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Yankees Potential Playoff Opponent: Minnesota Twins

The Yankees’ most likely playoff opponent is a familiar face.

Divisional Series - New York Yankees v Minnesota Twins - Game Three Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

A potential playoff matchup between the New York Yankees and the Minnesota Twins? If history is any indication, this is going to be a cakewalk for the Bombers. The Yankees have faced the Twins six times before in the playoffs (including twice in the last three years), and Minnesota has won a grand total of two games and zero series over that span. Their most recent meeting was a 3-0 sweep in the ALDS just last year.

Not so fast this time around, though. If the Twins are ever going to break their hex of not beating the Yankees, this would be their best chance to do it. These aren’t your father’s Minnesota Twins — this team can hit, they can pitch and they’ve got the experience factor they were missing in past years.

The Twins still have offensive firepower, even if it’s taken a step back from last year. Nelson Cruz has defied aging with a fantastic season as a strict DH at age 39, Byron Buxton has finally started to hit some of his potential and is the team leader in WAR, and Josh Donaldson, Miguel Sanó, Eddie Rosario and Max Kepler have the power to change a game. However, these players have been streaky this season, and as a result Minnesota is just 17th in runs scored. Still, in a three-game series, particularly if it’s at Yankee Stadium, they have the ability to pop a few dingers.

Where the Twins have really improved is on the mound. They have the third-best team ERA (3.51) and WHIP (1.19) in all of baseball, and are seventh in opponents’ batting average and team strikeouts. They’ve also allowed the fewest home runs (57) in the league, and they get it done with both the starters and the bullpen.

The Twins’ rotation is led by a resurgent season from Kenta Maeda, who is pitching better at age 32 than he ever has before. He’s leading the league in WHIP and hits per nine innings. Jose Berrios is a solid option, and Rich Hill, Homer Bailey and Michael Pineda are veteran options. Jake Odorizzi could be an x-factor; he’s currently on the IL with a blister and has struggled around injuries this year, but has plenty of experience facing the Yankees.

The Twins’ improved bullpen has really taken them to the next level — they don’t blow leads often anymore. No team has more holds than the Twins, and only eight teams have fewer blown saves. Minnesota’s bullpen is third in both K/9 and BB/9, so they don’t mess around. Taylor Rogers, their closer, is actually having a bit of a down year, but the rest of the bullpen has been excellent. Sergio Romo and Tyler Clippard have been solid despite an average age of 36, and a trio of former starters — Tyler Duffey, Matt Wisler and Trevor May — have found new life as relief arms. Manager Rocco Baldelli certainly has a lot of options at his disposal.

The Twins’ pitching is what could separate them against the Yankees this year. There won’t be Carl Pavano and Nick Blackburn starting playoff games, and this time, the team can hit, too. The Yankees’ offense is currently at full strength, and it’s a good thing, because the Twins’ pitching staff is vastly deeper than the one they swept last year. It’s fair to note that the Twins have only faced the AL and NL Central divisions this year, which are quite possibly the two weakest divisions in baseball. They haven’t faced a lineup like the one the Yankees will boast yet this season, which could be a rude awakening for them in the playoffs.

As fun as it is to have the Yankees’ dominant playoff history over the Twins, it doesn’t mean anything on the field in 2020. A three-game series vs. Minnesota wouldn’t be easy, but it’s one the Yankees could certainly win. Home field advantage is important even without fans for both these teams, who are far better at home than on the road. A shortened series all comes down to getting off to a good start, and the Yankees have Gerrit Cole, which is a weapon that no other playoff team has. The Yankees should be the prohibitive favorites over the Twins right now in a potential series, but not without a few stressful innings.