We've seen this Yankees-Twins series before, and almost always with the same results. Last year in the ALDS, the Yankees swept the Twins, their ninth straight loss in the ALDS. But even though the Twins have lost eight of 10 going into the postseason, this series has a different feel, maybe because it opens at Target Field, maybe because the Yankees aren't the team they were in 2009. This series could go either way and likely will go in every direction.
Here are five questions about the series:
1. How important will CC Sabathia be in this series?
He will be huge. Last year in the postseason, Sabathia was brilliant, and a workhorse, but he had an effective A.J. Burnett and a seasoned Andy Pettitte by his side. This year, he has Pettitte, who is questionable coming back from an injury, and Phil Hughes, who has had a terrific season but has thrown more innings than he ever has, and has been protected somewhat down the stretch. The Yankees won the World Series last year in large part because of their starting pitching, but it isn't what it was last season. That's why Sabathia in Game 1, and again in Game 4, is so important more important than ever.
2. How important will Francisco Liriano be?
Almost as important as Sabathia. The Twins will go with four starters, not three, but Liriano in Game 1 at home against Sabathia could turn the series. Liriano is unlike most Twins starters because, when right, he can be overpowering; he had 201 strikeouts in 191 2/3 innings, and had seven starts when he didn't allow a run. Liriano did labor in his last three starts, losing them all and allowing 12 earned runs in 13 1/3 innings. But he has been stingy with the home run ball -- he allowed nine -- and has been really good against left-handers: a 2.18 ERA, no home runs allowed, four walks and 52 strikeouts. Liriano will see Yankees left-handed hitters Brett Gardner, Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano. But Granderson has been a different looking hitter against left-handers the past five weeks.
3. Is ruling Justin Morneau out in any way a good thing?
That's a stretch. We can't forget what a fabulous season he was having when he took a knee to the head July 7. But he hasn't played in so long, and there's simply no way that anyone can miss that much time, then return against some of the best pitchers in the game, having taken no real at-bats, and expect to be productive. Now, with this ruling, the Twins won't be waiting and wondering about Morneau, and manager Ron Gardenhire won't be pressed to play a star who has been so good but would be so rusty. The Twins have done extremely well without Morneau, in part because Jim Thome has been so good: He tied Johnny Mize's AL record (set in 1950) for the fewest at-bats (274) in a season of at least 25 homers.
4. What are the injury issues?
Twins catcher Joe Mauer has gotten only 11 at-bats after missing nine games with a knee injury. The injury isn't serious and he seems to be OK, but he will have to be more than OK if the Twins are going to beat the Yankees or anyone else. Mauer is the most indispensable player in the league for all he does for his team. Yankees right fielder Nick Swisher has been slowed by a knee injury, but they're going to need him every day in right.
5. Can the Yankees hit their way through any pitching problem?
The Yankees led the league in runs scored again this season. For the first time in club history, they had three infielders who drove in 100 runs. Mark Teixeira got hot in the second half and became the first player since Frankie Crosetti in 1937 to score over 100 runs despite hitting under .260. One thing to watch with the Yankees is how they react to playing their fourth game ever at Target Field. It is tough for a hitter to see the ball there because the sun or the lights shine off the big Twins insignia in right-center field and into the eyes of the hitters. The Yankees might have trouble with that, but with their lineup, trouble doesn't last very long.
PREDICTION: YANKEES IN FIVE
Tim Kurkjian is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. His book "Is This a Great Game, or What?" was published by St. Martin's Press and is available in paperback. Click here to order a copy.