Groundhog Day in Minneapolis

Minnesota Loses 5-1 to New York

Sports fans tend to have an inferiority complex. You can see it in the lexicon: East Coast bias, curses of billy goats and Bambinos, jinxes, stadiums where we just never win, bad umpires, scheduling conspiracies, unfair rules, pithy charges of Southern Exceptionalism. The NFL now reviews plays for pass interference, mostly because a bunch of Louisianans rioted after a bad call in a big moment. Speaking of replay, I’d wager that we’ll be stuck with the tedious and disruptive system we’ve got now for a good long while: Not because it’s necessarily the best way to do things, but because such a setup seems like the most effective bulwark against those stinkin’ umps who just have it out for (insert team here).

These inferiority complexes are silly, of course. They are the whiny and simplistic dimension of the fanhood experiences that nobody else cares to hear about, alongside stories about your fantasy team and the time you got a great deal on tickets at the last minute. It reflects poorly on just about everyone.

I’ll grant a temporary exception for fans of the Minnesota Twins.

It has now been 15 years and three days since the Twins won a playoff game. That evening, Johan Santana started at the Stadium. Minnesota wore gray pinstripes and hats with an ‘M’ above the brim. Jacque Jones hit a two-run homer to account for the only scoring. Hall of Famers Mike Mussina and Mariano Rivera pitched for the Yanks; John Olerud played first base. Somehow, MLB managed to run a playoff game in less than three hours. It was a different time.

By this point, it seems callous to run the numbers again, so we’ll be quick. The Twins have lost 16 playoff games in a row. That’s five divisional exits, four at the hands of the Yankees, with a Wild Card game defeat to the Bombers mixed in for good measure. There’s nothing magical or predictive about this little run. There isn’t any thread between the Corey KoskieTorii Hunter Twins and the ballclub that lost last night; they don’t even share a home stadium.

The Twins have usually been underdogs in these games, though only slightly so. The Orioles were far bigger long shots in every matchup they had against New York this year and last, and even that feeble and overmatched club managed to win a quarter of those games. For Minnesota, the streak is undoubtedly frustrating. It’s a narrative that has fed on itself for at least a decade now. It sucks and it’s a shocking confluence of events, but that’s all there really is to say about it from an analytical perspective.

If there’s a more specific regret this year, it’s that the Twins never really acquitted themselves this series. Last night’s 5-1 contest was the only game that could pass as close, and while Minnesota threatened often, the tension present in the moment is slightly undercut by a steady-handed WPA graph.

At least the Twins beat out a few hits last night. Forgotten under the barrage of homers they unleashed on the league in 2019, the Twins were pretty good at clogging the bases too: They were second in the circuit in batting average, third in doubles, fourth in OBP. They had 13 baserunners in this one.

Unfortunately, the Twins couldn’t sequence their events properly. Of those nine hits, they never got more than two in an inning, and but for Eddie Rosario’s homer, didn’t get a man to third after the second inning. Rosario’s dinger, like the other three Minnesota hit this series, was a solo shot. The new saying is that there are no clutch hitters, only clutch hits. The Twins simply didn’t get any of them.

New York Beats Minnesota 5-1

For Minnesota and the neutrals, the outcome of this series may have felt inevitable as soon as the clubs clinched their respective playoff berths. For the Yankees, this matchup was a tense proposition, a tripwire and, until tonight, a potential reminder that nothing can be taken for granted in October.

Notably, New York executed its pitching game plan again. As was the case in the Bronx, Aaron Boone was able to coax his starter through just about half the game before turning things over to a dominant bullpen.

It’s been all about the middle infielders this series, and that continued Monday night. Gleyber Torres had three hits and the homer that opened the scoring, while Didi Gregorius chipped in two more singles, driving in two runs including the final insurance tally in the ninth. Each also made a sterling defensive play. Torres ranged well to his left in a deep shift to rob Rosario of a hit and probably an RBI in the fifth:

Gregorius, meanwhile, extinguished Minnesota’s hopes just as things started cooking in the ninth. It’s always nice to have a shortstop who can range to his left like this:

There are a few concerns for New York going forward. Luis Severino, very effective in limited duty down the stretch, had a mixed bag of a start. On the one hand, he threw four scoreless innings, striking out four. He’s throwing as hard as ever, and was able to bear down and escape a hairy bases-loaded, no-outs jam in the second without surrendering a run. On the other, he had to labor through his four innings, tossing more than 80 pitches. He also didn’t miss many bats with either his change or his slider. Relative to his last couple of seasons, his whiff rate with both offerings was down in September too — again, in a very limited sample — and that bears watching going forward.

Zack Britton may have also picked up a knock. He seemed to injure his ankle covering first base on a grounder that ended the seventh, and he left the game with the trainer after retiring Mitch Garver in the eighth. In between, Rosario took him deep — the only time a lefty has homered off Britton all season. While the Yankees are better positioned than most to lose a top reliever, Boone will undoubtedly be crossing his fingers here: Yordan Alvarez and Michael Brantley loom large.

It was also another shaky day for Adam Ottavino. The right-hander was nails all season until the final three weeks of September, when he allowed four walks and five runs in his last seven appearances. As happened in Game 1 of this series, Ottavino was summoned to face Nelson Cruz in a tight spot, and subsequently removed after conceding a walk. He appeared in Game 2 as well, but only after New York was already comfortably ahead 8-1. His usage will be something to watch going forward. For now, he appears to be on a tight leash.

Ultimately, this was a relatively comfortable win for the Yankees and a straightforward series overall. As the only team to sweep their opponent in the divisional round, they will get a few days to rest up and hopefully get everyone healthy for the ALCS. They await the winner of Houston and Tampa Bay, presumably hoping for the Rays, and if not that, then perhaps a couple of 15-inning games in the meantime.

We hoped you liked reading Groundhog Day in Minneapolis by Brendan Gawlowski!

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London Yank
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London Yank

Well this Yankees fan is hoping for the Rays if only for the (slightly) earlier East Coast start times. Last night’s game began at 1:40AM for me.