. He’s also got an excellent postseason track record, posting a 1.50 ERA in five October starts. Rotator cuff inflammation and a Grade 2 lat strain limited Severino to 12 major league innings this season, but the team seems pleased with what he’s shown since returning. The Yankees used J.A. Happ out of the bullpen in his final outing, and veteran C.C. Sabathia has a shoulder issue and will be left off the ALDS roster.

Berrios and Martin Perez have struggled since August, particularly finding trouble at preventing home runs, which is just blood in the water for a team like the Yankees. But Berrios has ace potential, a devastating curveball and nine games with eight or more strikeouts. Perez’s struggles likely cost him a Game 3 start, perhaps in favor of rookie Randy Dobnak, who posted a 1.59 ERA in 29.1 innings since his Aug. 9 debut. But Dobnak has only completed six innings once. Jake Odorizzi could start Game 2 after putting together an excellent season. He exited his final start with hamstring tightness but appears ready to go for his postseason debut.

Both team’s bullpens should factor heavily into this series given the instability of both rotations.

Minnesota Twins starting pitcher Jose Berrios (17) delivers a pitch against the Kansas City Royals at Target Field. (USA TODAY Sports)
Minnesota Twins starting pitcher Jose Berrios (17) delivers a pitch against the Kansas City Royals at Target Field. (USA TODAY Sports)

YANKEES KEYS TO VICTORY

  • Even with a lineup that features Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton and Gary Sanchez, the Yankees’ true superstars are in the bullpen. Both of these offenses can put a lot of runs on the board, but if New York can hold a lead, or at least keep it close, going into the later innings, count on Aroldis Chapman, Adam Ottavino and Zack Britton to do what they’ve done all year and shut the door.

  • Judge, Stanton and Sanchez are the fixtures in the middle of that lineup, but the Yankees have gotten more out of their offensive “support staff” than anyone could have imagined. DJ LeMehieu, Gio Urshela, Brett Gardner and Gleyber Torres carried this club most of the year, and they can’t slow down in the postseason, which happens to be an environment in which sluggers like Judge and Stanton that are prone to striking out might do so way too often.

  • If the Yankees can get some stability out of their starting pitching, they’ll be a difficult team for the Twins (or even the Astros, Dodgers or whoever) to beat. Boone has had to go the non-traditional route for early-inning pitching a few times this season, but the Yankees should be in the advantage if the starters allow the bullpen to kick back until the later innings.

TWINS KEYS TO VICTORY

  • The Twins beat the Yankees in the season-long home run race, and they’ll have to do it again in the ALDS. Nelson Cruz, Max Kepler, Miguel Sano, Eddie Rosario and Mitch Garver made Minnesota the first team in MLB history to have five players with at least 30 homers. They can’t slow down now.

  • Luis Arraez sustained a Grade 1 right ankle sprain last weekend, Kepler has a left rhomboid strain, Marwin Gonzalez has right oblique tightness and CJ Cron has a bruised left thumb. The Twins will have to follow the lead of their ALDS counterpart and learn to win with a banged up club. This is where players like Jake Cave and Jorge Polanco need to step up.

  • Don’t let the rookie hurlers become blinded by the bright lights of the postseason. Dobnak, Brusdar Graterol, Ryne Harper, Devin Smetzer, Zack Littell and Cody Stashak have all been effective since being recalled from the minors this year, and will be likely to see some important innings in this series should they make the roster.

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