September 18, 2003
Bring on the...uh oh
Those are the scores from the last five games the Minnesota Twins and Chicago White Sox have played against one another. The most important "score" being 5-0, Minnesota's record in those five games. In the span of nine days, the Twins went from being 2 games behind the White Sox to 3.5 games ahead of Chicago.
I've spent the last few days getting an early start on celebrating Minnesota's 2003 American League Central division championship. I proclaimed the division race over on Wednesday, announced that the nail was in the coffin on Thursday and then watched last night, as the Twins finished the job, burrying the White Sox for good with a three-game sweep.
As soon as the game ended, I went over to ESPN.com, so I could look at their standings page...
W L GB
Minnesota 84 69 ---
Chicago 80 72 3.5
It's a beautiful thing, isn't it?
The White Sox? THEY GONE!
After I finished staring and smiling at the standings for a while, I started checking out the rest of the AL standings. I saw the Yankees 5 games up on the Red Sox and the A's 5 up on the Mariners. And I saw the Red Sox 2.5 games ahead of the Mariners for the Wild Card. Then I noticed something that I guess I just hadn't been paying attention to...
The New York Yankees have the best record in the American League. Not a big shock, I know, but I guess I just hadn't put two and two together in my head yet. The way the playoffs work is that the team with the best record in the league plays the Wild Card team, unless the Wild Card team and the team with the best record are from the same division. New York and Boston both play in the AL East, which means, assuming the Red Sox don't completely collapse in the next week (and we are talking about the Red Sox, so it could happen), they will win the Wild Card and thus the Yankees will then play the division winner with the worst record.
Wanna take a guess as to which lucky team that would be? That's right, the Minnesota Twins. I sort of wish I hadn't figured this out for a few more days. It would have been nice to bask in the glory of the Twins sweeping the White Sox for a little while. Instead, I'll have visions of the Yankees dancing in my head all weekend. And trust me, as any Twins fan can tell you, those are some scary visions.
The Minnesota Twins and New York Yankees played each other seven times this season. The Yankees won all seven games.
In 2002, the Minnesota Twins and New York Yankees played each other six times. The Yankees won all six games.
In fact, in order to find the last time the Twins beat the Yankees, you'd have to go all the way back to May 10th of 2001.
Minnesota's starting pitcher that day was Mark Redman, who is currently 13-9 with a 3.70 ERA...for the Florida Marlins. Latroy Hawkins and Eddie Guardado combined to pitch the 8th and 9th innings, which isn't so strange, until you consider it was Guardado setting up Hawkins, who earned his 11th save of the season with a 1-2-3 bottom of the 9th.
Chuck Knoblauch led off for the Yankees that day and went 0-4 while playing left field. Paul O'Neill, now a Yankees TV announcer, batted third and played right field, while Tino Martinez, currently in his second year with the St. Louis Cardinals, batted 5th and played first base. Scott Brosius, who is now in his second year of retirement, played third base and David Justice, whom I heard announcing a game on ESPN this week, pinch-hit.
The Twins have played 444 games since they last beat the Yankees.
The last two seasons against the Yankees have been so ugly for the Twins that it is something most Twins fans, myself included, have just sort of tried forget about. If you pretend hard enough that it never happened, it starts to feel like the truth after a while, you know?
During their last 13 meetings, the Yankees have outscored the Twins by a total of 90 to 36. New York has beaten Minnesota with pitching, holding them to 3 runs or fewer in 10 of the 13 games, and they've beaten them by simply bashing the hell out of them, scoring 10+ runs in 4 of the 13 games.
One particularly "memorable" game was the 15-1 shellacking the Yankees put on the Twins earlier this season at the Metrodome. The game was ESPN's nationally televised afternoon game back on April 21st and it was one of the most depressing two hours and 41 minutes of my entire life. The Yanks scored 3 runs in the 3rd inning, 4 more in both the 4th and 5th, and then one more in the 7th. The Twins had the nerve to score once in the bottom of the 8th, which pissed the Yankees off so much that they scored 3 more in the 9th. Rick Reed gave up 11 runs in 4.1 innings and the Yankees totaled 14 hits, 8 walks and 4 homers, along with their 15 runs.
I think if you polled every Twins fan right now and asked them to name the one team they didn't want to play in the playoffs, the vote would be pretty damn close to unanimous for the Yankees. The Twins would be getting set to play the Oakland A's in the first-round, if only MLB would let the Yankees play the Wild Card team, regardless of divisions. Not only did the Twins beat Oakland in the first-round of the playoffs last year, they also won 8 out of the 9 games between the two teams this season.
Of course, there is a little good news for the Twins in all of this. For one thing, this is quite obviously not the same Twins team that it was early in the year, when they were destroyed by the Yankees. At 40-20, the Twins have the best record in the American League since the All-Star break and they just finished off a sweep of the White Sox for their 13th win in their last 16 games. For another thing, several of the players who played a big role in the losses to the Yankees this season are either no longer on the roster at all, or are no longer filling the same role.
Of the 7 losses to New York this season, Joe Mays and Rick Reed started and lost 4 of those games. Mays was absolutely horrible this season (6.30 ERA) and is now out for the rest of this year and most likely all of next season with an elbow injury. Rick Reed was only slightly better than Mays (5.14 ERA), has been demoted to the bullpen, and hopefully won't see the light of day in the playoffs.
But not only is this a different Twins team than it was back in April, with several key changes in personnel, it is also quite clearly a different Yankees team. The Yankees started this season on fire and after their final game of the year against the Twins, they stood at 16-3. They looked damn near unstoppable, no matter who they played. They hit .298/.388/.516 as a team during the first month of the season, smacking 47 homers and 56 doubles in 26 games. Since the All-Star game however, they are "just" 37-22, 2.5 games worse than the Twins.
I will obviously have a whole lot more to say about the potential New York/Minnesota series (as well as all the other playoff matchups) in the upcoming days and weeks, but while the Twins are beating up on the Tigers to make their division title official during the next week and a half, just keep their almost certain playoff opponent in the back of your mind.
Of course, recent history has shown that the mighty Yankees are certainly not unbeatable. All the Twins need is to stay as hot as they've been in the second-half, forget about what happened earlier this season (and last season) and then get a few breaks and a little luck to go their way. Having a few Rally Monkeys on their side wouldn't hurt either.
Arizona (Johnson) -190 over Milwaukee (Davis)
Total to date: + 2,860
W/L record: 238-236 (1-0 yesterday for +175.)
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