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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. Joe D - Oct 7, 2009 at 11:15 AM

    ha ha come one come all THE YANKEE HATERS are out in full force.
    Get your tissues ready #27 is right around the corner……
    Yankees rule !!!!!!!!!!

  2. Jeff - Oct 7, 2009 at 11:25 AM

    “Winning is an act of determination and heart – not dollars and cents. We all know this.”
    Great, Jimmy B! Then the Yankees are in favor of a team spending cap, after all. Why spend all that money if it isn’t buying them anything?

  3. Dan - Oct 7, 2009 at 11:30 AM

    Hey, that’s a good point. They don’t have the draft spots because they are successful, therefore they need to purchase their top talent, instead of draft it. That is fair enough.

  4. Ryan - Oct 7, 2009 at 11:45 AM

    Typical arrogant Yankees fan. No wonder a majority of the nations hates your team and fans like you.

  5. wade - Oct 7, 2009 at 11:59 AM

    Shouldn’t injury be “injury” when referring to Glen Perkins?

  6. Steve - Oct 7, 2009 at 12:03 PM

    Why condemn the Yankees because they have an owner who is: A. Smart enough to create investment opportunities in NYC that give him an endless supply of money and B. Willing to invest the money he makes back into the team and get the best possible player at each position?
    I’m proud that the team I root for has an owner willing to lay it all on the line to win. If the other owners aren’t smart enough or aren’t willing to dump their revenues back into their teams, they should get out…..

  7. Joe D - Oct 7, 2009 at 12:09 PM

    Steve that was great !!!!!!!!

  8. Kim - Oct 7, 2009 at 12:12 PM

    This sounds like a business magazine editorial section. The best times I had in baseball involved picking a team for no really great reason, sticking with them,and watching the game or listening on the radio. It was just baseball, but it was the best baseball of my life. I was 13.

  9. Ron Hayes - Oct 7, 2009 at 12:17 PM

    Already making excuses ????

  10. Greeniemeanie - Oct 7, 2009 at 12:36 PM

    I would love to see Arod go 0-for everything and get all watery eyed again copyright “Aroid-gate ’09” when the Yankees get knocked out in the first round and all the haters come down on ’em. The looks on thier faces would be the best gift ever!

  11. Nathan - Oct 7, 2009 at 12:42 PM

    Atta Boy Aaron, take a risk… Say the Twins are long shots! Haha … As you said NYC has 3x the payroll and 4x the steroid test positives!
    Oh and for the record Twins wear Pinstripes too….
    Hey did I mention we beat the Packers on Monday night?

  12. Craigins - Oct 7, 2009 at 12:58 PM

    WOW…. Fans are in a an uproar and restless and the series hasn’t even started. On paper, the Yankees should win. Just like on paper, the Twins should not be where they are at…. playing in the post season. But since the game isn’t played on paper, why not just sit back and enjoy the show? It’s baseball…. Anything can happen.

  13. nick - Oct 7, 2009 at 1:18 PM

    God all these lame, rationalizing Yankee fans suck. You can parse the situation any way you like, but the Yankees’ payroll is three times the Twins’. Just because they haven’t won the world series in a few years doesn’t mean they’re on the same level as the Twins. That doesn’t make the money aspect moot/irrelevant. Screw the Yankees. Rooting for them is like rooting for a tsunami as it wipes away a remote village in Indonesia. Or rooting for an atomic bomb as it falls towards Hiroshima.

  14. Brian - Oct 7, 2009 at 1:19 PM

    Nobody likes a sore winner…especially when they haven’t won yet. Once the series is over you can decide to be gracious in defeat or victory, or be a prick. To be fair, the Yankee players are more gracious in winning than many of the fans appear to be. I at least give them that.
    The real difficulty for me is that the baseball model is so skewed toward large market teams that eventually i fear they will have to move or eliminate some smaller markets. Baseball is second to football in this country and most people are too busy to watch a 3 hour game 162 times a year. Therefore they simply root for recognizable figures and teams who win alot. While you may argue the Yankees try to buy championships, really, and I argue smartly, they buy fans more importantly. Kids in KC go to Kauffman field in a Derek Jeter Jersey…this is kinda sad. And unsustainable if you ask me.
    Fact is, most people dont pay much attention to baseball until the post season and then jump on a bandwagon.
    Well people, the Yankee bandwagon is CROWDED! But it’s nice and roomy over here on the Twins bandwagon. Hey we may get swept, but at if not, we’ll have a better and more awe inspiring tale to tell our grandkids. So if youre not to lazy to root for the “sure thing,” Small ball, small market baseball, the average fan of an average team could sure use your support.

  15. tom - Oct 7, 2009 at 1:40 PM

    . . . and that is why they play the game. Down the stretch, the ’06 Cardinals were being compared to the ’64 Phillies for blowing the biggest lead ever. On paper the Cards had no business being in the playoffs. The Yankees, who had already been written in — on paper — to be in the WS, were going to crush the Cardinals if the Cards were lucky enough to get to there. How did that one work out?

  16. Ryan - Oct 7, 2009 at 1:43 PM

    If the Twins win game one…they will sweep the series.
    If not, they will get swept.
    Nothing better than watching large market teams brag about how good they are. Home grown this, home grown that. I don’t care. The Twins as a whole do not make as much as A-Rod.
    There is probably no more than 3 players on the Twins active roster the Yankees would even consider looking at. Thats why people route for the Twins.
    If you yupee Yankee fans can’t see a David vs Goliath you need to get outside and experience the clean fresh air of the Midwest. There is nothing wrong in pointing that out.
    Thats why people route for teams like the Twins. Not to mention arrogant fans such as the Yankees.
    We’re gonna win Twins!
    We’re gonna score!
    Were gonna win Twins
    Watch that baseball SOOOOAAAARRRR!!!
    Knock out a homerun!
    Shout a hip horay!
    David vs Goliath exits…it starts in a few short hours.

  17. Sully - Oct 7, 2009 at 1:45 PM

    Nice way to bring up Mo’s stats from 2004 on. Should also mention his playoff stats in that same time frame.
    3 blown saves in his last 7 opportunities.

  18. Kerri - Oct 7, 2009 at 1:50 PM

    First off I am a die hard Twins fan! Let’s get that out in the open. Should the Twins beat the Yankees, no prob not, but will they remains to be seen. They shouldn’t have won the Central Division Title either. Does NY buy their talent, of course but all major league teams do. I think that the Twins play a much better game because they play by heart and pure unaltered talent driven by the thousands of screaming fans. But, is it enough! I hope so! I think the Yankees play more because they are getting paid to. I would hope they have as much fun playing as the Twins do but I think they prob get too bogged down in all the drama that surrounds them. The Yankees are a good team and they have paid for it, if we had the money that NY does, who’s to say we wouldn’t do the same thing? It’s a lot of he says, she says and dollar signs floating around but when it all comes down to it, the best baseball isn’t neccessarily bought and paid for. Money may bring the best results but my guess is no one will forget last nights Twins/Tigers game for many years to come. It was about the game and no one cared about the money.

  19. Brian - Oct 7, 2009 at 2:04 PM

    I have been saying this since the Detroit/Twins 4 game series: “the Twins have nothing to loose.” Really they’re not suppose to even be here. All they can do is play and have fun and the Minnesota fans have already been treated to a fantastic seaon finale. Yankees will deem anything short of a Sweep to the world series a failure. Even when they loose in the playoffs it’s a bigger story than the team who won.

  20. Nico - Oct 7, 2009 at 2:10 PM

    I’d say Game 1 is a must-win game for the Yankees. That sounds weird, since they are such a heavy favorite, but the last thing they can afford to do is to give the Twins hope AND two games at home.
    The Yanks are like the US Mens Basketball team. They are expected to dominate. If they don’t win the Gold (or World Series), they are a disappointment. If they do, they were just doing what they are supposed to do. Seems pretty joyless. The Twins, on the other hand, seem to be enjoying this ride quite a bit. Following them from a far over the last two to three weeks has really been quite fun. They’ve converted me… Go Twins!!!! (at least until the Cubs get back in the playoffs :)

  21. Lou - Oct 7, 2009 at 2:23 PM

    I root for 2 teams. The Mets and whoever is playing against the Yankees.
    GO TWINS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    and yes I come from NYC.

  22. Diane H. - Oct 7, 2009 at 2:24 PM

    All I can say is a resounding Thank You! I realize as a Minnesotan, I am still coming down from “sports victory high” after the Vikes beat the Packers on Monday and the Twins toppled Detroit yesterday; but nonetheless feel like I should stick up for my team after reading two articles by sports writers who spent endless words saying “Fat Chance!” regarding the prospects of the Twins beating the Yankees. Well, I understand the daunting task ahead of our MN Twins but I will compare it to what it was like for our USA hockey team against the Russians in the 1980 Olympics. Just as in this case it wasn’t the final but those hockey players had to go up against the huge favorite for the gold and beat them just to continue on for the gold medal. It was a team of college players put together the summer before to go up against Russian pro hockey players who had played together much longer than just a number of months. Well, I know the Twins are a pro team; however, when you compare team payrolls between MN and NY, you might as well say it’s college level vs. the pros! Even if I weren’t a MN native I’d be cheering for the Twins because NY no longer represents what baseball started out to be years ago..instead the team is merely a machine put together by a lot of money and scheming tactical moves from the head office. No, I’ll always back the team that plays with sheer will, guts, heart, talent and never-say-die-attitude like the “comeback guys” who are the MN Twins.

  23. Amanda - Oct 7, 2009 at 2:27 PM

    I agree, GO TWINS!!! I’m so sick of that dirty yankee team…they think their better than everyone else. It’s not over, and I’m going to laugh at all those yankee fans and the team when they loose (which hopefully will happen).

  24. Joe D - Oct 7, 2009 at 2:29 PM

    Sure the Yankees are favorite to win this series but everything starts new at 6 pm
    The Yankees sweept the Twins but 6 of the 7 were by 1 or 2 runs and not to long ago the Yankees sweept the Tigers and lost in the 1st round.
    What bothers me is how all the haters disrespect all Yankee fans
    I am a proud Yankee fan who loves baseball show some respect to those of us who deserve it.

  25. tom - Oct 7, 2009 at 2:40 PM

    I admire the Yankees as a business entity – they are very well run and make a lot of money. Something that is very admirable in the business world. I admire the Yankee’s players. Who cannot admire the talent of Jeter, Rivera, Rodriguez, Texiera, Sabathia, Posada and almost every other player on that team? I also do not mind the Yankees using the money they make to pay top dollar for their team. It is their money and they can spend it how they please. The reason I hate the Yankees is because I hate the Yankees’ fans. They are the most arrogant, classless and rudest fans in baseball. It is because of the Yankees’ fans that I will always, always, always cheer against the Yankees and pull for the other team. Go Twins!!!!!

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