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)
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 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.
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
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
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 email@example.com.