Five Keys: Yankees vs. Twins
If the Yankees didn't officially punt a chance at a second straight AL East title in order to ensure an ALDS matchup against the Twins, as opposed to the Rangers, it was rather clear as the regular season drew to a close that they didn't mind very much if that was how things played out. In the Yankees' four games after they clinched a postseason berth on Sept. 28, even though they then trailed the Rays by just a half-game, manager
New York, predictably, went 1-3 in those games, and now instead of hosting Texas (against whom they went 4-4 this season, and by whom they were swept in a mid-September three-game set) it will be in Minnesota to open what it hopes will be another extended playoff run. The Yankees have won 14 of 16 games against the Twins since the start of 2009, including a quick and relatively stress-free 3-0 sweep in last year's ALDS. This iteration of the Twins -- which had an AL-best 48-26 record after the All-Star break -- is more formidable that was last season's, however, and this ALDS redux won't be nearly as one-sided.
Not for the Twins -- even though a loss would mean that they'd immediately relinquish their home-field advantage -- but for the Yankees. Last October,
Hughes made the All-Star Game after a first half in which he went 11-2 with a 3.65 ERA, but as his innings mounted -- to 176 1/3, 90 1/3 more than he threw in '09, when he was primarily a reliever -- his performance declined. His second-half ERA was 4.90, and his strikeout rate fell from 8.1 per nine innings to 6.6/9. The Yankees desperately tried to limit his workload (his last seven-inning start came on July 9), and they'll have to hope he's refreshed, as Sabathia will receive a maximum of two starts, and two wins won't be enough for the Yankees.
The Yankees did what the Yankees do at the trade deadline, exploiting their unmatched financial resources to add, among others,
Morneau, the 2006 AL MVP and four-time All-Star, has in recent years feasted on Yankees pitching (he hit .346 with a 1.221 OPS against New York in 2009, and .350 with a 1.017 OPS in '10), but injury -- this time, a concussion -- will keep him on the bench for his second straight postseason. His absence was deeply felt last October, when the Twins scored just six runs and mustered a putrid .638 OPS in the ALDS, but it might be less so this time thanks, in large measure, to the long-awaited emergence of 25-year-old left fielder
Young, the first overall pick in the 2003 draft, ranked fifth in the AL with 112 RBIs, and was hitting .300 as late as Oct. 1 (he finished at .298). Just as important is that he now appears to possess the wherewithal to pick up the slack against left-handers like Sabathia and Pettitte left by Mauer, Kubel and Thome, as his .927 OPS against southpaws was the AL's eighth-best. (He is, for the record, a .579 career hitter -- in 19 at-bats -- against Pettitte). Morneau will still be mourned, but Young's maturation should position the Twins' offense to put up a better fight.
The Twins finished their inaugural season in Target Field with the best home record in the American League, at 53-28, and now, without the protection of the Metrodome's bulbous roof, the elements should start to come into play. It is, after all, October, and it is, after all, Minnesota. Diving temperatures (lows of 45 degrees are predicted for both Games 1 and 2) could sap some of the power out of even the Yankees' bats, which produced an MLB-high 859 runs -- more than 55 percent of which, it should be noted, were scored at home. Of course, it was also chilly during last year's World Series (47 degrees, for instance, during Game Six), which stretched into November in New York and Philadelphia, and