Bombas vs. Bombers: Who has the edge? We take a look at every postion around the horn.
Rocco Baldelli vs. Aaron Boone
He began the season with Max Kepler as his leadoff hitter. He has allowed players to arrive as late a 5 p.m. on some game nights. He has had to learn how to handle a bullpen on the fly. But Baldelli became the seventh rookie manager ever to win 100 games in the majors, sparked by his Bomba Squad. In the other corner are Boone’s Savages, who match the Twins homer for homer. Boone has improved his handling of the bullpen and improvised as New York had a record 30 players on the injured list.
C.J. Cron (.253, 25 HR, 78 RBI) vs. DJ LeMahieu (.327, 26 HR, 102 RBI)
Cron hit 24 home runs, but he has been hampered because of a sore thumb all season. He homered in Sunday’s season finale and could be a key righthanded hitter vs. Yankees lefthander James Paxton in the opener. LeMahieu has played all over the infield for the Bombers this season and could start at first because Luke Voit is in a terrible slump. Cron’s fielding has been solid, but LeMahieu has a Gold Glove at second base.
Edge: With Cron still hurting, big edge to LeMahieu
Jonathan Schoop (. 256, 23, 59) vs. Gleyber Torres (. 278, 38, 90)
An ankle injury to Twins rookie phenom Luis Arraez might leave Schoop in the starting lineup, possibly for the entire series. There are Cubs fans who still wish Torres wasn’t part of the deal for Aroldis Chapman in 2016. At 22, he is already a two-time All-Star with 62 career home runs and a big part of the Yankees offense. Schoop, a streaky hitter, lost playing time to Arraez after slumping in June.
Edge: Torres, even if Arraez makes a speedy recovery
Miguel Sano (. 247, 34, 79) vs. Gio Urshela (. 314, 21,74)
Sano’s season was delayed by a cut on the back of his ankle. Then his production was delayed by an inability to catch up to high heat. While he still can get a fastball blown by him at times, he made in-season adjustments to get his bat through the zone quicker and is enjoying his best season. Urshela stabilized the Yankees attack while the injury list grew. But Urshela sprained his right ankle Sunday. He is expected to be ready Friday, but he will be watched closely.
Jorge Polanco (. 295, 22, 79) vs. Didi Gregorius (. 238, 16, 61)
Gregorius missed half the season while he recovered from Tommy John surgery. While he didn’t operate at the high level he did in 2018, he still did hit for some power. Do NOT throw him a first-pitch fastball. Polanco took another step in his offensive development, with a career-high .841 on base-plus-slugging percentage and leading the team in runs, hits, doubles and triples while batting second in the order for the majority of the season.
Edge: First-time All-Star Polanco
Eddie Rosario (. 276, 32, 109) vs. Giancarlo Stanton (. 288, 3, 13)
Rosario is a polarizing figure. He belted 32 homers and led the Twins with 109 RBI. He batted .340 with runners in scoring position, .338 with runners in scoring position and two outs and .358 in late-and-close situations. But he gets dissected for his errant throws, pitch selection and occasional reluctance to run out ground balls. Stanton has recovered from a sore knee, after recovering from shoulder and biceps issues. He made 34 plate appearances over the past couple weeks, which gives the Yankees hope that he will be ready to play.
Edge: Even, considering Stanton has played 18 games all year
Max Kepler (. 252, 36, 90) vs. Brett Gardner (. 251, 28, 74)
Kepler was on his way to a 40-homer, 100 RBI, 100-run season before he came down with a strained left shoulder that has limited him to three games since Sept. 8. No one knows if his swing has returned, which is concerning for such a critical hitter in the lineup. The Twins could use his defense in center, though. Gardner, in center because Aaron Hicks (elbow surgery) is out, used to be a speedster but has hit for more power later in his career. A Stanton-Gardner-Aaron Judge outfield seems a little short on range.
Edge: Kepler, provided he is at least 90% healthy
Marwin Gonzalez (. 264, 15, 55) vs. Aaron Judge (. 272, 27, 55)
Gonzalez worked out Tuesday and said he felt good to go after tweaking his oblique a couple weeks ago. The Twins will need Gonzalez because his switch-hitting balances out the lineup, and he’s come up big in the postseason in the past while with the Astros. Gonzalez could land at first base if Cron can’t play. Judge was slowed by injuries early but returned and is a major power threat for the Yankees and someone the Twins need to be careful facing. Judge has seven home runs in 18 postseason games, including one off Jose Berrios two years ago.
Edge: All rise!
Mitch Garver (. 273, 31, 67) vs. Gary Sanchez (. 232, 34, 77)
Sanchez was slowed in the season’s final days by a left groin muscle strain, but the Yankees are confident he will be ready. If not, it’s quite a drop-off from Sanchez to Austin Romine, especially in the power-hitting category. Garver is one of the most improved players in MLB with 31 homers in only 93 games. His defense continues to improve, giving the Twins a two-way threat behind the plate that they haven’t had since Joe Mauer in 2009. But it wouldn’t be a surprise if Jason Castro gets a start in the series.
Edge: Garv Sauce. That’s right, I said Garv Sauce.
Nelson Cruz (. 311, 41, 108) vs. Edwin Encarnacion (. 244, 34, 86)
Age hasn’t stopped him. A ruptured tendon in his wrist hasn’t stopped him. And now the Yankees will attempt to stop Cruz, one of the most important players in the Twins lineup. Despite a couple of trips to the injured list, he belted 41 home runs, his most since 2016. He has 16 home runs and a 1.016 OPS in 41 postseason games. Encarnacion, who has 27 career home runs against the Twins and 17 at Target Field, has not played since Sept. 12 because of a strained left oblique but said he is ready to go for Friday’s series opener.
Jose Berrios (14-8, 3.68) vs. James Paxton (15-6, 3.82); Jake Odorizzi (15-7, 3.51) vs. Masahiro Tanaka (11-9, 4.45); Twins TBA vs. Luis Severino (1-1, 1.50)
The Twins are paced by their two All-Stars, but Berrios has battled inconsistency. He also will be making his first postseason appearance since 2017, when he relieved Ervin Santana in the wild-card game but gave up three runs over three innings. Odorizzi is sharp, going 8-2 with a 2.89 ERA over his past 10 starts, but he might get the call in Game 3 instead of Game 2, with the Twins looking at a bullpen game or rookie Randy Dobnak to get a start. Paxton has not lost since July 26 and posted a 1.69 ERA over his past seven starts, as his curveball became a weapon down the stretch. New York will also have Tanaka and Severino start, but they might not be asked to pitch deep into their games. Severino hasn’t forgotten getting knocked out of the 2017 wild-card game — “I can get revenge,” he said. Edge: Yankees.
Taylor Rogers (2-4, 2.61, 30 saves) vs. Aroldis Chapman (3-2, 2,21, 37 saves); Sergio Romo (2-1, 3.43) vs. Adam Ottavino (6-5,1.90); Tyler Duffey (5-1, 2.50) vs. Zack Britton (3-1, 1.91); Trevor May (5-3, 2.94) vs. Tommy Kahnle (3-2, 3.67)
One of the Twins’ best second-half developments was the progress of their bullpen. They have formed a group of capable lead protectors, with Duffey and May making big strides during the final weeks. Rookie righthander Zack Littell also has raised his game. Lefthander Martin Perez and righthander Kyle Gibson loom as bullpen arms if they don’t get a start. One reason the Yankees are considering having a bullpen game is because of their group of relievers, with Chapman the last man standing. Ottavino has been lights out in his first season in New York. All four of their key relievers has a devastating out pitch, and the Yankees were 24-1 when all four appeared in a game.
Edge: Yankees, but the Twins have closed the gap.
It’s tough to pinpoint the number of reserves because both the Twins and Yankees might take 13 pitchers in anticipation of bullpen games. For the Twins, Luis Arraez (ankle sprain) would be at the top of the list of players coming off the bench. If he’s ready, he could end up in the starting lineup with Jonathan Schoop on the bench. Jason Castro likely will start at catcher in Game 2. Infielder Ehire Adrianza might be recovered from an oblique injury. The guess here is that the Twins go with defense on the bench to back up a loaded lineup. The Yankees’ top reserves are Romine, Cameron Maybin, Luke Voit and Mike Ford, although Voit’s late-season slump might jeopardize his place on the Division Series roster. Ford gives the Yankees a little pop off the bench, while Maybin is needed as cover in the outfield.
The Twins are the underdogs and have lost 10 consecutive playoff games to the Yankees. But few players remain from those losses, just a handful from the 2017 wild-card game, so Baldelli and his players don’t care about the past. Their record-setting lineup gives them a puncher’s chance in this series, but do they have enough pitching? The Yankees continued to win when key players landed on the injured list. In some cases, the replacements for their key players went down too. New York nevertheless survived and conquered, and its bullpen is more than capable of protecting late leads. The Bomba Squad has made it a memorable season in Twins Territory but falls a little short here.
Prediction: Yankees in five.