Goliath Beats David
Yankees Suck but it sucks to be the Twins and their fans right now.
This is the fourth time in seven years the Yankees have eliminated the Twins in the post-season—always in the ALDS, lately in a sweep—so, inevitably, I'm reading how the Twins “choke” in these games. I've read how the Yankees get in the Twins' “heads.”
This would make sense if the Twins beat the Yankees during the regular season. But they don't. In six games this year, the Twins won two, the Yankees four. And this was a good year for the Twins.
Sure, in previous division series, the Yankees, with the best record in the American League, hosted the Twins, who had the worst record among division leaders, while this year the Yankees were the wild card, giving the Twins home field advantage. But the Yankees still had the better record—95-67 to 94-68—despite playing an unbalanced number of games in the Eastern Division, the strongest division, against the Rays, Red Sox and Blue Jays. That's where the money is and that's where the wins are. The Twins, in fact, had a winning record against every team in the American League but four: the Rays, Red Sox, Blue Jays and Yankees. Put the Twins in the East and they probably wouldn't even have contended.
The Twins had the 10th highest payroll in the Major Leagues, $97 million, which isn't bad, but it's not even half the Yankees payroll, $206 million, which is $45 million more than the next highest payroll (Red Sox) and $60 million more than the third highest payroll (Cubs). In terms of money, the Yankees are in another league. They can spend as much as they need to, and do. The playing field isn't level, and hasn't been for some time.
You need to know this going in. You can't fool yourself about what you're up against.
Twins manager Ron Gardenhire, I think, fooled himself. In the first inning of the first game, his lead-off hitter, Denard Span, lined a single to left. What did he do? He had the next batter, Orlando Hudson, bunt. He sacrificed. He gave up one of his 27 outs to put in scoring position a runner who didn't score. He thought small, played small ball, even though he was going up against a team that averaged 5.3 runs a game, the most in the Majors. And in the three games of the Division Series? The Yankees averaged 5.6 runs a game. The same, more or less. You can't fool yourself about what you're up against.
The Twins front office fooled itself. By May, everyone knew the Seattle Mariners weren't contenders, so everyone knew their pitcher, Cliff Lee, a free agent at the end of the year, would be on the trading block. Lee wasn't just a good pitcher, he came with a pedigree: He beat Yankees. In the World Series last year, the Philadelphia Phillies only won two games against the Yankees, the two games Cliff Lee started, so if you were looking ahead to the post-season and a possible rematch with the Yankees, Cliff Lee was exactly the guy you wanted. Hell, the Yankees nearly got him. Instead he went to the Rangers. For not much, really. Couldn't the Twins afford not much? You grab your chances when you have them, and the Twins have chances now, but they didn't grab them. They let Cliff Lee go. They fooled themselves about what they were up against.
The New York Yankees represent a monstrous unfairness in the national pastime. They are the wealthiest team by far, rich enough to make up for their mistakes, and they carry a sense of entitlement. They think it's theirs. This makes it delicious when they're defeated but hardly news when they win. Yesterday was hardly news.