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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.
Rotations

GAME 1:
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
GAME 2:
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
GAME 3:
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
GAME 4:
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
GAME 5:
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.
Lineups
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.
Bullpens
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.
Prediction
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. james - Oct 7, 2009 at 3:01 PM

    The twins have been playing in Playoff baseball for three weeks now so this is just another do or die situation they have been playing in.

  2. Alicia M - Oct 7, 2009 at 3:09 PM

    David killed Goliath with a sling-shot not a billion dollars. Never say never.

  3. Bill@TDS - Oct 7, 2009 at 3:14 PM

    This is one of the worst arguments anyone ever makes about anything. EVERY owner pockets his/her/its/their money. And none spend out of their own pockets. Pure economic pragmatism; spend what you can make back with a little profit. The difference between the Pohlads and Steinbrenners isn’t greed, it’s that the Yankees have access to a uniquely huge revenue stream which they can, and do, put back into their product, and the Twins get a tiny fraction of that. Whether you think that’s a problem that that needs to be fixed, it’s the situation. The tendency to try to turn the blame around onto other teams for not spending as much as the Yankees do is just one of the many things that makes the mass of Yankee fans so darn endearing, lovable and brilliant.

  4. Chris L - Oct 7, 2009 at 4:37 PM

    Jay, I completely agree with you. The Yankees in my opinion have not and will not be able to accomplish anything baseball worthy. The way the game should be played is something the Minnesota Twins have always done. This to me is more of an accomplishment than simply hitting “bombs” at will and spending more money on players that do so. However, I guess it’s powerhouses such as the Yankees that make teams like the Twins series wins just that much sweeter!

  5. PimP JuicE mAn - Oct 7, 2009 at 4:47 PM

    JETER, MO, POSADA, PETTITE,JOBA, HUGHS,CANO,
    OFF THE TOP OF MY HEAD ARE HOME GROWN …………..
    GET YOUR FACTS STRAIGHT………
    WHERE DID U GET OLANDO CABRERA FROM,,,,,,,,
    DUH. THE A’S
    AND I DIDN’T LQQK AT THE ROSTERS………
    THEY SHOULD HAVE CONTRACTED YOUR TEAM, YOU HATE THE YANKEES BUT WHEN
    THEY GO TO THE TWIN CITIES YOUR STADIUM GET’S SOLD OUT.
    YOUR CHEAP OWNER STUFFED HIS POCKET WITH GEORGES MONEY FROM REVENUE SHARING INSTEAD OF GETTING A FEW PLAYERS WITH IT, YOU SMALL MARKET TEAMS SHOULD KISS GEORGIES RING……….
    WHY DO YOU THINK WE HAD TO BUILD TWO STADIUMS, TO WRITE OFF THE LOST AND STOP GIVING MILLIONS OF OUR MONEY TO YOUR OWNER.
    GET YOURSELF EDUCATED AND STOP WHINNING LIKE A WOMAN!!!
    I DON’T HATE THE TWINS, I EVEN HAVE A TWIN CITY BASEBALL CAP BECAUSE OF THE WAY THEY PLAY THE GAME, I BET YOU THINK GARDENHIRE PLAYED FOR THE TWINS AS WELL, HE DIDN’T HE WAS A MET, GOGGLE IT.
    LIKE JETER SAID , LET’S WIN IT FOR GEORGE!!!

  6. Kevin MN - Oct 7, 2009 at 4:55 PM

    I love all of the moron Yankees fans that think the Yankees have as much money as they do because of “investing” and talking about “ROI”. A – it pretty clear by your misuse of these terms that you have no clue what your talking about. B. The Yankees have more money because they exist in the largest media market in the country. St Louis has just as much tradition and history as the Yankees and have consitently fielded good teams. However, they can’t have a payroll that is $50 million more than anyone else because their in St Louis, a much smaller market. Stop acting like the Yankees are some financial geniuses for figuring out how to get the most revenue out of the country’s largest media market. Donald Trump could’ve figured that out, and he managed to go bankrupt in the Casino industry.

  7. Yanks#27 - Oct 7, 2009 at 4:58 PM

    George Steinbrenner bought that Yankees and that is why he has access to the revenue stream. The truth is that baseball benefits from the Yankee’s spending. Attendance and viewership goes up every time the Yankees are in town, and that in it self is a form of revenue sharing. In addition, the Yankees DO give an enomous amount of money to small market teams every year and most of the owners put it right into their pockets. I would have not problem with the Yankees revenue sharing amount go up IF to get the money the Twins, Pirates, and Marlins of the world where forced to match the amount in increased salaries. The truth here is that there needs to be transparency as to how much these teams are making and the small market teams need to be forced to put the money back into the team.
    And by the way, a salary cap just benefits the fat cat owners and hurts the players. While a lot of people are okay with players making less, that argument is completely absurd since they are the ones actually entertaining us. The last thing I want is a systme that makes Pohlad and Steinbrenner even richer than the are.
    Lastly, Minnisota and Florida get all this credit for having great “systems” but the truth is that they 1) get better draft picks, and 2) trade all their good players for prospects and draft picks. Great job picking Joe Mauer (Future Yankee) with the first pick in the draft. My 6 month old daughter could have made that pick. I guess we should congratulate Minnisota for having the worst team in the league that year.
    While I am at it, the comparing the Minnisota Twins to the Florida Marlins is really unfair to the Marlins (and Rockies, Rays, and D-Backs). When did the Twins last make it to the World Series – 1991. Well in that time these teams have made it 5 times and won 3 championships. Let me know the next time the Twins actually play for something that counts.
    Twins fans – Enjoy the next 3 games as they will be the last until next April.

  8. PimP JuicE mAn - Oct 7, 2009 at 5:11 PM

    DREAMS ARE NICE BUT LEARN TO LIVE REALITY…………
    THE YANKEES WILL SPANK THE TWINS, ESPECIALLY SINCE WE ARE RESTED
    I LOVE HOW IT IS ALL THE YANKEES FAULT BECAUSE THE OWNER OF THE TWINS IS A PENNY PINCHIN OLD FART, WELL TO BAD, AS GEORGIE ALWAYS
    SAID” THE YANKEES BELONG TO THE GREATEST FANS IN THE WORLD” AND
    HE WILL ALWAYS PUT OUT A GOOD TEAM NOT A BUNCH OF SCRUBS AND WE DO IT ALL WITHIN THE RULES OF THE GAME.I THINK THERE SHOULD BE A MINIMUM SALRY CAP AS WELL.
    I’M TIRED OF TALKING TO YOUR LOSERS AND WHINERS, I’M GOING HOME TO WATCH THE YANKEES SPANK THE TWINS.

  9. PimP JuicE mAn - Oct 7, 2009 at 5:14 PM

    MAN U R CRAzY, WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE FOOLING, THE YANKEES HAVE THEIR OWN NETWORK, IT’S CALLED YES, THE YANKEE CAP IS SO FAMOUS AROUND THE WORLD EVEN JAY=-Z RAPS ABOUT,

  10. Yanks#27 - Oct 7, 2009 at 5:17 PM

    The idea that Twins fans are out there complaining about another team when in one of the best signing evironments in years, their big offseason signing was Joe Crede… I mean, does that even constitute a “franchise” at that point? You should be pointing the figure at the decision makers in your franchise.
    This offseason they are going to spring a couple of million for… Gary Sheffield? That will do them wonders.

  11. PimP JuicE - Oct 8, 2009 at 10:12 AM

    Where are ALL the TWINS FANS, CRYING AND WHINNING ABOUT THE BIG BAD YANKEE PAYROLL or THINKING OF EXCUSES…………….
    Did you see the awesome home grown talent perform, Jeter, Cano, Posada, Mo, Hughes, Coke, Joba, Melky,……………..
    My Gosh, what will happen when Tex, Cano and Posada start swinging the lumber.I’m thinking the Twins are frauds, where are their MVP BOY’S THE M & M BOYS DID THEY MAKE THE TRIP TO New York and the guys they are throwing out to the mound, A ROOKIE IN GAME ONE, A GUY WITH A 11-11 RECORD IN GAME TWO, WHAT THE …………
    Oh wait just a minute they have a home grown guy I think his name is Pavano, they are real good at producing talent so he should be good, sure wish the Yankees had a guy like him on their staff, BUT THEY HAVE BAT BOY’S ALREADY.
    COME ON MAN……..

  12. PimP MaN - Oct 8, 2009 at 10:21 AM

    “scheming tactical moves”, YEAH, LIKE THE FREE AGENT/ TRADE SHENANIGANS ..STOP BEING A LOSER CALL THE OWNER, TELL HIM STOP STUFFING HIS POCKETS WITH GEORGES MONEY, WHERE WERE YOU WHEN THE D’BACKS AND MARLINS BEAT US IN THE SERIES THEN SCRAPPED THEIR TEAM ??? WHO PAID FOR YOUR STADIUM, THE TAX PAYERS, GEORGE PAID FOR HIS, THE YANKEES ARE THE GREATEST TEAM IN THE HISTORY OF SPORTS, IN JAPAN THEY WEAR THE YANKEE CAP, MEXICO, JAMAICA ETC.
    COME ON MAN ………..
    10 MORE WINS FELLAS………

  13. Scott - Oct 8, 2009 at 1:37 PM

    Are you seriously trying to argue that the Yankees have “built” this team? Really!? Do you watch baseball or just eat what is spoon fed to you by ESPN?
    Remember last year when they had a “homegrown” team and missed the playoffs? I do.
    Remember when they went out and spent more than any team in sports history on a handful of players in the offseason last year? I do.
    Arguments like “Yo dood the yankeez have their own network with ease kid,” prove that, in fact, Yankees fans are douches.
    Seen that “new haircut video on youtube”, guess what team they’re cheerin’ for…I’ll be its not the Orioles.
    Toolboxes, go frost your tips and pretend like you know your team.

  14. brian - Oct 8, 2009 at 3:53 PM

    ya know, it’s not the Yankee team or the owner who I agree is playing by the rules. It’s the few (but not most) arrogant Yankee fans who forget that every team has it’s legacy, it’s heros of years past. To fans of those teams those memories are just as important as the Yankees. Baseball does little to preserve markets for most teams.
    Also, I resent the idea that George S. subsidises the smaller markets. The fact is, if there were a salray cap AND minimum, there would be no need for a luxury tax and market sharing. It was a failed attempt and bad idea to fix MLB’s financial disparity between teams. The TRUTH is, even with this system Goerge S. can only benifit from it along with teams who can afford to pay it. But really, if you prefer we can cut the MLB down to say four teams? You can play Boston all year and in the NL we’ll have the Dodgers and Cubs (just to give em a chance.)
    Hey, I love BASEBALL. Baseball is my sport and I believe its the perfect game. I will watc all the games in the playoffs. How many Yankee fans do that when they get knocked out? Maybe not so much in New York but to the rest of the nation people are only rooting for who they feel will be the winner. It’s too easy to root for the yankees if your a kid from some Wisconsin. Fact is, alot of these kids cant name the starting 9. These are not baseball fans…just people too impatient and lazy to love the game.
    Yes, outside of NY for the vast majority of “fans,” the Yankees is more of a clothing lable than it is a sports team with a legacy. Its a fashion statement. MLB would do well to market local teams to these fans. Increase local revenue and loyality, insert a cap and minimum. Keep in mind here we are talking about the long term viability of the sport.
    For me, the untypical yet annoying Yankee fan who harps about money and legacy are little more akin to spoiled rich kids bragging about their dads Lexus he gave them when they didnt do anything to earn it and will never appreciate it.

  15. PimP MasteR - Oct 13, 2009 at 2:41 PM

    “They know how to get it done, and they play with class.

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