NEW YORK — The Bronx Bombers vs. the Bomba Squad, matchup of the big league heavyweights.
Given the peerless power of the New York Yankees and Minnesota Twins, their AL Division Series seems as much bout as baseball.
“It’s cool what both our teams were able to do with the home run,” Yankees slugger Giancarlo Stanton said Thursday. “Big punches thrown.”
AL Central champion Minnesota set a big league record with 307 home runs, and the AL East-winning Yankees were just behind at 306, both blowing by the previous mark of 267 set by New York last year. The Twins were third in the major leagues with 51.2% of their runs crossing the plate on dingers and the Yankees fourth at 51.1%, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Only Toronto (53.2%) and Milwaukee (51.5%) were more long-ball reliant.
“There have been some wonderful teams that have played throughout the course of baseball history, but we’ve never seen more home runs than we’ve seen this year between these two teams,” Minnesota manager Rocco Baldelli said. “The ability to change the game with one swing — I think this is going to be a fun series in that way because the two teams that are playing probably have that quality, unlike any two teams maybe that have ever played the game.”
Nelson Cruz (41 homers), Max Kepler (36), Miguel Sanó (34), Eddie Rosario (32) and Mitch Garver (31) lead the Twins, hoping to reach the American League Championship Series for the first time since 2002.
Gleyber Torres (38), Gary Sánchez (34), Brett Gardner (28), Aaron Judge (27) and DJ LeMahieu (26) top the Yankees.
“I feel like there’s so many shifts and so many different things going on in the game, why would I want to put the ball on the ground for the most part? Ninety-nine percent of the time it’s on the ground, it’s an out,” Judge said. “I’ve got three strikes. Why not take three chances to get one out of the park?”
New York beat Minnesota in the 2003, 2004, 2009 and 2010 Division Series, then in the 2017 wild card game after falling behind 3-0. The Yankees are 100-37 vs. the Twins since 2002, including 13-2 in the playoffs.
Left-hander James Paxton (15-6, 3.82 ERA) will start the opener for the Yankees in his postseason debut. He struggled in first innings this year, allowing 12 of his 23 home runs, but he gave up just six homers overall in his final 11 starts.
“I threw a few more pitches in the bullpen second half of the season,” Paxton said, “so I could kind of get the first few hitters out of the way in the bullpen just so to try and sharpen myself up.”
Righty José Berríos (14-8, 3.82) goes for Minnesota. He entered the 2017 wild card game with the score 4-4 and gave up Greg Bird’s go-ahead single and Judge’s two-run homer.
Yankees manager Aaron Boone picked Masahiro Tanaka (11-9, 4.45) to start Game 2 on Saturday and Luis Severino (1-1, 1.50) for Game 3 at Minnesota on Monday.
Baldelli, speaking as rain forced workouts indoors, did not announce a Game 2 starter, though Jake Odorizzi (15-7, 3.51) is the most likely candidate.
Boone dropped CC Sabathia from the roster because the 39-year-old lefty has a sore pitching shoulder. Sabathia hopes to be available for the ALCS.
Edwin Encarnación, who hasn’t played since Sept. 12 because of a strained left oblique, is likely to be on the Yankees roster after hitting in a pair of simulated games this week.