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Think Twins can't beat Yanks? Not so fast

@_dadler
October 4, 2019

For nearly two decades, Twins-Yankees playoff series have been a recurring Minnesota nightmare.

For nearly two decades, Twins-Yankees playoff series have been a recurring Minnesota nightmare.

Game Date Result Highlights
Gm 1 Oct. 4 NYY 10, MIN 4 Watch
Gm 2 Oct. 5 NYY 8, MIN 2 Watch
Gm 3 Oct. 7 NYY 5, MIN 1 Watch

Five times since 2000, the two teams have met in the postseason -- in 2003, '04, '09, '10 and '17. Five times, the Yankees have eliminated the Twins. The Twins have only won two of the 15 games. They've lost 10 in a row. New York overwhelmed Minnesota pitching staffs led by Johan Santana. It denied Joe Mauer a single playoff victory in his pure-hitting prime.

The 2019 American League Division Series, which begins Friday in New York, is Twins-Yankees Round 6. But it has a different look.

This year's Twins have a whole new power-hungry style, and it's a whole new game. Here's why history might not repeat itself this time.

This is the Bomba Squad

These Twins made home run history. They smashed through the single-season home run record. They were the first team to ever reach 300 homers. And they finished the season with the No. 1 spot in the record books, one home run ahead of the Yankees, 307 to 306.

Not only can they slug with the Yankees, they can outslug them. That was not the case for the previous Minnesota postseason teams that fell so swiftly to the Bronx Bombers.

The 2019 Twins hit 101 more homers than the next-closest Minnesota playoff team from this millennium -- the '17 Twins, who hit 206 before the Yankees beat them in the AL Wild Card Game.

In the years the Yankees and Twins met in the postseason, New York always outslugged Minnesota in the regular season. Not so in 2019. This is the first time the Twins have outhomered the Yanks going into their postseason matchup.

Twins vs. Yankees, years meeting in postseason

2019: MIN 307 HR, NYY 306 HR (MIN +1)

2017: MIN 206 HR, NYY 241 HR (NYY +35)

2010: MIN 142 HR, NYY 201 HR (NYY +59)

2009: MIN 172 HR, NYY 244 HR (NYY +72)

2004: MIN 191 HR, NYY 242 HR (NYY +51)

2003: MIN 155 HR, NYY 230 HR (NYY +75)

The Yanks give up bombas

The Yankees easily allowed the most home runs of any playoff-bound team in the regular season: 248, 18 more than the Astros. You can take them deep.

And don't think it's just because of the ballpark. Yes, the Yankees and Astros both play in stadiums with home run-friendly dimensions. But while the right-field short porch is a Yankee Stadium signature, it's not the culprit here. The Yankees actually gave up the most home runs on the road of any MLB team, 134, well more than the 114 they allowed in the Bronx.

The Astros, by comparison, allowed only 98 home runs away from Minute Maid Park, tied for the seventh-fewest road homers allowed. In Houston, with the Crawford Boxes in left and the short right-field corner, they allowed 132. The Yankees didn't have a home-park disparity like that.

Remember that insane Twins-Yankees series in Minnesota in July, with all its offensive fireworks? The Yankees won two of the three slugfests, but the Twins outhomered them, 12-8.

The Yankees' Game 1 and 2 starters, James Paxton and Masahiro Tanaka, gave up 51 homers between them during the regular season. While they got their home run issues under control down the stretch, will they be able to contain the most power-heavy lineup in baseball?

Take Paxton, who will open the ALDS on Friday. The left-hander was by far the most prone to the long ball in the first inning -- 12 of his 23 homers allowed, more than half, came in the first. As MLB.com Twins reporter Do-Hyoung Park points out, that's exactly when he'd face the Twins' two most dangerous right-handed bats: Nelson Cruz and Mitch Garver.

Garver had a 1.170 OPS against left-handed pitching this season. Cruz finished at 1.207. All but two of Paxton's homers allowed were to righties, who slugged .445 against him compared to lefties' .357.

The Twins hit 'em hard, and far

The Twins make more dangerous contact than any other team. What does "dangerous contact" mean? Statcast classifies balls hit with ideal exit velocity and ideal launch angle as "barrels." Barrels go for home runs and extra-base hits. The Twins have hit by far the most of any team this season. The Yankees are second, but far behind.

Most barrels by team, 2019
1) Twins: 448
2) Yankees: 397
3) Braves: 377
4) Red Sox: 364
5) A's: 361

Statcast also has a metric called "expected weighted on-base average," or xwOBA, to gauge all-around quality of contact. It's on the same scale as on-base percentage, and it factors in the exit velocity and launch angle of every batted ball, plus walks and strikeouts. The Twins led MLB in xwOBA in 2019 -- again over the Yankees.

Highest team expected wOBA, 2019
1) Twins: .345
2-T) Yankees: .337
2-T) Astros: .337
4-T) Braves: .336
4-T) Red Sox: .336

Compare that to 2017, the last time the Yankees and Twins met in the playoffs. In '17, the Yankees out-barreled the Twins, 310 (third most in MLB) to 262 (17th). Their expected wOBA was higher, .335 to .328.

This season, the Twins hit the most balls 100 mph or harder of any team: 1,077, ahead of the Red Sox and Rays' 1,050 and the Yankees' 1,048. They hit the most balls 400 feet or farther: 193, ahead of the Rockies' altitude-aided 171 and the Yankees' 160.

Everybody crushes

From the start of the offseason, the Twins targeted slugging. They added Cruz, C.J. Cron and Jonathan Schoop. Still, they couldn't have imagined everything would come together like this.

Five Twins batters hit 30 or more homers this season -- Cruz (41), Max Kepler (36), Miguel Sano (34), Eddie Rosario (32) and Garver (31). That's a Major League record.

Eight Twins hit at least 20 -- add Cron (25), Schoop (23) and Jorge Polanco (22). That's a Major League record, too.

Even the Yankees "only" had two players reach the 30-homer mark (Gleyber Torres and Gary Sanchez), and seven reach 20 (add Brett Gardner, Aaron Judge, DJ LeMahieu, Gio Urshela and Luke Voit).

The Twins' playoff teams of years past weren't sniffing this level of power hitting. The 2017 Twins had one 30-homer hitter, Brian Dozier. The '09 Twins had a pair, Michael Cuddyer and Justin Morneau. The 2010, '04 and '03 Twins teams didn't have any.

And the eight Twins with 20-plus homers this season doubles the number from any of the previous playoff teams that lost to the Yankees -- the 2017 and '09 Twins had four apiece.

Until now, the Yankees teams that matched up against the Twins in the postseason always equaled or exceeded Minnesota's number of 30- and 20-homer hitters. In 2019, the Twins have more of both. They're out-bombing the Bombers.

The Bomba Squad gives the franchise a new groove. The Yankees had better be ready for a slugfest. And they might not win one.

David Adler is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @_dadler.