The Yankees’ season can end in as little as three or as many as five games, and standing in their way is the Minnesota Twins. These two teams do a lot of the same things: they hit a wild amount of home runs, they’re susceptible to strikeouts, and they have power pitching. There are a few key areas of overlap then, that the Yankees have to decidedly come out on top of in order to win the series.
Let’s start with the bats. The Twins and Yankees both obliterated last year’s team home run record, ending up with 307 and 306 bombs, respectively. All home runs are not equal however. The Twins hit 171 of their home runs as solo shots, compared to 178 of the Yankees. The Twins hit 100 bombs with a man on compared to the Yankees’ 87, while both clubs hit 34 with two runners on. The Yankees will need to reverse this trend in the postseason to get ahead, because both teams figure to continue mashing.
The one area the Bombers did manage to capitalize on was with the bases loaded, where they hit seven grand slams while the Twins hit just two. In general, the Yankees’ hitting with the bases loaded this year has been fantastic, as the team is slashing .361/.390/.609 in 159 plate appearances. In contrast the Twins have struggled, going just .217/.231/.348 in 138 PA. Being able to convert in opportunities like these can heavily swing things in the Yankees’ favor.
The Twins’ starters are another turning point for the series, and one the Yankees will have to attack early. Minnesota’s bullpen, while not as deep as New York’s, features several strong pieces that can make life difficult for the Bombers. Most importantly, Trevor May is the only Twins relievers to allow 20 or more walks this season, meaning that as the game gets later there will be less opportunities for the Yankees to get baserunners to threaten those multi-run bombs. The starting rotation, however, features three pitchers with a BB/9 ratio of three or more, and ace Jose Berrios only has a 2.3 ratio. Earning some free passes off of the starters can open the door for the bats to do damage, and put the Yankees ahead for good.
Conversely, the Yankees have to be aggressive with pulling their starters. One bad break is enough for the Twins to put up a crooked number in any inning, and for starters like Paxton and Tanaka one inning is often enough to destroy their outing. The Yankees have the deeper ‘pen to rely on, and they have arms like Adam Ottavino or Chad Green that could be asked to go beyond one inning of work if need be. J.A Happ will be waiting in the wings to soak up a couple innings as a bridge, but if there’s a spot in the third or fourth inning where the game could be on the line Aaron Boone needs to be ready to make the call and go to one of his big four relievers.
As long as the Yankees hit on some of these areas, they should ultimately win the series. They are, after all, the higher seed and stronger team on paper. The postseason is chaotic though, so every advantage they can find will be critical.