The 2009 New York Yankees set the template.
Open a brand-new ballpark and immediately win a World Series. Could the current, first place Minnesota Twins do just that? They are, after all, unsurprisingly in first place.
Let's see how they're better than last year.
As long as they don't play their nemesis, the New York Yankee$, who obviously have their number, winning 44 of the past 60 meetings, while beating them every time in the playoffs, they should be okay.
Right now, their playoff rivals would be the Tampa Bay Rays, who don't scare me despite their pitching, or the untested Texas Rangers, who I have a feeling will just be happy to be in the playoffs after a long, 11-year absence.
Next, three of the four Twins' weaknesses in the playoffs to those big, bad Yankees—Justin Morneau, Glen Perkins, and Joe Nathan (along with Jesse Crain) likely wouldn't even face them anyway, therefore increasing our chances. We might have a shot if Crain or Guerrier (2-7) don't see the field.
That is why we got Capps, who may be the X-factor. Don't forget he was hidden in the National League where the Yankees didn't have a lot of chances to hit him around.
For all you Twins fans hoping and praying Morneau gets over his concussion and comes back, I say, forget about it. Don't count on it. If you are, you're only setting yourself up to be hurt when he doesn't come back.
I say, don't shut him down for the season, since we could always use him in the ALCS vs Texas or Tampa, but just move on as if he's not coming back. Similar to what the Jets are doing with Darrelle Revis.
Not only do we not need him, as we're 22-7 in the games he's missed, but he's a detriment when he doesn't show up in New York for those crucial playoff runs. Michael Cuddyer is more than capable of playing first base since he gets the opportunity to do so when Morneau goes down each year with an injury.
Last year, it was his back. This year, it's his head. Next year will be an elbow.
Is there any way we can sign Morneau to an April-July contract since that's basically all he's good for? It seems every year, the cycle is April slump, May-June hot, July hot, then he gets hurt. August-September is anyone's guess.
Morneau hurt? Check.
Cuddyer filling in admirably? Check.
Twins in first place? check.
It's almost like those logical equations in philosophy: Given that Justin Morneau is hurt, and given that Michael Cuddyer is playing first base, therefore, the Minnesota Twins must be in first place and in a pennant race.
Other Reasons for Optimism
Last year, the 2009 Twins that went belly up to the Yankee$ had those four playoff chokers on their postseason roster, but didn't have Orlando Hudson or Jim Thome. Both not only bring proven veteran leadership, but also better playoff experience and success.
While Thome and Hudson may only have career averages of .222 and .250 in the playoffs, I'd take either of them over Alexi Casilla and Morneau, as was the case last year.
Finally, not only did the Twins actually go 2-4 vs the Yankee$ this year, but Jason Kubel's one HR, three hits, and four RBI in Yankee Stadium with a .375 BA will be huge, given he now has confidence knowing he can break the hex. He hit a whopping .467 in 15 at-bats vs. the Yankees.
Don't forget that while 2-4 may not seem like much, it is. It proves we can win after going 0-10 vs New York last year, but more importantly, in taking the last game of each series in New York and at home, we can feel confident knowing the last time we played them in each venue we won and will hopefully build off that momentum.
Yankee Fans Sure to Note the Pitching Disparity
In addition to the Yankees notable All-Star-at-every-position continual theme, greaser Yankee fans will mention that the hypothetical pitching matchups don't scare them.
Game One (in New York, given they'll get the top seed): Carl Pavano, 15-7, 3.27 vs. CC Sabathia, 15-5, 3.14.
Game Two: Francisco Liriano, 11-7, 3.26 vs. Andy Pettitte, 11-2, 2.88. I'd use Nick Blackburn here as he's the only one I'm confident can go into New York and come out in the seventh with a 1-1 tie as he's done it before. Big Game Nick is what they should be calling him.
Game Three: (MPLS) baby-faced Scott Baker, 10-9, 4.76 vs. AJ Burnett, 9-10, 4.66.
Baker has a 4.09 ERA this year vs. New York, and they are sure to salivate over that 4.76 ERA.
Pettitte is Mr. Automatic when it comes to "must win" as he's done it his whole career.
We can't be complacent even if we get Game One vs. NY, like we did in both 2003 and 2004, where we were swept the rest of both series thanks in large part to Pettitte, he's so automatic that we'll have a tough road.
Think I'm jumping the gun in writing this in August? Everything is just so eerily similar to last year. The Tigers are done having went 9-22 since the All-Star break with three losing streaks of four games or more already.
The Sox? Heh, they're predictably falling apart. Even if we take two of three tomorrow, we still gain a game on them to go up four, and should we lose the series by winning only one, they gain two and still leave town down a game. Don't worry about a sweep. At 35-20 at home, that ain't happening.
Maybe we won't run into New York. Maybe the Rays or Texas will take care of our business for us and set up a Minnesota-Texas or Minnesota-Tampa "small market" ALCS from Hell for Major League Baseball.
I know the Twins, with a $96M payroll that ranks top 10 aren't supposed to be considered "small market" anymore, but until they get by the Yankee$, why shouldn't we continue to think of them as such?
If the playoffs started today, the Yankees (72-45, .615) would play the Twins (68-50, .576) since the Rays (71-46, .607) would be the Wild Card and cannot, because of Major League Baseball's stupid rule, play a division rival in the opening round. They should take a page from, I don't know, every other sport, and allow this.
As Twins fans, we should be pulling for the current second seed Rangers (67-49, .578) to start losing so we can leap over them in the standings, and as a result take our chances vs. Tampa Bay, who we match up better with, since the league won't allow the matchup I really want against Texas.
If it weren't for the damn Yankees, I'd be saying anything is possible with the lackluster Rangers and Rays in the playoffs, and would expect us to make it to the World Series. But until someone knocks New York out, it's hard to get excited knowing our two differing histories.
Let's hope we took good notes from last year.
Statistics and information from ESPN.com directly contributed to the content of this article.
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