Thanks to a 16--4 run over the final three weeks, the Twins tied the Tigers for first place in the AL Central. The two teams were set for a one-game playoff on Tuesday night in Minnesota to determine the division champion and the Yankees' opponent in the ALDS. The extra game won't be as big a burden as you might think for the winner: Of the five previous teams to win one-game playoffs in the three-division era, three went on to win their Division Series matchups.
That said, the number will remain at three, because the Yankees are the best team in baseball and they will be facing the weakest of the eight postseason teams. In fact, given their injuries and the weakness of the AL Central, there's a strong case to be made that neither the Twins nor the Tigers is one of the dozen best teams in the game right now. Minnesota lost its second-best player, Justin Morneau, and best starting pitcher, Kevin Slowey. Detroit has been without trade-deadline acquisition Jarrod Washburn and saw All-Stars Brandon Inge and Edwin Jackson revert to mediocrity in the second half. Just to put themselves in position to get into the postseason, the Tigers had to use their top two starters in their last two games.
Under the best of circumstances, these Yankees will be difficult to beat. They have the best offense in baseball by far, having been the only team in the majors to score 900 runs. The $244 million they invested in CC Sabathia (3.37 ERA) and A.J. Burnett (4.10) paid off by giving them their strongest postseason rotation in a decade. Their bullpen is anchored as always by Mariano Rivera, and strengthened in the seventh and eighth by homegrown arms Philip Hughes, David Robertson and Phil Coke. G.M. Brian Cashman did his best job of adding depth this year, giving New York its most talented, versatile bench in years.
This was the best team in baseball all year, and is the postseason favorite. Over five games the difference is small between any two teams good enough to make the postseason, which is why A's G.M. Billy Beane famously called the postseason "a crapshoot." He wasn't wrong, but the Yankees against the AL Central champion is as close as you're going to get to loaded dice. Yanks in three.