Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

The Yankees and Twins playing each other is very often an ALDS preview and this first four-game series sure was.

There was just one key difference this time. Unlike most series, the Twins showed up and took the first two games. The best part, both teams face off again at Target Field in a week’s time and New York had better be prepared.

This Minnesota team didn’t act like it played in a weak division. They had swagger and focus and still played hard even with key players injured. It’s too early to say this is a playoff preview, but both teams sure played with that intensity.

Hitting: People will look back on this four-game series and remember two of them: the Twins’ nine-run first inning on Thursday and Gerrit Cole’s shutout Sunday. Pitching was also the story of this series as a whole.

But let’s talk about that Thursday outburst. Was it largely because Jhony Brito is a rookie who had no pitches working that night? Yes, but seven different Minnesota players drove in runs in the first inning. This is a Twins lineup that was down both Joey Gallo and Jorge Polanco, and yet still kept the line moving.

The rest of the time, both lineups seemed fairly evenly matched. The Yankees just managed the bigger hits in their two wins.

Pitching: The Twins deserve a lot of credit just for how improved their pitching looks early on. Minnesota’s 2.62 staff ERA was MLB’s best heading into Sunday’s game. Twins starters also posted a 3.11 ERA in the series, led by Joe Ryan’s ten strikeouts in seven innings on Thursday.

New York starters had a 3.91 ERA in the four games, but that’s inflated. Subtract Brito’s seven earned runs in less than an inning and that number lowers to a stellar 1.22 courtesy of Nestor Cortes, Domingo German and Cole. To say nothing of the Yankees still being down Carlos Rodon and Luis Severino.

But even so, this is Minnesota’s strongest pitching staff in several years. It might be time to move on from viewing them as just the latest AL Central contender.

How do the teams match up? This is a tough call because even with the series split and Minnesota’s marked improvement, the Yankees are still the better team. Just look at the pitching in three of the four games. Minnesota’s two wins, though impressive, happened because of rookie regression and then catching All-Star closer Clay Holmes on a bad night.

Even so, don’t downplay the Twins. Their pitching staff looks strong from top to bottom. It might even be good enough to overcome a streaky lineup. Sound familiar?

The playoffs aren’t for a while but if the Yankees and Twins meet in October again, odds are it won’t be the usual New York sweep. Win or lose, these Twins could make a playoff series interesting.

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Josh Benjamin has been a staff writer at ESNY since 2018. He has had opinions about everything, especially the Yankees and Knicks. He co-hosts the “Bleacher Creatures” podcast and is always looking for new pieces of sports history to uncover, usually with a Yankee Tavern chicken parm sub in hand.