The New York Yankees will face the Minnesota Twins in the ALDS beginning Friday. Dirk Shadd/Tampa Bay Times

ARLINGTON, Texas — On Saturday, the day before the final game of the regular season, the New York Yankees’ brass, including general manager Brian Cashman’s front office and manager Aaron Boone’s coaching staff, held the first of many meetings to determine the team’s roster for its American League division series, which begins Friday in New York. The Yankees’ opponent for the series had been decided the day before: the Minnesota Twins.

More planning meetings will be held in the coming days, as players rest and practice over the four days between the regular-season finale and the playoff opener. The players who won’t be on the division series roster will soon head to the team’s facility in Tampa, Florida, to keep working out.

“We’re going to take as much time as we need” in deciding the roster, Cashman said before a 6-1 loss to the Texas Rangers on Sunday in the final game at Globe Life Park.

Among the reasons that the Yankees’ playoff roster picture still appears fuzzy in some spots: the makeup of their 12- or 13-man pitching staff is still being determined, and the health status of first baseman and designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion, who is in the final stages of recovering from an oblique strain suffered earlier this month, is still in flux.

“If I’m not at 100%, I’m very close to reaching it,” Encarnacion said over the weekend.

The Yankees, who finished with a 103-59 record, had another injury scare on Sunday as Gio Urshela, the Yankees’ surprising standout at third base this season, exited in the fourth inning after suffering a mild left ankle sprain during a defensive play, but Boone said after the game that he expected Urshela to play on Friday.

As they proved during the season against the Yankees, the AL Central champion Twins will be stout opposition. The Yankees won four of six games against the Twins in the regular season, and in the three-game series in Minneapolis in July, two of the best offenses in baseball clobbered each other’s pitching staffs. The damage: 57 combined runs and 20 home runs.

“That was crazy,” Yankees pitcher James Paxton said. “It’s going to be intense if it’s anything like that.”

A 14-12 win over the Twins in 10 innings on July 23, which ended with center fielder Aaron Hicks’ diving catch with the bases loaded, was probably the most dramatic game the Yankees played this season.

“We got out of Minnesota by the hair on our chinny-chin-chin,” Cashman said.

Added Boone of the Twins, “They’re a beast.”

The Twins’ biggest strength is their offense. After leading the major leagues much of the season in home runs, the Twins finished with a major-league-record 307, one more than the Yankees this season. The Yankees had set the previous record for most home runs by a team in 2018, with 267.

Led by designated hitter Nelson Cruz (41 home runs) and outfielder Max Kepler (36), the Twins had eight players hit at least 20 home runs this season. With a lineup made up mostly of right-handed batters, the Twins’ on-base plus slugging percentage against right-handed pitchers was fourth best in baseball. Their production against left-handed pitchers, however, was the best — which could be troublesome for the Yankees’ J.A. Happ and C. C. Sabathia. Both left-handed starting pitchers were hit hard by right-handed batters this season, and their roles in the first round of the playoffs could be different than they were during the regular season.

Sabathia may end up in the bullpen, a role he tried last week for the first time in his 19 regular seasons in the major leagues. Happ appeared in a game last week as the so-called bulk pitcher after an opener. Masahiro Tanaka, a right-handed pitcher, did the same on Sunday. Boone said such a move was not necessarily a precursor for Tanaka’s role in October.

“It’s all hands on deck, and we’re still working through what that means and how we’re going to deploy it,” Cashman said, adding later, “We’re just trying to put ourselves in the position to keep our options open and allow this roster to be as flexible and adjustable as possible.”

Cashman and Boone insisted that Paxton, the team’s best starting pitcher, was fine despite some nerve irritation behind his left hip, which shortened his start to one inning on Friday. Cashman said the Yankees had been more cautious than usual because the playoffs were around the corner, and the medication given to Paxton was expected to help.

Although Boone has not yet announced who will start which games, Paxton appeared to be the most likely option for Game 1, at least until his injury. That would allow him to pitch a Game 5, if necessary, on at least regular rest.

New York Times


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