Last year the Yankees started their run to a World Series title by rolling over the Twins in three games marked by strong starting pitching, one of the worst blown calls in the history of baseball and the start of Alex Rodriguez's career redefining postseason run.
A lot has happened to both teams in the 12 months since that series took place but they find themselves set to do battle once more for a chance to move on to the ALCS. The only thing we know for certain is that the games won't look exactly like the ones that took place last season. Here are some other thoughts to help guide your viewing over the next few nights, starting with the busting of the biggest myth surrounding this series.
These Aren't the Same Old Twins
Whether it is on the back page of a tabloid or coming out of the mouth of a TBS announcer, you are sure to come across somebody making a big deal about last year's sweep and the Yankees' 17-6 record against the Twins over the last three regular seasons. The Twins and Yankees last played at the end of May, which makes it awfully hard to hold onto those results as particularly illuminating. As for last year's playoffs, there are two significant differences that have to be taken into account. The first is that the Twins now play outside at Target Field, a stadium that's been far less generous to offenses than the Metrodome and a place where the Twins won 53 of the 81 games they played this season.
The other, more significant difference is that this year's Twins team is a far better match for the Yankees offensively. Last year the Yankees had eight players with an OPS+ of 124 or more while the Twins had only four. This year? The Yankees have five regulars who reached 116 and the Twins have four. What's more, every Yankee other than Robinson Cano and Nick Swisher is worse this season which is a further indication that the teams are more closely matched than they were a year ago.
Pitching Pros and Cons
Obviously it won't just up to be Yankee hitters. The Twins pitchers will have a lot to say about the way the series plays out and it is hard to see just how that will go. The Twins pitching staff excels at throwing strikes and changing speeds, a combination that has silenced Yankee bats fairly often this season. They also have two lefty starters and the Yankees haven't beaten one of them in quite some time.
The flip side of that is that Twins pitchers aren't very good at getting outs on their own. Pitching to contact can be a dangerous game against almost any lineup but against one as talented as the Yankees, whatever the above concerns, it could be suicidal. It also puts a lot of pressure on the Twins defense which, in another change from past years, is pretty bad. It is particularly bad on the corners of the infield and outfield, something worth keeping in mind.
Game One Matters, But Not For the Reason You Think
We've heard ad nauseum about how important CC Sabathia is to the Yankees chances this October and about the questions regarding Andy Pettitte and Phil Hughes. We've already told you that those concerns might be a tad overblown, but there's just no way getting around how significant Game One is for the Yankees, however. Over the last six years, the winner of Game One has gone on to win their divisional series 21 of 24 times. A Sabathia win won't make it any more likely that Pettitte or Hughes pitches well, but it will make it a lot more likely that the Yankees wind up winning the series.