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ALDS Preview: Twins vs. Yankees

Oct 7, 2009, 2:33 AM EDT

Two full weeks after the Yankees clinched their spot in the playoffs, the Twins and Tigers played a 12-inning thriller yesterday to decide the AL Central.
Thirteen pitchers were used, 391 pitches were thrown, and when the Twins emerged victorious they had less than 20 hours to celebrate in front of a record crowd at the not-dead-yet Metrodome, get to the airport, fly from Minneapolis to New York, presumably get some sleep, and then be at Yankee Stadium for the first pitch of the ALDS tonight.
Congratulations on the division title. Hope you enjoyed the celebration. Now try beating this 103-win powerhouse with three times your payroll.
Before becoming the biggest underdogs of the playoffs the Twins trailed the Tigers by seven games on September 6 and remained three games behind with just four games to play, which is a deficit that no team in baseball history has come back from. Until now. Minnesota went 31-14 down the stretch, including 17-4 after losing Justin Morneau to a season-ending back injury, and scratched out a one-game playoff win after falling 1-0 to the White Sox in the same situation last year.
Their reward? A late-night flight to New York for a matchup against baseball’s most dominant team. Oh, and just in case the above scenario isn’t daunting enough the Twins are 16-45 against the Yankees under manager Ron Gardenhire, including 0-7 this season, and New York is responsible for two of their last three playoff exits. This is David versus Goliath, if Goliath wore pinstripes and David was tired from dousing himself with champagne the night before, but fortunately for the Twins their slingshot is still warm.

CC Sabathia         230 IP    7.7 SO/9    2.6 BB/9    42.9 GB%    3.94 xFIP
Brian Duensing       84 IP    5.7 SO/9    3.3 BB/9    45.5 GB%    4.97 xFIP
A.J. Burnett        207 IP    9.5 SO/9    4.2 BB/9    42.8 GB%    4.50 xFIP
Nick Blackburn      206 IP    4.3 SO/9    1.8 BB/9    45.8 GB%    4.78 xFIP
Andy Pettitte       195 IP    6.8 SO/9    3.5 BB/9    42.9 GB%    3.94 xFIP
Carl Pavano         199 IP    6.6 SO/9    1.8 BB/9    44.5 GB%    4.24 xFIP
CC Sabathia         230 IP    7.7 SO/9    2.6 BB/9    42.9 GB%    3.94 xFIP
Scott Baker         200 IP    7.3 SO/9    2.2 BB/9    33.9 GB%    4.39 xFIP
A.J. Burnett        207 IP    9.5 SO/9    4.2 BB/9    42.8 GB%    4.50 xFIP
Nick Blackburn      206 IP    4.3 SO/9    1.8 BB/9    45.8 GB%    4.78 xFIP

* xFIP stands for Expected Fielding Independent Pitching, which is generally a better measure of pitcher performance than ERA. GB% is ground-ball percentage.
Minnesota had to rebuild its rotation on the fly thanks to Francisco Liriano falling apart and injuries to Kevin Slowey and Glen Perkins, and the revised front four of Scott Baker, Nick Blackburn, Carl Pavano, and Brian Duensing went 17-9 with a 3.76 ERA over the final 45 games of the season. Ideally the Twins would start Baker in Game 1, but since he was needed in yesterday’s one-game playoff they’ll go with the 26-year-old rookie Duensing against CC Sabathia.
Duensing was 5-2 with a 3.64 ERA in 84 innings split between the rotation and bullpen, but his secondary numbers weren’t nearly as impressive, his stuff is mediocre, and he went 20-22 with a 4.00 ERA at Triple-A before making his big-league debut this year. Sabathia versus Duensing is the biggest mismatch of a lopsided series, but the Yankees also hold smaller edges in each of the other four games and it’s possible that the Twins’ best starter won’t ever take the mound.
Sabathia struggled in his final start, but went 11-2 with a 2.74 ERA after the All-Star break and is 13-8 with a 3.05 ERA lifetime against the Twins, including seven innings of one-run ball in July. Minnesota will likely need to win two of the other three matchups, because it’s awfully difficult to envision the Twins beating Carsten Charles twice. One matchup that could favor the Twins is the Blackburn-Burnett combo, because Blackburn has repeatedly come up big in key starts and Burnett has been mediocre all season.
New York led all of baseball in hits, homers, walks, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage on the way to scoring an MLB-high 915 runs, which is 32 more than any other team and 145 more than the league average. Eight of the nine regulars in the lineup posted an OPS above .800, and even the Melky Cabrera-Brett Gardner platoon in center field managed above-average production. Minnesota’s fly ball-heavy pitching staff will be in constant danger as seven Yankees smacked at least 20 homers.
No team can match the Yankees when it comes to lineup depth and offensive firepower, but the Twins were plenty good at scoring runs themselves, ranking fourth in the league with 816. Joe Mauer had one of the greatest seasons of all time for a catcher, hitting .365/.444/.587 with 28 homers for his third batting title in four seasons, and Jason Kubel, Michael Cuddyer, and Denard Span were also among the league’s top bats.
Morneau’s injury robs Minnesota of a fifth big-time threat, but Cuddyer hit .333 with nine homers and 24 RBIs in 21 games after replacing him at first base and guys like Delmon Young, Orlando Cabrera, and Matt Tolbert caught fire down the stretch after being easy outs for most of the season. They’re certainly not going to out-slug the Yankees, but the Twins have plenty of pop and scored 6.3 runs per game during the season-ending 17-4 stretch.
Twins relievers had a 3.88 ERA in 512 innings and Yankees relievers had a 3.91 ERA in 515 innings, but bullpen depth ceases being a big factor once the playoffs begin. In other words, no more R.A. Dickey and Edwar Ramirez. Instead playoff bullpens are all about closers and their primary setup men, which means Mariano Rivera, Phil Hughes, and Joba Chamberlain for New York and Joe Nathan, Matt Guerrier, and Jon Rauch for Minnesota. No pitcher can match Rivera’s postseason success, but Nathan is right there with him when it comes to regular-season dominance since becoming a closer in 2004:

             IP      ERA     WHIP      SV      SV%
Rivera      440     1.90     0.94     243     93.1
Nathan      419     1.87     0.93     246     90.8

Amazingly close, as Rivera and Nathan have been the two best closers in baseball during that time. However, while the Twins feature a solid but unspectacular setup trio of Guerrier, Rauch, and Jose Mijares the Yankees potentially have two shutdown relievers in front of Rivera. Hughes has been overpowering since moving to the bullpen, going 5-1 with a 1.40 ERA and 65 strikeouts in 51 innings, and while a question mark Chamberlain has a 1.50 ERA in 50 career relief appearances.
Overrated Angle: Pavano versus his former teammates
Yes, the Yankees and their fans still hold a grudge against Pavano, who made a grand total of 26 starts in four injury-filled seasons in New York and earned nearly $5 million per win. However, he’s been healthy and productive this season while making a career-high 33 starts, going 14-9 with a 4.67 ERA since a rough April. Plus, for all the drama of Pavano facing New York in a playoff series he’s already pitched against the Yankees twice this season, allowing four runs over 13.1 innings in a pair of no-decisions.
Underrated Angle: Burnett over Pettitte in Game 2
Because of the incredibly drawn-out ALDS schedule the first two starters will each pitch twice. Sabathia was a no-brainer atop the rotation, but Burnett over Pettitte in Game 2 is somewhat curious. Burnett was 13-9 with a 4.04 ERA and Pettitte was 14-8 with a 4.16 ERA, so they had similar seasons, but Pettitte is a tougher matchup for the Twins given that three of their four best hitters are left-handed. Beyond that, manager Joe Girardi announced that Jose Molina will serve as Burnett’s personal catcher, so Jorge Posada’s bat will be on the bench 40 percent of the time.
Minnesota has all the momentum in the world, but history has shown that doesn’t mean a whole lot once the playoffs begin and New York is simply a superior team with the benefit of rest and homefield advantage. Yankees in four.

  1. David Banos - Oct 7, 2009 at 3:13 AM

    A lot of those losses were Yankee teams with genetically-enhanced players like Giambi, A-Rod, and Clemens

  2. Jay Kalsbeck - Oct 7, 2009 at 3:24 AM

    In 1979, the Minnesota North Stars had lost 22 straight to the Bruins going into their Stanley Cup playoff series with the Boston. Minnesota won the series.
    The Giants with a mediocre Eli Manning weren’t supposed to beat the undefeated Patriots in a Superbowl. (granted, just one game but the principle is the same)
    Sports history is loaded with such examples. But as the saying goes that’s why they don’t play the games on paper.
    Is it a tough task for Minnesota? No doubt. But over 5 games anything can happen.
    Basically, this will be (and should be) a Twins Nation to almost all but the diehard Yankee fans. People hate the Yankees for their star and studded lineup that was bought and paid for with huge sums of money.
    They (the organization not the players) represent everything that’s wrong with baseball and if, as most sane people expect, they win the World Series, it will simply be considered a return on investment instead of an actual accomplishment.
    I’d rather be insane and root for the Twins to do the impossible and actually have an accomplishment to show for it in the end.

  3. Mike Liaudaitis - Oct 7, 2009 at 6:15 AM

    Return on an investment? Each team decides what their investment is going to be, and then follows through with it. The Yankees invest heavily, because they value and believe in their investment, the teams still have to perform on the field. The last 8 years have shown that an INVESTMENT means nothing, unless it can transfer into production on the field. So to Jay Kalsbeck I say, IT AIN’T ALL ABOUT THE MONEY.
    And as far as the NY GIANTS go, only the news media underestimated them, if you know your football, you would know that the NY GIANTS were MORE than capable of taking down the New England Pantywaists without the David and Goliath reference.
    P.S. You root for those Twins jay, cuz it will be a REALLY short series for them;)

  4. Jaime - Oct 7, 2009 at 6:50 AM

    Call me crazy as well, but GO TWINS!!!!!

  5. Lightfighter - Oct 7, 2009 at 7:11 AM

    You sound like a sore loser. I mean, isn’t that the idea, invest so you can get bigger revenue. It’s all bout how you manage your investments. Are you a Detroit fan?

  6. dan - Oct 7, 2009 at 7:20 AM

    The Yankees better win this series or else Joe Girardi will be out and Bobby Valentine will be in as Yankees skipper.

  7. SBG - Oct 7, 2009 at 7:41 AM

    The Yankees have spent what, $2 billion on salaries since their last World Series title? And you want to talk ROI? This is the 6th time in the last eight years that the Twins have won their division or ended up tied on the last day of the season. That’s not a bad ROI, dude.

  8. Megs - Oct 7, 2009 at 7:47 AM

    No offense but the Yankees would never hire Bobby Valentine- he’s an embarrassment to baseball and New York. Need I remind you about the fake mustache incident after getting thrown out of a game? Bush league.
    Girardi has done a helluva a job this year with this club, he’ll be back next year. Yanks all the way!

  9. Pat Gray - Oct 7, 2009 at 8:00 AM

    On paper, the Twins are clearly the better team.

  10. Jimmy B - Oct 7, 2009 at 8:13 AM

    In regards to the ROI statement made, it should be noted that in order for the NY Yankee management to ensure that they are putting forth a product worthy of demanding astronomical seating prices and ridiculous stadium amenities the management has to put forth enormous capital to make customers happy – and have them return or spread the word that the product is exceptional. This is standard business practice. Ask Jerry Jones or Mark Cuban – once the product becomes bigger than the field of play then the marketing includes the personnel. Think of it in terms of the dilapidated Baltimore Orioles with whom you can sit on field level to watch a game for literally ten times less than that seat would cost at new Yankee Stadium. What rationale would suggest that the O’s could or even would invest in a lucrative series of deals to secure a player when their empty, cheap seats cannot ensure that the checks will even clear.
    It is a shame that other markets do not have the capital that NY does. It is a shame that when teams play the Yankees at their own field they have thousands of fans cheering for the other team. Keep in mind however that the storied franchise sat and watched as smaller market teams hoisted the trophy each of the 8 seasons. It should be clear to all who have entered the field of play in any sport that the high price of your cleats or basketball shoes don’t make you any better of a ballplayer they just make you look nicer. Michael Jordan dazzled us with ordinary shoes just as he did with those of his namesake. Winning is an act of determination and heart – not dollars and cents. We all know this.
    It is time to stop hating the Yankees, because in a poor economy many of us should be taking notes on how to invest our money, relatively or otherwise.

  11. Bill@TDS - Oct 7, 2009 at 8:26 AM

    Wait a minute…Pavano, and not Baker on a full four days’ rest, is really going in game 3? That’s crazy.

  12. DadooS - Oct 7, 2009 at 9:01 AM

    Why bother with a season of all those other teams? Let’s save time, trouble, and money and just declare the Yankees the only baseball team worth following who will obviously always win. The national media only seems to have the resources and interest for covering the one team anyway. Instead of baseball season, let’s just make all the stadiums shrines where fans can go and worship the one true franchise by paying lots of money to sit and hear national media hacks recite the praises of the real baseball gods.

  13. gregorovich - Oct 7, 2009 at 9:29 AM

    It aint over ’till it’s over.

  14. Jeff - Oct 7, 2009 at 9:32 AM

    There’s nothing strategic about the Yankees. A team with 3X the payroll should win. Baseball needs to level the playing field so to speak like Football does. Outside of New York, no one wants to see this. People want to see teams win that execute better on the field and in the general office. Any moron can simply spend more. I could put together a winning team if I had unlimited funds.
    For that, this Cincinnati fan says Go Twins!!!!!

  15. pete leary - Oct 7, 2009 at 9:36 AM

    A rarity- player development in the NY Yankees farm system. They represent everything that is wrong with baseball. A collection of overpaid mercenaries bought and paid for to satisfy the massive egos of the Steinbrenner clan! Little wonder that beyond New York, they are despised nationally with little chance to win the World Series. AROID will choke as he usually does in big games.The pitching staff is suspect at best and Girardi is overrated as a manager. Mr. Steinbrenner should do something good for humanity-ante up some of his cash to educate and feed underpriviledged people rather than waste it trying to feed his monstrous ego!Time was the Yankees were respected based on their commitment to a farm system. Not so any longer. Lastly, if baseball had a commissioner who had a pair, there would be more parity. It has been reduced to a system of haves and have nots. It is no longer a sport but rather a money fed business with the richy rich playing for all the marbles. In the annals of sport, the 2009 Yankees, given their wealth,their ruthless rush to buy talent rather than grow it, will go down in history as underachievers,no matter what they accomplish on the field.

  16. Zach - Oct 7, 2009 at 9:36 AM

    Taking notes on how to invest our money? From the Yankees? You have got to be kidding me. I suppose that advice would be to overpay for absolutely anything with perceived value. In a time where money is tight, taking notes on investment from an organization who spends literally billions of dollars in between successes seems foolish. I think the Twins style of investment and player development is more noteworthy chief.

  17. Steven - Oct 7, 2009 at 10:01 AM

    lay off the crack, dude. we get it- you love the Twins and hate the Yankees. it is remarkable that the Twins have gotten as far as they have. however, you are living in fantasyland. the Twins are nothing but an inadequate warmup for the next series against Boston/California/LA/Anaheim. they will be lucky to win one game. hear me now and believe me later.

  18. Rob in CT - Oct 7, 2009 at 10:02 AM

    “A rarity- player development in the NY Yankees farm system.”
    Homegrown Yankees on the playoff roster who were developed on the farm:
    Derek Jeter – SS
    Jorge Posada – C
    Mariano Rivera – closer
    Robinson Cano – 2B
    Melky Cabrera – starting CF
    Brett Gardner – backup CF
    Phil Hughes – set up man
    Joba Chamberlain – swing man (at the moment)
    Alfredo Aceves – reliever
    David Robertson – reliever
    Phil Coke – reliever
    Andy Pettitte was also a homegrown Yankee, though he left and came back via FA. Damaso Marte was a Yankee farmhand they brought back via trade and then signed to a silly contract. Nick Swisher was acquired via trade because Chicago thought he sucked.
    Sorry for interrupting your whine. All teams buy talent, in case you haven’t noticed. The Yankees pay top dollar premiums to buy the CC Sabathias of the world in their prime. Sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn’t and they’re on the hook. The Yanks generally don’t have a shot at drafting, say, Joe Mauer. He’s off the board already. That’s fine: draft order is an intended equalizer for bad teams. The Yankees spend like they do to be in the mix for a championship every year. There is no planned rebuilding cycle. You can hate that all you want, but I’d suggest, if you’re a Twins fan, that you consider the wealth of your team’s ownership compared to what they spend on the team before you pop off about the awful, awful Steinbrenners.

  19. GerryM - Oct 7, 2009 at 10:25 AM

    Nice going Rob, but there are a few other names Petey may have also overlooked.
    If you look at the big names the Yanks have acquired, only half of the motivation is “buying a championship”. The other half is preventing your rivals from getting the talent. Boston bids on the same guys the Yankees try to sign. The 2009 season would’ve been much different if talent like Teixeira, Sabathia and Burnett went to Boston instead of NY.

  20. Paul - Oct 7, 2009 at 10:49 AM

    The fat lady say’s IT AIN’T OVER!!!!!!!!

  21. AMS223 - Oct 7, 2009 at 10:50 AM

    Two notes:
    1. On AJ over pettitte, the twins seems to have hit pettitte very well over their careers, even the lefties, While AJ has succeeded.
    2. Look at Nathan’s numbers vs the Yankees…. That is all

  22. Joe D - Oct 7, 2009 at 10:51 AM

    Stop the bs about how much the Yankees spend
    If they win we will hear “They bought another championship” and if they dont win the WS all we will hear is “Look at all the money they spent and still cant win”
    Steinbrenner reinvest his money while teams like the Marlins and Twins develop a lot of talent but let them walk away because the owners have squirel arms

  23. Scary Haircut Guy - Oct 7, 2009 at 10:55 AM

    The Yankees have the best record in baseball and the highest payroll and the worst and most delusional fans. There is nowhere left for those overpaid-panty-wastes-in-pinstripes (and their fans)to go but for a beat-down.

  24. AndrewYF - Oct 7, 2009 at 10:56 AM

    I suppose Jay think it’s better that the Pohlads pocket their money instead of spending it on the team.
    It seems like he’s more a fan of the Pohlads’ pockets than major league baseball. Very strange.

  25. joel manzolillo - Oct 7, 2009 at 11:02 AM

    Clearly you must be on drugs!

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