MINNEAPOLIS — The junior varsity portion of these playoffs ends now for the Yankees. This was supposed to be the year the Twins were better than that, what with their 300-plus homers and 100-plus wins.
They were going to put up resistance, perhaps even a few wins.
But on Elimination Monday — when four teams had a chance to advance to a championship series — only the Yankees moved forward. The Minnesota Twins are the descendants of the Washington Senators. When facing the Yankees, specifically in October, they are the Washington Generals.
With the Yankees’ 5-1 clinching triumph, the Twins have now lost 16 straight playoff games, tying the NHL’s 1975-79 Blackhawks for the most postseason losses in a row within the four major North American sports leagues. Thirteen of those losses have been to the Yankees. Different rosters. Different decades even. Same old results.
The Twins lost both games in The Bronx, then in the lone game at Target Field Jake Cave and Marwin Gonzalez hit what probably would have been homers to the short porch at Yankee Stadium. This is how it is for Minnesota at this time of year. Cave’s went high off the right-field wall went for a single. Gonzalez’s was hauled in brilliantly by Aaron Judge, part of perhaps the Yankees’ best defensive game of the season.
If this were a boxing match — scored on points — the Twins probably would have won Game 3. They had nine of the 12 hardest-hit balls of Game 3 and base runners galore. But, as always, a baseball game was scored by runs. And familiarly Minnesota could not find the big hit. The Twins were 2-for-20 with men on base, 1-for-14 with runners in scoring position, making their totals for the series 8-for-47 and 3-for-30.
So now the Yankees will wait to see if they get the heavyweight matchup six-plus months in the making against the Astros or whether the upstart Rays can rally into the ALCS.
The Yankees have plenty of time to rest, prepare and try to decipher what matters from their three-games-to-none dispatch of the Twins. Most curious — of course, just like the regular season — will be what to make of the starters.
“I thought guys who had to answer a lot of questions all year and really came through in this series,” Austin Romine said.
James Paxton, Masahiro Tanaka and Luis Severino pitched to a 2.63 ERA, but recorded just 41 of the 81 outs against Minnesota. Aaron Boone honored his pledge to be proactive with his powerful bullpen and maybe there are eight more wins and a first Yankee title since 2009 in that strategy. But Adam Ottavino cannot pitch defensively and be in and out of games as he was in this series and Zack Britton cannot have any lingering issues from twisting his ankle in this finale.
“We just swept a team that has one of the best offenses in the game,” Romine said. “So to me, the formula worked out just fine.”
In this series, Paxton gave up two homers while Tanaka and Severino allowed none. The trio permitted just four walks in 13 ²/₃ innings. But when the Twins lineup turned over for a third time, Boone raced to his deep pen. If the Yankees face the Astros, still the most likely matchup, the starters will almost certainly have to be at least this good on a short-term basis to match zeroes early, particularly against Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander.
That is why Severino’s outing piques curiosity. It was just his fourth of his injury-shortened season — pitching coach Larry Rothschild described him as “still in spring training.” Yet, Rothschild also said Severino is “really close” to being Severino. He showed both his rust and reasons for trust in the clincher. He did not get a swing and miss until his 18th pitch, but then registered 10 in his final 65 as he found his slider and best fastball.
He dealt with traffic throughout his four shutout innings and did his best at the worst moments. In particular, with the bases loaded and no outs in the second, he popped out Miguel Sano and struck out Gonzalez and Cave.
“Once he was in trouble, he showed who Sevy is,” said Dellin Betances, who rehabbed most of the season with Severino.
Severino said, “I feel ready” to pitch to his best self. If he does he has the kind of stuff that does not pale by much — if at all — against Cole and Verlander or Tampa’s Charlie
Morton and Blake Snell. Paxton’s stuff is high end as swell. Tanaka continues to be excellent in October. Their first job of these starters in these playoffs was not to be a hindrance. Mission accomplished. They were an aid in this sweep.
But this was the Twins. The JV again. Next on the docket will likely be a completely different kind of JV — Justin Verlander