This Major League Baseball season features just 60 games, played without fans, with rules seemingly made up on the fly (seven-inning doubleheaders? Sure!) and playoff expansion that includes more than half the teams making it into the postseason.
It is, to be sure, a season like no other. But as the regular season heads toward the finish line in a little more than a week, it is nice to know that in these unprecedent times there are still signs of normalcy to which we can hope to cling.
Namely: If the season ended today, a sentiment that is only 8 games away from being true for the Twins, their first-round playoff opponent would be none other than the Yankees.
It’s amazing how this reality calcified around these two teams so quickly after being far off the radar.
As recently as a week ago, New York was sputtering badly enough to put a berth in this expanded postseason in jeopardy. But the Yankees have since won eight straight (outscoring opponents 71-20 in the process) — putting them at 29-21, enough for ESPN’s standings to list them at a 100% chance to make the playoffs.
As recently as a few days ago, the Twins were flying high after a sweep of Cleveland. The entered a four-game series with the White Sox just a game back of the AL Central lead. But three losses in those four games has left Minnesota three back with eight to play, and Chicago has the tiebreaker as well.
At 31-21, though, the Twins are also 100% locks to make the playoffs per ESPN, even if they haven’t officially clinched a berth.
The Twins are wedged into second place in the division, three games behind Chicago and three ahead of Cleveland. The Yankees are in a similar spot in the AL East – 3.5 behind Tampa Bay, 2.5 ahead of Toronto.
As it stands now, the Twins would be the No. 4 seed as the second place team with the best record. The Yankees would be No. 5, as the second-place team with the second-best record. Houston, the second-place team in the AL West, is just 25-25 and unlikely to catch either of them.
It’s far from certain that things will finish this way, but it would take some rather significant movement over the final handful of games to dislodge the Twins and Yankees from the 4/5 seeds – and a first-round playoff meeting — based on their current position. Perhaps the biggest drama is whether the Yankees will overtake the Twins record-wise and win the right to host that best-of-three opening series in front of their own cardboard cutouts instead of the ones at Target Field (before one lucky team heads to the California bubble).
We all know the postseason history between the teams, but just to recap:
2019: Yankees sweep
2017: Yankees single game wild card win
2010: Yankees sweep
2009: Yankees sweep
2004: Yankees won final three games in a 3-1 series win
2003: Yankees won final three games in a 3-1 series win
That’s Yankees 16, Twins 2 – including 13 consecutive postseason victories over the Twins.
Maybe it has to be this way. Maybe this odd season can’t have any other conclusion.
Maybe these revamped Twins can channel the passionate energy of Sergio Romo and Josh Donaldson – the latter getting ejected Thursday in an amusing, awesome but also inarguably damaging home plate display after a go-ahead home run – to finally take down the Bronx Bombers.
Or perhaps it will just be another frustrating chapter for the Twins.
Or maybe one of these teams will slump or surge and this whole thought exercise will be for nothing. It would be a shame, though.
If the Yankees fall to the Twins, and nobody is around to see it, would it still make a sound? I have to imagine it would be loud and clear in living rooms all across Minnesota.