The regular season is over and the Yankees look to Tuesday when they will host the Twins in the American League Wild Card game.
“I think our club is confident going into it, but I’m sure their club is too,” Joe Girardi said. “It comes done to a one game shootout, in a sense, and the team that plays the best is going to win.”
Right-handed starters Luis Severino and Ervin Santana will be on the mound. The Yankees were not expected to be a playoff team. Paul Molitor’s Twins were not supposed to even be a .500 team after losing 103 games last season.
The Twins took two out of three meetings in Minnesota in mid-July. The Yankees swept the Twins in the Bronx in September.
“Played well against them here, we didn’t play so well up in Minnesota,” Girardi said. “I think they’re similar to us where they have a lot of young players mixed with some veterans that have quite an influence on their clubhouse. They have a starting pitcher that has pitched extremely well this year, like our starting pitcher in Severino, so I think it’s a great matchup.”
There are a number of players who will be in a playoff atmosphere for the first time. Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez and Luis Severino have been under the microscope, but never in October. Still, the Yankees skipper feels that the exciting regular season and being in a divisional race was good preparation.
“I think probably what we’ve been through the last five weeks should’ve helped them in this,” Girardi said. “And even what we went through this week, we were still alive for the division. I thought our players played extremely well. I thought we pitched well, I thought we swung the bats well. So I’m hoping that experience helps them. And we believe in them. They played really, really well.”
The baseball season is often referred to as a marathon opposed to a race. All of a sudden the Yankees are in a win-or-go-home scenario, similar to an ALDS Game 5 or ALCS Game 7.
“It is a different feeling and the biggest thing is you want to keep things as normal as you can, and help them relax, and let them go do their thing,” Girardi said.
The Yankees have had no problems with the Twins in four previous playoff matchups. New York took care of Minnesota in four games in the 2003 ALDS, with Derek Jeter batting .429 with a home run.
In 2004, the Yankees again beat the Twins in four games to set up an ALCS showdown with the Red Sox. New York won two games in extra innings, and Alex Rodriguez was the star, batting .421 with a homer.
The Yankees swept the Twins in the 2009 ALDS on their way to winning the World Series. Rodriguez tied game two with a two-run ninth inning homer, and Mark Teixeria hit a walk-off homer in the 11th.
And then the Yankees swept the Twins in the 2010 ALDS as Phil Hughes pitched seven shutout innings in the clincher at Yankee Stadium.
New York is hoping Tuesday’s game is more like that and less like the 3-0 loss to the Astros at home in the 2015 Wild Card game.