Couple Friday’s improbable 15-inning win by the Red Sox with another missed opportunity for the Yankees to gain ground by virtue of Sunday’s 6-4 loss to the Orioles, and you start to feel that time could be running out on another AL East crown for the Bronx.
It’s getting late. Though a three-game deficit with 13 games left is hardly insurmountable, the Yankees need Boston’s help to pull it off. Despite their gracious assistance in past years, the expectation is that the Red Sox — after weathering plenty of dysfunction this season — will manage to hold it together for another two weeks.
That’s what makes this upcoming three-game visit by the Twins so compelling. If the season were to end today, the Yankees would host Minnesota in the Oct. 3 wild-card game. That makes this a playoff preview, with one critical twist.
The Twins intend to use their top two starters in the first two games, as Ervin Santana (15-7, 3.35 ERA) is set to go Monday night and Jose Berrios (12-7, 3.84 ERA) will pitch Tuesday night. Some might suggest they saved the showstopper for the series finale by unleashing Bartolo Colon (4-5, 4.80 ERA) for Wednesday’s matinee. But unless the Twins have to burn their big guns in the final week to lock down the wild card, we seriously doubt that Big Sexy is going to get the wild-card assignment.
It could help the Yankees to have this advance look at Santana and Berrios so close to maybe seeing one or the other two weeks later.
“Sure, I think it does,” said Todd Frazier, who joined the Yankees at Target Field the last time these two teams met (July 17-19). “They’re still tough pitchers. But just to see how the ball spins, how they’re going to attack us. It can help.”
On the flip side, the Twins won’t get a peek at Luis Severino, who doesn’t appear to be losing any steam after shutting down the Orioles for eight innings Friday. They also missed him back in July, so the Twins’ introduction is likely to come in a do-or-die playoff game. Not the ideal scenario for them.
Minnesota did win two of three during the Yankees’ trip to Target Field, but the Twins caught them at an unusual time. Joe Girardi’s starters for that series were Bryan Mitchell, Luis Cessa and Jordan Montgomery. Brian Cashman made the trade for David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle after the middle game against the Twins, so they weren’t in uniform until the following day.
It was just two months ago. But few other than rookie Garrett Cooper, who went 3-for-4 with a pair of doubles in the opener, remember all that much.
Cooper, you may recall, was Cashman’s on-the-fly replacement at first base for Chris Carter, and the Yankees were trying to stabilize themselves in the midst of a midseason swoon.
But this is a different Yankees team now, playing more confidently and reloaded by the returns of Starlin Castro, Matt Holliday and Greg Bird. They have the first-half Aaron Judge back, a revitalized Chase Headley and — though still overpaid at $153 million — a contributing Jacoby Ellsbury. Before Sunday’s loss, they were 11-3 in the previous 14 games, and they came within one good swing from Gary Sanchez of sweeping the Orioles.
The Yankees would be the clear favorite in that wild-card matchup with the Twins, who have their own impressive array of young talent — Miguel Sano, Eddie Rosario, Byron Buxton — and are led by the veteran presence of Brian Dozier and Joe Mauer.
Still, it’s a fairly unknown group that has arrived a bit ahead of schedule, and the only player on the Yankees who has had an inside look lately is Jaime Garcia, who was a Twin for six days earlier this season between stays in Atlanta and the Bronx.
Garcia isn’t able to provide much of a scouting report. He barely had time to sit down for coffee with any of his Twins teammates. So it’s up to these three games for the Yankees to do more recon work.
“We can get a better feel for what they do,” Girardi said.
Just in case.