October is About the Present, Not the Past

The Yankees and Twins enter another crapshoot

By Josh Alper
|  Monday, Oct 4, 2010  |  Updated 9:00 AM EDT
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October is About the Present, Not the Past

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Before we get into any kind of analysis of what kind of chances the Yankees have this postseason, let's stop for a second and appreciate what the team has done just to get to this point in the season.

If you were told before the season that Nick Johnson would never be a factor and that Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira would all turn in disappointing campaings, it is highly unlikely that you'd say the Yankees were going to survive the gauntlet that is the American League East to make the postseason. If you added the dual flameouts by A.J. Burnett and Javier Vazquez to the equation, you'd be laughing at the notion that this Yankee team would wind up with a shot at repeating. And, just for giggles, we'd tell you that Andy Pettitte would miss a big chunk of time with a groin injury and that Mariano Rivera showed a few more chinks than usual in his steely facade. That Yankee team isn't one that you'd be backing with too much gusto. 

Yet it is a Yankee team that still won 95 games and battled for the division crown until the final day of the season. That's a mighty fine thing to remember when everyone is drumming home the fact that the Yankees closed the season 13-17 and therefore can't possibly be taken seriously as a contender in October. 

Of course, those people are less likely to point out that the Twins went 6-10 over their final 16 games. They may have had the Central sewn up, but a few more wins would have secured home field advantage for the AL's best home team through the ALCS. Both of these teams limped to the finish but one of them is going to have to win.

Recent records are going to be just one fact thrown around with authority in the next few days. You'll also hear that the Yankees own the Twins by virtue of their three playoff series wins against them and a 17-6 regular season record over the last three years. That will be countered by someone pointing out that the Yankees have lost all three times they've been a Wild Card team and counter-countered by someone else making reference to the successful history of Wild Card teams in the postseason.

If all of that leaves you feeling bewildered, you're in good company. The one and only thing that can be taken as a sure thing when it comes to best-of-five playoffs is that they defy easy analytics. One bad start or one baserunning blunder, to name two things about as easy to predict as the shape of a snowflake, can drastically change the face of a series and move the underdog forward to the next round. History tells you very little about the future in a game that is almost totally reliant on the next day's starting pitcher.

You didn't come here for philosophical musings on the chaotic nature of baseball, though, so we'll leave you with one thought about past performances that should actually impact this series. Twins manager Ron Gardenhire has a history of making things overly complex by overusing small ball tactics, something that plays much better over the course of a 162-game season than it does in a short series against a quality opponent. That hasn't worked for him in the past and if you're looking for an edge between two well-matched sides it might just be Gardenhire's affinity for costing his team chances at many runs by going out of his way to play for just one of them.

We'll have much more on this series in the days to come. Take a moment to just savor the start of another postseason, however, because there will be plenty of time to fret over the games before they actually get underway.

Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City and is a contributor to FanHouse.com and ProFootballTalk.com in addition to his duties for NBCNewYork.com. You can follow him on Twitter.

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