The Minnesota Twins open their three-game series against the New York Yankees after a disappointing road trip that may have ended their playoff hopes for this season. The thought of playing the Yankees right now is a frightening proposition — and not because of their history in the playoffs.
With a lineup that was supposed to rake and pitching capable of shutting down any offense, the Yankees were expected to be one of the best teams in the American League. They had Gerrit Cole leading the rotation and Aroldis Chapman at the end of a lights-out bullpen. The Yankees weren’t just supposed to win their division; they were favorites to win the World Series.
Instead, New York limps into this series with a 31-29 record and sits fourth in the loaded American League East. By dropping nine of their past 12 games, the fans in the Bronx have called for the jobs of Aaron Boone and Brian Cashman and have ventured into an unfamiliar territory known as, ahem, losing.
While the Yankees fanbase is more entitled than Minnesota’s, New York doesn’t come into this series with their usual bravado. Instead, they look a lot like Minnesota, one of baseball’s biggest disappointments.
It starts with the performance of the lineup. The Yankees came into this season with the same cast they’ve had over the past several seasons. With DJ LeMahieu and Gleyber Torres setting the table, Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton could drive them in in the middle of the lineup.
But like the Twins, New York’s offense hasn’t clicked in 2021. The Yankees come into this week’s series ranking 25h in batting average, 26th in slugging percentage, and 27th in runs per game. More recently, the Yankees have scored four or fewer runs in 13 of their past 20 games. In those 13 games, they have scored two or fewer runs 12 times.
The power shortage in the Bronx is more shocking, considering the Yankees haven’t encountered a rash of injuries. LeMahieu has seen his OPS plunge from an AL-best 1.011 last year to .656 this season. Torres has had the same issues, hitting three home runs in his past 369 plate appearances after smashing 38 homers during the 2019 season.
Stanton has been one of the few Yankees to deal with injury. But he has gone 2-for-28 with 12 strikeouts since returning from a strained hamstring on May 28.
The Yankees have also had similar problems to the Twins when it comes to managerial decision-making. Like Rocco Baldelli, Boone is a fellow disciple of the numbers game, and he’s opened himself up to many of the criticisms Baldelli faces.
“Some in the game believe Boone is like many current managers,” The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal said in his Monday piece. “More of a middle man for an analytics-driven front office than a lead strategist. But once the action starts, Boone at least assumes a measure of control.”
To dive deeper, Boone’s initial success was similar to Baldelli’s. While Boone won 100 and 103 games in his first two seasons with the Yankees, his teams have slumped to 64-56 over the past two seasons. Baldelli won 103 games during his first year with the Twins but has led Minnesota to a 60-59 record since.
With the Yankees experiencing a Twins-like fall from grace, can the Twins deliver an upset series victory this year?
While the Yankees have brought things upon themselves with a slew of bad offseason decisions, they have the ability to sort things out with a snap of their fingers. Most of the Yankees issues are with players with multiple years of strong track records, while the Twins have a lineup full of players with one glorious 2019 season.
Even with the Yankees struggling, the Twins have issues of their own. Their starting pitching has been inconsistent and will send Michael Pineda, Randy Dobnak, and J.A. Happ to the mound during this series. Cole is slated to start on Wednesday, and it’s unlikely a lineup with five players that made their major league debut last week can help mitigate Minnesota’s shortcomings.
The Yankees trip to Target Field may be what they need to turn their season around. But as the year wears on, they’ll need to decide if blowing it up or making a last gasp at the trade deadline, which is where the Twins are right now.
If things don’t change, the Yankees could see the Twins once again in October. At a bar watching the postseason.