The Twins will kick off their latest postseason run against a familiar opponent -- the Yankees -- on Wednesday at 7:37 p.m. CT on TBS and MLB.TV. This is the fourth time in the Twins' last five trips to the playoffs that the two clubs have met in the American League Division Series.
And after capturing their sixth AL Central title in the past nine seasons, the Twins are seeking to accomplish something this year that's been missing after many of those previous division titles -- a deep run in the postseason.
Minnesota is 1-5 in playoff series since 2002 -- which includes an 0-3 record vs. New York -- and has not been to a World Series since 1991. But there is a feeling inside the Twins' clubhouse that perhaps this is the year when things turn around.
"Within this clubhouse, we know what we're capable of doing," said Twins center fielder Denard Span. "We like our chances and how we match up with other teams. We feel like we can play in the playoffs with the Yankees and some of the other big teams. I feel like we're as deep as we've been in the last couple years -- from the bullpen to the bench, even to our starting lineup."
The Twins certainly look like a team built for success. Their rotation is led by left-hander Francisco Liriano, who has experienced a bounce-back season that once again has him looking like a possible ace. The bolstered bullpen is made up of three pitchers who have filled the role of closer this season, including All-Stars Matt Capps and Brian Fuentes. And the lineup has been bolstered by the addition of veteran slugger Jim Thome and the emergence of Delmon Young's clutch bat.
It was a year that featured key losses such as closer Joe Nathan, who suffered a season-ending elbow injury in Spring Training, and first baseman Justin Morneau, who has been out with a concussion since July 7 and will not return for the postseason, it was announced on Monday. But the Twins still managed to secure the AL Central title with a little less than two weeks to play in the regular season.
"If you had told us this out of Spring Training after losing Nathan and Morneau going down for the second half along with Joe Mauer's injuries, you'd say that would be awful hard to be where we're at," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "I think we're fortunate, but I think we also have a pretty good baseball team."
The Twins played great baseball in the second half, compiling a 45-18 record from July 15 to Sept. 21, the best in the Majors over that span. Yet once the Twins had locked up the division title, Gardenhire started resting his troops and putting everything in order for the postseason.
It hasn't exactly been a surge to the finish line for the Twins. After becoming the first team to clinch a spot in the postseason on Sept. 21, the Twins have scuffled over their final 11 games. They won just three of their last 11 contests after clinching the division title.
Not that the Twins seem concerned about the stretch.
"If I had to describe it, it's almost like the last week of Spring Training heading into Opening Day," Thome said. "Let's face it, you get to that last week of Spring Training and the goal is to keep everybody healthy. It's kind of the same thing. You don't ever want to say the intensity isn't there, because when you play in the Major Leagues the intensity is there. But when you get introduced on the line [for the first postseason game] come Wednesday night, it's a little different."
Health has been a concern for the Twins leading up to the ALDS. Mauer was battling a sore left knee that sidelined him for 11 days from Sept. 19-29. Thome had some back stiffness, missing 10 days after the team had clinched, and there have been a few more bumps and bruises.
But the group has been healing in recent days, as it prepares to host its first postseason action at Target Field. The transition to their new home has gone as well as the Twins could have wanted. Their 53 wins at home are the most in the AL, just ahead of the Yankees (52).
"Everybody has always said the Metrodome was a special place for the Twins," Gardenhire said. "We always made things happen there. My take on it is that it's a special place, but it's not that special when people don't fill it up. ... We've had 40,000 fans here at Target Field almost every night and it's because of them. That's your home-field advantage."
As for the October weather in the Twin Cities, well it doesn't appear to be a concern for the time being either. Temperatures this week are projected to be quite mild, with highs set for the high 60s for Games 1 and 2 of the ALDS on Wednesday and Thursday. If a Game 5 is forced back at Target Field, the high temperature will be around 60 degrees.
In a year when things have seemed to go very smoothly for the Twins in their new park, the hope is that it will continue in the postseason.
"It's been a magical first year at Target Field," Twins general manager Bill Smith said. "The Yankees last year moved into a new ballpark and won the World Series. We're hoping to continue the trend."