By Paul West
Going into tonight’s American League Wild Card game, the New York Yankees are the clear favorites against the Minnesota Twins. They’re healthier than they’ve been in a while, their offense has begun to click again, and in his last start, Masahiro Tanaka struck out a career high 15 batters. But there are a few reasons this game could be more interesting than many seem to think.
Twins playing with house money
If ever a team exemplified the term, ‘playing with house money,’ it’s the Twins. At one point 49-49 and considered a long shot at best to make the playoffs, they get to play the ‘nobody even expected us to be here’ card, and they’re rather justified in so doing. Another angle to this narrative is the fact that they’ve already made history: the 2017 Twins are the first team in MLB history to make the postseason the year after losing 100 games.
The short porch giveth, and the short porch taketh away
One way the Twins played themselves into the postseason is with explosive offense. They led the majors in runs scored after the All Star Break with 412, and with long ball threats up and down the lineup, they can score in bunches. Powersecond baseman Brian Dozier leads off a lineup that’s put up a lot of crooked numbers since mid-summer. If Luis Severino doesn’t keep the ball down, look out.
The Twins’ running game
Another factor that makes the Twins explosive is their aggressive–and efficient–base running. Byron Buxton headlines a team with a lot of speed, which could put a lot of pressure on catcher Gary Sanchez. For all his run-producing potential, Sanchez struggles both with passed balls and controlling opposing base runners; if Buxton, or Eddie Rosario and company can get on base, this could be a real problem for the Yankees.
Severino’s pitch count
Speaking of Severino, there’s one clear downside to his tendency to strike out a ton of hitters: his pitch counts are often sky high, early in games. The Yankee bullpen is one of the team’s strengths, but if they have to take action in the fourth pr fifth inning, it will be harder for them to hold serve through the ninth. Moreover, if contact-oriented veteran Joe Mauer can help set a tone of extending at-bats, the Yankees’ ace could have a short outing.
Home field disadvantage?
Believe it or not, home teams are 3-7 in Wild Card games. There’s no single explanation for this, but it lends further credence to the notion that winner-take-all games have a crapshoot aspect.
All things considered, the Yankees still seem likely to be the team which advances. But they absolutely shouldn’t take the Twins for granted.