You may have heard the news earlier this week: the Minnesota Twins have a new neighbor in the American League starting in 2013. All signs point to a spirited rivalry between the Twins and Houston Astros, one that will make all other American sports rivalries look pitiful by comparison. The best part is that unlike Vikings/Packers, this is a rivalry that might actually make the Minnesota team look good.
Yankees/Red Sox? Meh. Celtics/Lakers? Yawn. Astros/Twins is the next big thing! It’s a rivalry so big they couldn’t even fit both teams in the same division. Houston will play its games in the AL West, the Twins’ old stomping grounds.
But a history of division changes isn’t the only similarity between these two franchises. Their style of play on the field looks very much the same. Among MLB teams, the Astros’ sluggers barely edged out the Twins in home run avoidance, with 95 compared to the Twins’ 103. The Astros arguably made even better use of the “Don’t Score Runs” strategy that the Twins employed in 2011. Houston scored 615 to the 619 for the Twins. Both teams have aging veterans, injury problems, and a core of young players that can’t really play. No wonder they had such similar winning percentages last year (.389 for the Twins, .346 for the Astros).
What’s that you say? A good rivalry needs historical context? Done. Just look at some of the legendary stars that have played for both the Twins and Astros over the years. Mark Davidson, Mike Lamb, Adam Everett, Dan Schatzeder, Jim Deshaies, Todd Jones, Greg Swindell… the list goes on! Imagine the raucous boos that would have thundered through the ‘Dome if Davidson had come back to play his old team in 1989. Just think how jealous the Houston faithful would have been if they’d been forced to watch Everett star at short against his old team 7 to 10 times per season. Imagine no more, because if (for example) Nick Punto signs with Houston, he’ll be back to visit in 2013.
The competition will kick off next summer, even before the two teams meet as league opponents. Houston and Minnesota are slated to go 1-2 in the draft. Will they pick two superstars who will spend their careers dueling each other en route to the Hall of Fame? Or will Houston pull a Sam Bowie right before the Twins draft a Michael Jordan? Note: for the purposes of that analogy, you should probably ignore the fact that Houston’s basketball team ended up with Hakeem Olajuwon in that draft, and the #2 draft pick was used on Bowie. I want the Twins to get a Jordan at #2 instead of a bust so we can lord it over those Houston suckers for the next 20 years (further clarification: I want the Twins to get a player as good at baseball as Jordan was at basketball, not a player who plays baseball like Jordan did).
Some of the best sports rivalries are geographical in nature. At first glance, the Twins might not look like a geographic match for the Astros, but that’s because you’re not using your imagination. Target Field and Minute Maid Park are less than 1,200 miles away, according to Google Maps. And you can take I-35 almost the whole way there. True, the Rangers are a lot closer to the Astros than the Twins, but who needs them?
So far, the Twins hold the bragging rights in this rivalry. In head to head matchups, the Twins have won 11 glorious victories, while Houston has a paltry 9 wins against the Twins (and I’m sure they cheated in every one). Remember in 2006 when Francisco Liriano outdueled Houston’s Roger Clemens in a nationally-televised game? Sure you do. On a larger scale, Minnesota has two World Series wins (three if you count the Senators in 1924), while Houston has never taken home the Commissioner’s Trophy. In fact, Houston has never even won an American League pennant. Minnesota has three – six counting the Senators. Even though the Twins outgrew the AL West back in 1994, they still have a big edge in total number of AL West titles with four (1969, 1970, 1987, 1991) to Houston’s big fat zero. So the ‘Stros have some catching up to do. You know that has to be burning those Houstonites up inside.
Well, Astro fans, you’re just going to have to suffer for now. The Twins are gunning for you.