The Twins have lost 13 consecutive playoff games over the past 15 years. They haven’t won a playoff series since 2002, when they defeated the Athletics in five games in the Division Series before losing in the American League Championship Series to the eventual World Series champion Angels.
This year’s amazing run to the team’s seventh AL Central title and 13th postseason appearance has set up the Twins to face a familiar foe in playoffs next week in the Yankees.
The Twins have reached the playoffs seven times since that 2002 season; assuming one more Houston victory or one more New York loss, six of those times will have been against the Yankees. New York is 13-2 in the postseason vs. the Twins, winning the past 10 meetings, most recently 8-4 in the 2017 AL wild-card game.
But this year the teams do seem to be more equal. With their 10-4 victory at Detroit on Thursday, the Twins overtook the Yankees for the AL lead in runs scored with 925; the Yankees have 924. The Twins also took the lead in the race for the season home run record by hitting two homers Thursday, giving them 301 on the season; the Yankees have 299.
On the pitching side, the Twins have the fifth-best ERA in the AL at 4.19 while the Yankees rank sixth at 4.27. Incidentally, the Twins starters’ and relievers’ ERA is almost identical, 4.19 to 4.18. Yankees starters have a 4.49 ERA but their relievers are at 3.99.
That the Yankees have done anything this year is remarkable given how many injuries they have dealt with. They have set the MLB record with 30 players going on the injured list, missing 2,578 days this season. And while people thought the Twins really had injuries, they were nowhere close to that number as they had 19 players hit the injured list, missing 623 days.
The Yankees beat the Twins four times in six meetings this year, but the scoring was fairly even as the Twins scored 38 runs to New York’s 43. All four Twins losses were by three runs or fewer, including the 14-12, 10-inning loss on July 23 that might have been MLB’s game of the year.
What’s amazing is that for the big drought that the Twins went through in not winning the division since 2009, the Yankees had similar troubles — they last won the AL East in 2012.
The good news for most of these Twins players is that most of the history that the club has against the Yankees has little to do with them. But there’s no doubt that starting the series with two games in New York next weekend will be a big challenge.
Williamson’s big role
Chris Williamson was one of the biggest recruits to land with the Gophers under P.J. Fleck, who got the former Florida cornerback to transfer here in 2017.
Last season Williamson finished with 34 tackles and an interception over 11 games. But Fleck said this year is night and day compared to that campaign, and he has been extremely impressed not only with the senior’s play, but his leadership.
Williamson ranks fourth on the team in tackles with 13, and he has a sack, an interception and two passes broken up in three contests. He has helped the Gophers rank 26th in the nation in pass defense, giving up only 185.3 yards per game.
Originally from the Atlanta area, Williamson was one of the most highly recruited defensive backs in the country in the Class of 2015. He committed to Florida over offers from Michigan, Notre Dame and Georgia, among others.
“I went to Florida my freshman and sophomore year and then I decided it was time for me to go,” he recalled. “When I was looking at transferring, my old DB coach, coach Mo [Maurice Linguist, now at Texas A&M], he was here at the time and he recruited me out of high school and also recruited my brother [Kendall Williamson, a sophomore strong safety at Stanford] out of high school.
“We had a connection. He knows my family real well. It was partially because of him, but I got to learn about Coach Fleck and I just fell in love with that. I knew he was going to win. I trusted what he was going to do with this program here, and it made the transition easy for me.”
It’s worth noting the Gophers have 12 players from the state of Georgia on the roster. “We are all very close and we all kind of look out for each other,” he said. “We call it the Red Clay, that’s what we call the dirt down there. We take a lot of pride being from Georgia. Not a lot of guys here are familiar with that area, so we inform each other. But we take a lot of pride in being from the state of Georgia and it means a lot to us. We wear that proudly up here.”
One unique part of Williamson’s career is that he has a mentor in Ray Buchanan, who played cornerback in the NFL from 1993 to 2004, including from 1997 to 2003 with the Falcons, and was a two-time All-Pro.
“I was going to one of the gyms I work out at going into my freshman year,” Williamson said. “He saw my mom, my mom saw him, and he said, ‘Is that your son? He looks fast.’ They got to chatting it up and next thing I know — I knew who Ray Buchanan was but I had never seen him face-to-face, so that’s how that relationship started.
“He has been more like a second father to me. He has had a huge impact on my life, not only as a man but as a football player, as well. He’s really helped me up my game to a new level and I am forever thankful for that. We talk probably before every game. He is giving me advice, things to look out for, he has had a huge impact on me.”
Practice to perfect
One way that Williamson has found to improve is by going up against Gophers receivers such as Rashod Bateman, Tyler Johnson, Chris Autman-Bell and Demetrius Douglas.
“Man during fall camp and during practice, we don’t like each other,” Williamson said. “The DBs don’t like the wide receivers and vice versa. But I mean, it’s fun. It’s good competition. It only makes us better. We like to think we have the best receiving corps in the Big Ten and for us as a DB unit knowing that, it only makes us better. We have to bring our ‘A’ game each and every day.”
Williamson said he takes his role as the only senior in the secondary very seriously.
“I try and bring as much knowledge as I can,” he said. “I’ve learned a lot over my time, whether it be at Florida or here. I try to bring that knowledge to these guys. I try to inform them on how to be better themselves and how to improve their game and stuff like that. Being a senior has led me to being a leader, I can say that.”