Nothing is certain in this world except death, taxes and plenty of home runs in the ALDS between the New York Yankees and Minnesota Twins.
Both teams exceeded the magical mark of 300 homers this season, with the Twins claiming the record outright by going deep 307 times to the Yankees 306.
Despite their injury-plagued season (surely you heard about it?), the Yankees dominated the AL East, including their two memorable games against the Boston Red Sox in London. Their dominance over the Baltimore Orioles is worth repeating: 151 runs, including 61 homers in 19 games, of which they won 17.
Minnesota led the AL Central for most of the year, but were always threatened by the Cleveland Indians and only clinched the division title in the final week of the season. Ominously, they lost both series against the Yankees, although they were only outscored 40-38.
The intriguing AL division series starts in New York on Friday night just after midnight UK time, and the Yankees look like clear favourites.
Recent history isn’t kind to Minnesota. Since 2003, the Twins have an atrocious 2-13 postseason record against New York, but it is unlikely that this will affect the players on the 2019 roster.
Although they are the least-favoured of the non-Wild Card teams, it is hard to write off the Twins after a 101-win season, but this current Yankees roster just does not look like it will accept defeat. You can picture them five runs down in the eighth inning, and every pinstriped player still expecting the team to come back and score at least six.Embed from Getty Images
Five players to watch
For the first couple of months of the season, Twins’ shortstop Jorge Polanco was producing at an MVP-calibre rate. At the end of May, he was slashing .338/.409/.590, and although that level was unsustainable, the 26-year-old finished the season with 22 dingers and 107 runs.
During the offseason, the Yankees swooped to secure the services of versatile infielder DJ LeMahieu. With no opening available, he appeared to be an extravagant bench bat, but ended up being the Yankees Player of the Season. The 31-year-old played first, second and third, hitting .327 with 109 runs and 102 RBI.
One of the many highlights from the London Series was to see the ease with which LeMahieu, playing first base, dealt with the extended foul territory in Stratford. His defence was sublime, especially compared to the nightmare endured by the Red Sox Michael Chavis.
Nelson Cruz, Miguel Sano, Eddie Rosario and Max Kepler all have 30-plus homers for the Twins this season, but it is the fifth member of the group who is the most prolific slugger. Catcher Mitch Garver went deep 31 times in 359 plate appearances. No one else in the game reached 30 homers with as few opportunities.
Forget launch angle, spin rate, barrels and exit velocity; sometimes the game is so simple there is no need to overthink it. When facing Aroldis Chapman, the hitter knows he is getting a triple-digit fastball or a wipeout slider, yet there is little he can do about it. Don’t expect the Yankees manager Aaron Boone to get fancy with his utilisation of the Cuban; Chapman is a traditional ninth-inning closer. If he is given the ball, the Twins need to start looking ahead to the next game.
No list of players to watch would be complete without the Twins mesmeric, super-utility star Willians Astudillo. The guy, who is a one-man highlight package, is still almost anonymous to the mainstream baseball watching public. He has played catcher, first, second, third, left field, right field, and last season he even pitched. Among his numerous skills, his batting eye is unsurpassed. He has struck out just eight times this season in 301 plate appearances. Just remember that Edwin Encarnacion struck out five times in the first game of the London Series.
Make sure you are following @BatFlips_Nerds to keep up-to-date with the latest postseason news and podcasts, all with a British twist.