The Twins will open the American League Divisional Series on Friday night when they travel to New York to face the Yankees.
One of the biggest keys to the Twins success in this series will be the play of shortstop Jorge Polanco, who has done a little bit of everything for the club this season.
Only six players in the American League scored 100 runs, hit 20 home runs and had 40 doubles in 2019 — Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers and Mookie Betts of the Red Sox, Marcus Semien of the A’s, Francisco Lindor of the Indians and Polanco.
It was a breakout campaign for Polanco, especially after last season when he was suspended 81 games for using a performance-enhancing drug.
He said that this year has been about rebuilding with the support of his teammates and coaches.
“From last year to this year, personally, you learn from mistakes and you move on and you keep working hard,” he said through a translator.
When asked if there was a big reason why this year’s Twins team had so much success, he pointed to the locker room.
“I think the biggest difference between this year and last year is that this year’s team is together, playing together, supporting each other,” he said.
Coming into this season, Polanco had hit .272 with 23 homers, 64 doubles and 125 runs scored in 288 career games. Still it was considered a gamble when the Twins signed him to a five-year, $25.75 million contract in the offseason.
Family, coaches help
Polanco said support from his family and coaches helped get him where he is this season.
“I believe my family has helped me to grow and mature, and also my coaches here in the big leagues,” he said. “They give you their best and teach me to help me grow in the game and outside the game, too.”
Polanco finished the year sixth in the American League in hits, fifth in doubles and triples, 10th in runs scored and eighth in wins above replacement for position players, according to Baseball Reference.
He said that as his game got better, pitchers came at him differently.
“They pitch to me one way today, a different way tomorrow,” he said. “The same way they’re making adjustments, I’m making adjustments, as well.”
Does he feel any added pressure to perform?
“No, no, I don’t feel any pressure,” he said. “I just want to help the team win and go out there every day and do my job.”
One area that he said has help is the work he has done with James Rowson, the Twins hitting coach.
“He helps you prepare for every single day for the mental aspect of the game,” Polanco said. “If things are mentally right, you’re going to go out there and execute your job.”
For the Twins to find a way to top the Yankees, they’ll need Polanco to be at his very best.
High scoring series
The two teams played an incredible series at Target Field in July — with the Yankees winning two of three games and outscoring the Twins 30-27.
That series featured one of the best games of the year, a 14-12 win by the Yankees on a game-saving catch by former Twins center fielder Aaron Hicks in the 10th inning.
Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman told the New York Times, “We got out of Minnesota by the hair on our chinny-chin-chin.”
Manager Aaron Boone said, “They’re a beast.”
Both clubs are waiting to finalize their 25-man playoff roster. According to the Times, the Yankees still are waiting to make a decision on slugger Edwin Encarnacion. And the Twins are waiting to see how infielder Luis Arraez recovers from his ankle injury.
Yankees players such as Gary Sanchez, Giancarlo Stanton and Luis Severino are recently back from injuries and the Twins have Marwin Gonzalez and Max Kepler looking like they’ll be ready to play.
This should be a big offensive series.
Denver bested Vikings
If you thought the Vikings’ 16-6 loss to the Bears on Sunday was disappointing, you will not be happy if you compare that game with the Bears’ Week 2 win over the Broncos, who are 0-4.
In that game, the Bears needed a last-second field goal to escape with a 16-14 win in Denver.
Denver ran the ball 24 times for 90 yards — with Royce Freeman going for 54 yards on 11 carries and Phillip Lindsay going for 36 yards on 13 carries. Compare that to the Vikings running backs, who came into Sunday leading the NFC in rushing, and finished with just 40 yards on 16 carries.
And quarterback Joe Flacco was able to throw for 292 yards against the Bears, completing 35 of 50 throws for 292 yards with a touchdown and an interception while being sacked just twice.
Meanwhile Kirk Cousins got sacked six times and completed 27 of 36 passes for 233 yards. But those stats doesn’t really show how lopsided the game was — in the first half Cousins was just 7-for-10 for 49 yards.
What’s even more confusing is how the Bears were able to dominate the Vikings while missing defensive linemen Akiem Hicks and Bilal Nichols and linebacker Roquan Smith.
Looking back two weeks, the Broncos were able to actually control the clock against the Bears, winning the time of possession battle 32 minutes, 59 seconds to 27:01. On Sunday the Vikings had the ball for just 24:33 while the Bears had it for 35:27.
Offense has switched
When the Vikings announced their intentions to run the ball a lot more this season, there’s no doubt that people thought they would still keep their passing game involved with wide receivers Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs.
But the fact is that through four weeks, their offensive identity has completely flipped.
Last season at this time the Vikings ranked 12th in the league in total offense with 1,561 yards. This season they rank 23rd with 1,297 yards.
But here’s the big difference — this year the Vikings rank 31st in passing yards through four weeks with 676 yards compared to last year where they ranked fifth in passing yards with 1,309. But this season they rank second in the NFL with 621 rushing yards compared to last year when they were dead last through four weeks with 252.
There’s no doubt that the Vikings wanted to change the identity of their offense, but they need to find more balance if they’re going to be successful.