At the risk of making too much out of geography and scheduling symmetry, I’d nevertheless like to say this: the two highest-profile teams in Minnesota have a defining weekend coming up in New York.
It doesn’t feel like a stretch because taken separately, I feel the same way about both the Twins and the Vikings. It’s particularly convenient that their combined Friday-Saturday-Sunday schedule happens in roughly the same place.
The more important one, obviously, is the Twins. Their five-game American League Division Series starts Friday at Yankee Stadium.
The Twins feel like they’re at the beginning of a stretch that could see them reach the playoffs a bunch of times in the next half-decade, so whatever happens in this series can be viewed through that lens.
And of course the Twins will point out that the players on this year’s roster weren’t around for almost all of the team’s nightmarish recent playoff history.
But it will be a huge disappointment if this series against the Yankees isn’t a series. And if the Twins want to have a legitimate chance of winning this series, and at a minimum competing in this series, they need to win at least one game at Yankee Stadium this weekend.
Clearing the low bar that is — at least — winning one playoff game is something they haven’t done in their last 13 tries dating back to 2004. Ten of those losses have come to the Yankees.
That last win was Game 1 of the ALDS in (the old) Yankee Stadium, and I was there as part of the Star Tribune’s coverage team. Johan Santana threw seven shutout innings. Jacque Jones homered. The Twins won 2-0 and had a great chance to win the next night before losing 7-6 in 12 innings to start the losing streak. I was 27 years old, unmarried with no kids, and eating 15 tacos had never even occurred to me. That’s a long time ago.
Like all such streaks and “curses,” that matters until it doesn’t — a wisdom espoused by Twins relief pitcher Trevor May and relayed by our Phil Miller on the latest Twins Insider podcast.
History can feel like a weight, even when it only amounts to carrying someone else’s burdens. A competitive series against the Yankees, starting with at least a split of the first two games, would begin to change the old narrative.
The Vikings face a more interesting test — less urgent in the big-picture, but perhaps more urgent than the amount of schedule in front of them might indicate.
They’re 2-2, coming off another disappointing loss to the Bears in which the offense failed to do much of anything until very late.
It’s already been an interesting — passive-aggressive Minnesota aunt “interesting” — few days since then, with Kirk Cousins apologizing to receiver Adam Thielen for missed connections while Stefon Diggs missed practice Wednesday under unclear, non-injury circumstances.
The Giants are likewise 2-2 and have a poor pass defense. This is a game on paper the Vikings should win. They’re 5.5-point betting favorites on the road. FiveThirtyEight uses a different formula and has the Vikings with a 2.5-point edge. Combine that with basically toss-up games (per FiveThirtyEight and the eye test) the next two weeks against Philadelphia (home) and Detroit (road) and this game against the Giants becomes extra important.
If Cousins struggles again and the Vikings lose, the scrutiny will only intensify; Peter King had an interesting nugget in his FMIA column this week: “Kirk Cousins’ world is crumbling. Twenty games into what is very likely to be a three-year Vikings career—and might even be two—it’s clear he’s losing the confidence of the locker room.”
Might even be two? On this week’s Access Vikings podcast we tried to figure out exactly what that would look like given Cousins has a guaranteed three-year deal and the cap hit in the third year is $31 million, but even the fact that we’re talking about it shows us that just 20 games into his tenure we’re at a crossroads of sorts.
It’s not as bad as, say, 2013. But in a little extra bit of serendipity, this is the first Vikings road game against the Giants since that Monday night game in which Josh Freeman started his one and only game for Minnesota (a game so bad, let me remind you, that it prompted an oral history of watching it).
A Vikings win in which Cousins plays well would beat back the skeptics, at least temporarily, and serve as a reminder that the NFL season is quite long even at 16 games.
We’ll get some important answers about the Twins and Vikings this weekend, regardless of whether we like them or not.