10/02/10 11:11 PM ET
Target may be wild card in Yanks-Twins set
By Mike Bauman / MLB.com
The festivities open for this portion of the 2010 postseason on Wednesday night at Target Field, the splendid new home of the Twins.
It is true that the Yankees have dead-ended the Twins in three AL Division series since 2003, including last October. But this will be the first time the Twins have come to this moment with the home-field advantage. Will this make a difference?
There will be a difference before the game even begins. The players will be preparing for the game in a top-shelf Major League facility that contains state-of-the-art creature comforts for both the players and the patrons of the game. The cramped clubhouse quarters and dreary corridors of the Metrodome are no more for the Twins. The Yankees will like the vastly larger and more well-equipped visitors' clubhouse, too. But mostly, this ballpark is good for the Twins' self-esteem, just as it is good for the Twins' financial situation and good for the future of baseball in Minnesota.
So this is a happier locale for baseball in the Twin Cities. Coming up with a happier Minnesota outcome for a postseason series would be up to the Twins. That will start with Francisco Liriano, the Game 1 starter, up against the ace of the Yankees' staff, CC Sabathia.
It has been a long-awaited comeback season for Liriano, who displayed the potential for greatness in 2006, at age 22. But then he missed the 2007 season and much of 2008 after undergoing Tommy John surgery, and he struggled to regain his form. Now here he is, in a matchup of left-handers, against Sabathia, one of the most well-established pitchers in the game.
Sabathia is close to a given night to night for the Yankees, and his performance in the 2009 postseason defeated the notion that he couldn't excel in October. Liriano had two quality starts against the Yankees this season, although he won neither decision. He struggled in his last three starts of the regular season, but he has the capacity for greatness. Can he match Sabathia in this Game 1?
And in a larger sense, can the Twins play their game against the Yankees? This is a team with six division titles in the past nine seasons, but a 2-9 record against the Yankees in the postseason. The Twins have not been at their best in these meetings, but the Yankees have had something to do with that.
The Twins are confident that this will be the postseason of their breakthrough against the Yankees.
"We're more experienced; we're a year older," said Twins center fielder Denard Span. "I think we're a year hungrier, too. ... We've been through this. I think everybody went through the feeling last year of going home after losing to the Yankees. I think nobody wants to go through that. We don't want the season to end. We're going to go out there and try to give them our best shot."
The difference in this Division Series is that the Yankees are not coming here as a typical Bronx Bombers juggernaut. They still have the leading offense in baseball; that is not the issue. Beyond Sabathia, there are serious, unresolved questions in New York's starting rotation. Andy Pettitte hasn't found his complete command after coming back from an injury. A.J. Burnett, after a terrific July, had a dreadful August and an inadequate September.
There is obvious pressure on any Game 1 postseason starter, but given the circumstances, the pitcher carrying the largest burden in that category might be Sabathia. If he loses, where will the Yankees get their next ace-like performance?
This is a Twins team with more power than most of its predecessors, a team with enough run production to overcome the loss of first baseman Justin Morneau. Morneau, out since early July after a concussion, may be available if the Twins reach the AL Championship Series. But in the way, as usual, are the Yankees. Even with some unanswered pitching questions, the Yankees, the October gold standard for a long time, are still a formidable postseason obstacle.
The Yankees always believe that they will prevail. And at this level, they usually have done just that.
"The bottom line is that we're the world champs, and until somebody beats us, we're the world champs," Pettitte said. "We're looking forward to try to defend this thing. It's going to be tough; nobody said it was going to be easy. You've got to embrace it."
There is no time like Game 1 to make a statement, set a tone and generally convince yourself that you were supposed to win this thing, anyway. The rest of us wonder -- can the Twins, in a magnificent new setting, with the benefit of home-field advantage, finally climb Mt. Yankee and move on to the next round? Can the Yankees salvage this situation by pitching like the Yankees are supposed to pitch in October?
These are reasonable questions without standardized, pre-fabricated answers. You calculate, you deliberate, you anticipate. The beauty of a postseason Game 1 is that now you actually begin to find out what is postseason truth. You have questions; the Yankees and the Twins, familiar postseason opponents, but in a changed set of circumstances, will now begin to provide the answers.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.