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2010 ALDS Preview
New York Yankees vs. Minnesota Twins
by Keith Glab, BaseballEvolution.com
October 6, 2010

Records - Yankees 95-67, Twins 94-68
Runs Scored
- Yankees  859 (1st), Twins 781 (5th)
Runs Allowed - Yankees  692 (5th), Twins 671 (3rd)

The Twins

Pitching Probables
Game Yankees Twins
1@MIN C.C. Sabathia
(21-7 3.18)
Francisco Liriano
(14-10 3.62)
2@MIN Andy Pettitte
(11-3 3.28)
Carl Pavano
(17-11 3.75)
3@NYY Phil Hughes
(18-8 4.19)
Brian Duensing
(10-3 2.62)
4@NYY C.C. Sabathia
(21-7 3.18)
Nick Blackburn
(10-12 5.42)
5@MIN Andy Pettitte
(11-3 3.28)
Francisco Liriano
(14-10 3.62)

When they played in the Metrodome, the Twins would beat you on offense by bunting, stealing bases, and playing every odd bounce on the turf there into their advantage somehow.  Now, they beat you simply by being better than you are.  Their .273 team batting average is the third best mark in baseball, while their .341 on-base percentage ranks second and their .762 team OPS ranks fifth. 

Their pitching and defense has gotten even better than before, as their 78 errors are the fifth lowest total in baseball and their ultimate zone rating ranks sixth in the majors.  Their pitching staff has only issued 383 walks this season - the Phillies are the only other team to issue fewer than 450.  That combination of making hitters earn their way on base has led to just 671 runs allowed, the second lowest total for the franchise in the past 18 years.

Francisco Liriano took it one step further and did not allow anyone to homer off him.  Okay, that's not entirely true - he let eight players homer off him for a total of just nine allowed in 191.2 innings.  Needless to say, his home run ratio led all of baseball, and combined with his excellent strikeout-to walk ratio of 3.5:1, he had a fielding independent ERA of 2.66, nearly a full run lower than his actual ERA of 3.62.  The Twins also have the converse in Brian Duensing, a sophomore player with a 2.62 ERA but a 3.85 FIP.  17-game winner Carl Pavano rounds out an impressive front three.  He led the American League with seven complete games and will be pitching with a chip on his shoulder against the Yankees, who buzz-sawed his career in the tradition of Jeff Weaver, Kenny Rogers, and Javier Vazquez (twice).

After that it gets a little weird.  The Twins have two other solid options in Scott Baker (12-9, 4.49 ERA) and Kevin Slowey (13-6, 4.45), but are electing to go with Nick Blackburn (10-12, 5.42) as their fourth starter.  Blackburn did pitch better down the stretch, managing a 3.16 ERA over his final nine games, but this is a guy who led the AL in hits allowed last year and has never posted a winning record or an ERA under 4.00.  At least Blackburn has pitched well at home this year, going 7-4 with a 3.71 ERA at Target Field as opposed to 3-9 with a 7.57 ERA otherwise.

Baker and Slowey join a bullpen that is already the deepest in baseball; they boast seven relievers who have thrown at least 27 innings and ERAs under 3.50.  Add Brian Fuentes to that mix, a southpaw who has allowed six baserunners and no runs in 9.2 innings since joining the club, and Twins fans should root for some extra-innings games.  That depth runs through the offense as well, as Minnesota can throw a lineup at you 1-through-9 with absolutely no holes.

The Yankees

The Yankees have a similarly stacked lineup.  It is reminiscent of the 1998 squad that scored 965 runs and won 114 games despite no one in the lineup having a career year.  But everyone in the lineup had a good year. The 2010 Yankees do have Robinson Cano enjoying a career year, but also feature a total of eight players with an OPS+ over 100, plus two of this generation's better postseason hitters in Derek Jeter and Lance Berkman thrown in for good measure.  It is worth noting, however, that the Yankees had a home OPS of .832 second only to the Rockies, but a road OPS of .742 that ranked behind five teams, including Minnesota.

While Minnesota's bullpen is deep, the Yankees are bottom-heavy.  Mariano Rivera remains as good as ever, and Kerry Wood has been as dominant as any setup man in the game since joining the Yankees, allowing just two runs and 14 hits in 26 innings.  Boone Logan has been alright as a lefty specialist, but there basically isn't anyone else in the Bronx bullpen you would rely upon in a playoff situation.  The key for the Yankees is to pitch their starters deep into games, especially since this is the first year of Rivera's 16-year career that he has averaged less than an inning per outing.

Pitching their starters deep into games might prove difficult.  C.C. Sabathia is expected to pitch on three days of rest in game four, meaning he might have a stricter pitch count than normal both then and in game one.  And Pettitte, tabbed for games two and five on normal rest, has only pitched in three games since missing nearly two months with an injury.  He's gone 13.1 innings over those three stars, allowing 11 runs (10 earned) on a whopping 22 hits.  The 24-year-old Phil Hughes has already thrown 71 more innings in 2010 than he did in 2009, and the effect of that has already manifested in his second half ERA of 4.90.  One plus regarding the Yankees' rotation is that Hughes and Pettitte have fared better on the road this year, while Sabathia has actually performed slightly better at home.  The only home/road mismatch comes when Sabathia pitches at Target Field in game one.

The Matchup

A big mismatch for the Twins is the fact that the Yankees will pitch southpaws in four of the five games.  Minnesota has a lineup stacked with lefties, although that has only translated into a 13-point differential in their OPS splits this year.  The Twins have drawn 559 walks - the 4th highest total in the AL - which will make it hard for the ramshackle Yankee rotation to give Joe Girardi the innings he needs to make his bullpen effective.  Although the Yankees have drawn over a hundred more walks than the Twins have, Twins pitchers are always around the plate, and even if they do use high pitch counts, they have more bullpen arms to throw at the Yanks than they could ever need in a five-game series.

It's also worth noting that although the Yankees and Twins appear similar over the course of 162 games, the Twins have been a far better team of late.  They have gone 18-12 in September/October and 48-26 since the All-Star break, while the Yankees have gone 13-17 in Sept/Oct and 39-35 in the second half.  Anyone worried about the lack of Justin Morneau in the playoffs should relax.  The Twins are 75-39 (.658) over the past two seasons when Morneau isn't in the starting lineup, and Jim Thome has essentially matched Morneau's production this year at a fraction of the cost.

The Twins are playing better and have the all-important homefield advantage, but the Yankees have too much talent and mystique to go down quietly.  In what should be the closest matchup of the four Division Series, I like Jim Thome to hit his first ever home run off Andy Pettitte to win game five.

Prediction: Twins in Five



Disagree with something? Got something to add? Wanna bring up something totally new? Keith resides in Chicago, Illinois and can be reached at keith@baseballevolution.com.

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