Let’s cheat a little and look ahead to October. That’s what all the attention on September is about, after all — getting to the playoffs. And whether or not the Twins are able to hold off Cleveland, they are still all but assured of playing at least one postseason game, as they did in 2017.
Fangraphs.com’s playoff odds appraiser, for instance, calculates that the Twins have a 99% chance of at least qualifying for a wild-card spot. They entered Saturday four games ahead of Oakland, which currently owns the final playoff berth, and five games ahead of a Tampa Bay, the first team out that would have to catch Minnesota in order to deny it playoff entry. Neither has any games remaining with the Twins, making each chase doubly difficult.
If a collapse occurs and the wild-card berth becomes the Twins’ safety net, those races will become all-encompassing. Until then, however, Twins fans might want to focus on a different race: the maneuvering for the American League’s top seed.
The Astros and Yankees have been jockeying for the league’s best record nearly the entire season, and it remains tight. The winner is assured of home-field advantage throughout the American League playoffs. More relevant to the Twins: The top seed also faces the wild-card winner in the first round, leaving the Central champion, in all probability, to face the No. 2 seed.
Which foe would the Twins face? History says anyone but the Yankees. The Twins have never played Houston in the postseason, but they have an ugly history in Yankee Stadium. They faced New York in their past three playoff appearances (2009, 2010 and 2017) and were eliminated without winning a game. In franchise history, they have played New York in four playoff series and a wild-card game, all since 2003, lost them all with a 2-13 record, and are on a 10-game losing streak.
Add to that a 35-87 regular-season record since 2002 — the Twins haven’t won the season series in 18 years — and New York’s 4-2 edge this season, and it would make sense for the Twins to want nothing to do with their longtime tormentors.
And yet. The Astros, World Series champions just two years ago, have allowed almost 100 fewer runs than the Yankees and will line up Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole and Zack Greinke, none of whom owns an ERA over 3.00. Even their bullpen has performed better than New York’s expensive relief corps.
The Yankees would likely pitch Domingo German, Masahiro Tanaka and J.A. Happ, and while they are accomplished pitchers, it’s not the same test. A playoff series with the Yankees would likely evolve into a home run duel, which better suits the Twins.
Take on the aces, or duke it out with the Bombers? Either way, a playoff run would cap off one of the most memorable seasons in Twins history.