Today is the day for Twins fans, as their Minnesota Twins take the field in New York City, specifically the Bronx, to take on the New York Yankees at 7 p.m. at Yankee Stadium. Here are four keys for the Twins in their efforts to move onto the ALDS to face the Cleveland Indians.
1. Ervin Santana faces the Yankees a lineup three times
Ervin Santana arguably had one of the best seasons in his career this year. Having his lowest career ERA at 3.28, winning his second most games 16, and having the best ERA+ of his career at 135. Now in his 33 starts, Santana would hold batters to a slash line of .213/.269/.342 the first time up. Then in their second at-bats, that slash would jump up to .265/.310/.491 which is a substantial increase. However, here is the odd thing, in the third time through the lineup, that slash line would did down to .205/.300/.367 which you may notice is better than the second time. So for Santana to bring a win home he must get through the Yankees lineup a second time, and avoid allowing the long ball (easier said than done) as the second time through he allowed 16 home runs, more than the first time and third time through the order combined.
2. Make Yankees other than Judge, Sanchez beat you
The Yankees have a DEEP lineup once again. From potential Rookie of the Year and MVP Aaron Judge to Chase Headley, the Yankees have threats 1-9. But the key for the Twins is to make someone other than Judge and catcher Gary Sanchez beat them offensively. Aaron Judge was record setting this season as his 52 home runs are the most ever for a rookie in baseball history. Along with that Judge drove in 114 runs, hit 24 doubles, and hit .284/.422/.627 with an OPS of 1.049 and OPS+ of 171. In addition to that he walked 127 times. Although not on the same level as Judge, Sanchez had an incredible season in his own right. Sanchez hit 33 home runs, with 20 doubles, and 90 RBI, while slashing .278/.345/.531 with an OPS of .531 and an OPS+ of 126. And that isn't all the Yankees have offensively, they have Starlin Castro who hit .300, Didi Gregorius who hit 25 home runs and had a 106 OPS+. Brett Gardner was his usual self hitting 21 home runs and 26 doubles while stealing 23 bases, and then a resurgent Jacoby Ellsbury in the second half presented the Yankees with a playoff X-Factor. Now the Yankees lineup is deep, as just described with all the names above, but if the Twins want to win this game, they have to have all those guys mentioned beat them, instead of Sanchez and Judge.
3. Twins must get production from Buxton, Rosario and Escobar
Byron Buxton, Eduardo Escobar, and Eddie Rosario all had career years. All three set home run career highs, Rosario with the most at 27 and Escobar with 21 largely in sub-duty for Sano. Then for Buxton he finally started showing the promise that made him the number one prospect in all of baseball as he slashed .300/.347/.546/.893 in the second half with 11 home runs and 13 stolen bases. In total Buxton had 29 stolen bases and was only caught one time the entire season. If they can continue hitting, and Buxton provides the stellar defense in centerfield to go along with his speed on the base paths, the Twins will be in good shape offensively. This is especially important with the news today that Miguel Sano was left off of the Wild Card game roster.
4. Mauer and Dozier take advantage of playoff appearance
Win or loss it's great to see these long time Twins in the playoffs. For Joe Mauer it will be his first playoff appearance since 2010, and for Dozier his first appearance ever. For Mauer, this presents his third chance to overtake the Yankees in a playoff series, as in the past two series, in 2009 and 2010, his Twins teams were swept in three games of the five game ALDS. If both Mauer and Dozier perform up to their capability and take advantage of the higher stage they'll be on it'll be a happy night in Minnesota.
Once again, first pitch is at 7:00 at Yankee Stadium with Ervin Santana (16-8) facing the hard-throwing Luis Severino (14-6).