Not much has been decided in the Amercian League yet this year -- other than the fact that Jim Thome couldn't have been more awesome this season so far if he tried -- but already we're starting to hear the nagging lament from Twins fans: Wouldn't it stink to play so well and get home field advantage in the ALDS, only to have the Yankees win the Wild Card and have to play them?
As of now, the Twins are 6 games up heading into Tuesday's showdown in Chicago. Even winning just one of three games there would put the Twins in prime position to close this thing out, but let's not talk about that as a certainty yet. The Yankees, meanwhile, are only half a game up on Tampa Bay in the AL East. Because of baseball's rather silly rule that the wild card team cannot face a team from its division in the division series, the Twins as of now are on a collision course with either the Yankees or Rays if Minnesota is able to win the AL Central.
For a while, we even bought into the lament about possibly having to face the Yankees. But we're done with it. And here's why:
*If you fancy yourself a World Series contender, as the Twins do, you are going to have to beat good teams. It's just a fact of life. If the Yankees could be considered the best team in baseball -- they still have the best record, as of now, and their payroll, roster and history speak for themselves -- would you rather face the Yankees: In the ALDS as the Wild Card, in a five-game series with three at Target Field? Or in the ALCS, in a seven-game series, with four games at Yankee Stadium? (That's assuming the Yankees, two games up right now on the Twins, finish with a better record).
Sure, the short view might be that it would be easier to face Tampa Bay (though the Rays are no slouches, either) in the first round and hope the Yankees get knocked out by Texas. But that's a lot of wishful thinking. And scared thinking.
*This is not the little-Twins-that-could (but probably wouldn't) team of yesteryear. You know, the small payroll team that has lost 16 of its past 18 playoff games. These Twins have a payroll of over $100 million now. This team looked on paper at the start of the season like a bona fide contender not just for the division but to win it all. Teams like this shouldn't fear anyone. Not even the Yankees.
*If these races continue as they have been going -- and again, that's an if. Nothing is in cement yet -- the Twins would be in a good position to set their postseason rotation and rest players over the final few days of the regular season. Either of their potential first-round opponents (Yanks or Rays) might not have that luxury, just as the Twins didn't a year ago.
It adds up to a different mindset. You can go ahead and worry about different facets of the Twins' arsenal that might become issues in the postseason. But don't worry about the opponent. Regardless of who it is, these Twins are poised to head into the playoffs with their best chance to win it all during the Ron Gardenhire Era.