The Twins went into New Yankee Stadium late last month and were outscored 18-6 in being swept in three games. This served as reason to provide a reminder of just how poorly the Twins have fared in the Bronx both in the regular season and playoffs.
The Yankees are 89-33 against the Twins since the start of 2002, including winning 45 of 59 games at home. The Twins have been eliminated by New York in four of their past five playoff appearances, compiling a 2-12 record in losing in the Division Series in 2003, 2004, 2009 and 2010. Minnesota’s playoff losing streak is at four games in New York and the Yankees swept the series’ in 2009 and 2010.
All of this could cause one to wonder why the Twins bothered heading east for the American League wild card playoff game on Tuesday. Only you get the feeling these Twins aren’t going to be intimidated or nervous for this game.
It goes beyond the Twins having zero pressure on them and all the expectations being on the home team. That helps but these Twins seem to relish the fact that everyone thinks their season will be over when the sun rises on Wednesday.
Righthander Ervin Santana, who will face Yankees righty Luis Severino on Tuesday, has started two playoff games and appeared in eight in his career. He is 2-2 with a 5.56 earned-run average. Santana also is 0-5 with a 6.43 ERA in six starts at New Yankee Stadium.
Lacking confidence, Erv?
“How many games do I pitch here?” Santana asked during Monday’s press conference. “And how many wins?”
Informed the answer is zero, Santana said: “So tomorrow is going to be one.”
This came one day after manager Paul Molitor, who still doesn’t know if he’s going to be back in 2018, addressed the crowd at Target Field by saying, “Let’s have a great day today, and we’ll see you next Sunday.”
Next Sunday would mark Game 3 of the AL Division Series against Cleveland and, of course, for the Twins to get to that point that means they would have had to knock off the Yankees.
There are plenty of reasons why that might seem improbable, but what you have to remember is that the Twins don’t need to beat New York in a five- or seven game series. They only have to steal one game to advance and this is the type of collection that could do it. FanGraphs gives the Twins a 42.3 percent chance of winning the game.
Sure, the Twins had trouble beating better competition this season — and winning Tuesday isn’t going to be easy — but one good outing from Santana, a few big hits from Brian Dozier, Jorge Polanco, Joe Mauer and Eddie Rosario and the New Yankee Stadium could become a very quiet place on Tuesday.
In many ways, the Twins’ confidence right now reminds me of how the 2003 Wild acted before facing heavy-favorite Colorado in the opening round of the playoffs. I gave the Wild no chance, the players clearly felt differently and that group made a run all the way to the Western Conference finals.
So what about what happened to the Twins in September in New York? Actually, playing in Yankee Stadium a few weeks back might have helped this collection. There is nothing more cliché than talking about the current version of Yankee Stadium as if it’s a special place. Nearly everyone who has been there has considered it to be an antiseptic and corporate environment that lacks the character of many new ballparks.
Byron Buxton, Max Kepler, Rosario, Polanco and others are going to have to beat Severino and Aaron Judge, but just because this stadium contains a new version of Monument Park doesn’t mean the ghosts of Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio and Mantle have moved across the street.
If anything, the Twins’ three games in New Yankee Stadium should have demystified the place.
As for the Twins’ 12-game playoff losing streak in the Bronx, that’s a skid that belongs to a group of players who are gone, save for Mauer. The Twins’ lack of playoff success against the Yankees was something that manager Ron Gardenhire and Co., allowed to become an issue to the point where it was clearly in their heads.
Oh no, here come the Yankees!
Molitor seems to be the anti-Gardenhire in that sense, far more like Tom Kelly from a personality standpoint. Molitor is the calm, cool and collected type. He isn’t going to get so worked up about facing the Yankees that it causes his players to become tense.
That’s assuming these players are capable of getting tense about losses with which they had nothing to do. When the Yankees swept the Twins out of the playoffs in 2010, Buxton was 16 years old; Kepler was 17; Rosario was 19; and Polanco was 17.
What Molitor is likely to do is remind his players that coming off a franchise-record 103 losses in 2016 no one expected this collection to be at Yankee Stadium for a one-game playoff. He also can add that there have been countless occasions, going back to May, when almost everyone thought the Twins would just quietly go away and each time they surprised.
So is one more surprise in store?
Don’t be shocked if that’s the case.