Sep
28

Most exciting series of the week will determine Yanks’ fate

By

The Yanks settled almost every playoff issue yesterday when they clinched home field advantage throughout the playoffs. The Red Sox and the Angels have magic numbers of two for the Wild Card and AL West, both over the Rangers, so with just six games left those races are about over. Only one playoff spot remains undecided: the AL Central, where the Twins have rallied to pull within two of the Tigers after being seven games back at the end of play on September 6. It has led up to this week’s four-game set, one which should decide the division.

It will also decide the Yankees ALDS opponent. A few weeks ago it seemed like the Tigers without question, as they had that seven game lead. But the Twins have gone 15-9 this month, and even more impressively have gone 11-2 since Justin Morneau last played in a game on September 12. He will miss the rest of the season with a stress fracture in his lower back. His teammates have more than picked up the slack, and this week they get a real chance to once again steal the AL Central from the Tigers, as they did in 2006.

The Twins, for their part, will have to take three out of four. Splitting would make things tougher in the final series, where the Twins would have to take two of three from the Royals and the Tigers would have to drop two of three to the White Sox, forcing a one-game playoff. It would be the second straight year in which the Twins would play a 163rd game. They dropped a 1-0 heartbreaker to the White Sox last year on the season’s final (and bonus) day.

While the Twins make a great baseball story, we’re still focused on what this will mean for the Yankees. Would they prefer Detroit or Minnesota? The question might sound like a no-brainer at first. The Twins are without their slugging first baseman and have generally been the inferior team during the season. But they’re the hot team, and hot teams can be hell on any team in the playoffs, even the team with the best record in baseball.

Joe Mauer, a near lock for MVP because of the Twins’ recent run, heads the offense. He not only leads the AL in OPS, but does it from a squatting position, making the production even more valuable. The catcher with the next highest OPS is Jorge Posada, and the two aren’t particularly close. Beyond that the Twins don’t have much, especially without Morneau, though they’ve seen a number of guys step up in the first baseman’s absence. Delmon Young is OPSing above .800 since the 12th, and Mike Cuddyer has a Pujols-esque 1.152 OPS in that span. Beyond those guys, both Jason Kubel and Denard Span have had solid seasons, with OPS+s of 137 and 120, respectively.

The reason the Yanks want to face the Twins is their pitching. It is a far cry from the 2006 staff which featured Johan Santana and a dominant Francisco Liriano. This year their best pitcher, in terms of ERA, has been Nick Blackburn, who sports a Wang-esque 4.2 K/9 rate. There’s also Scott Baker, whose 4.48 ERA has to be the highest ever for a pitcher with a 1.18 WHIP. Following those two is Carl Pavano, who has pitched well since the mid-season trip from Cleveland to Minneapolis. The one reason these three have pitched well: each has a BB/9 rate at or below 2.0. That helps make up for the lack of strikeouts.

The story with the Tigers revolves around one pitcher: Justin Verlander. After a rough 2008 he’s bounced back into his ace role. His dominant stuff makes him an undesirable playoff opponent, though he’d match up against CC Sabathia, no slouch himself. Edwin Jackson is having a fine season, though he’s fallen back to earth lately. After holding the Yankees to two runs over seven innings on July 19, Jackson has allowed 42 runs in 80.1 innings, a 4.71 ERA. His strikeout to walks ratio in that span is just barely over 2.00. So while he seemed like a tough playoff opponent the last time the Yanks saw him, he’s been something less over the past two months. After that it’s Rick Porcello, rookie extraordinaire, who boasts a 4.14 ERA over 158.2 innings this season. He’ll be the third starter in the playoffs, which is all the Tigers will need in the first round.

On the offensive side the Tigers are no great team. They rank 10th out of 14 AL teams in runs scored and 9th in OPS. Their only real weapon is Miguel Cabrera, though he is quite the hitter. His .951 OPS leads the team by far. The only other starter above .800 is Ryan Rayburn, and even that is over less than half a season. He’s been hot as can be in September, posting a .348/.404/.652 line in 42 PA. He’ll need to stay hot if the Tigers are going to have a chance.

(Also, is Brandon Inge’s .409 SLG the lowest ever for a guy with 27 homers? It has to be, right?)

Overall, the Twins are probably the weaker team. Their pitching lacks the top of the rotation arm that is Justin Verlander. When presented with the choice of facing Verlander, Jackson, and Porcello or Baker, Pavano, and Blackburn, it’s the latter in a landslide. They do have more offensive weapons, but a few of those guys — Cuddyer and Young, notably — are riding hot streaks that far exceed their season production. If one or both cools down before the 7th, it could be death for the Twins. Then again, the Tigers have Miggy and little else. Yet a few of their guys — Granderson, Inge, Rayburn — could be trouble in the playoffs if they’re hot.

Yes, I’d rather see the Yanks face the Twins, but it’s a tough call. Either way, the Yanks will be playing an inferior team. That doesn’t mean they’ll breeze through the first round, but it’s usually preferable to play the weaker team that got hot at the end. As we’ve seen in many years past, a late-season hot streak, or even a late-season cold skid in the case of the 2006 Tigers, carries over the break into the mid-week playoff start. It’s a fresh slate there, and because of that I’d rather have the Yankees face the weakest team overall. That would be the Twins.

Categories : Playoffs

93 Comments»

  1. Bob Stone says:

    Great post. The differences between the two teams is less than I thought. But due to Verlander, I prefer the Twins.

  2. Bob Stone says:

    *difference

  3. Bo says:

    Verlander alone makes the Tigers dangerous. He can win 2 games by himself.

  4. Jack says:

    (Also, is Brandon Inge’s .409 SLG the lowest ever for a guy with 27 homers? It has to be, right?)

    Yep.

    http://bbref.com/pi/shareit/JErZe

  5. currambayankees says:

    I tend to agree with you. I’d rather the Yanks face the Twins. One thing though, it seems not matter who the Yankees face those teams always seem to play at their best against the Yankees while they play like crap against some other teams.

  6. Crazy Fact of the Day: Joe Mauer’s lead in wOBA over the second best catcher, Jorge Posada (66 points of wOBA) is almost as big as Jorge’s lead over Jason Varitek (73 points of wOBA).

    Mauer: .445
    Posada: .379
    The Supercaptain: .306

  7. CountryClub says:

    Verlander would pitch on Sunday if the race goes down to the wire. That would set him up to pitch game 3 unless they want to pitch him on short rest in game 2. My guess would be they would pitch him on short rest so he can be lined up to pitch game 5 on regular rest. Regardless, I hope he has to pitch on Sunday.

    • Dela G says:

      this would be excellent.

      If this were the case, then i might just take the short series to give him much less rest

    • CountryClub says:

      Actually, I was wrong here. He would be lined up to pitch in game 2 on normal rest (in either series). He would then be able to pitch game 5 on normal rest too.

  8. Dela G says:

    cmon twins, i want to batter carl pavano in game one of the playoffs

    that whiny beetch deserves to get served

  9. Statistical Dominance Fact of the Day: If the Yankees win at least 2 of 3 against the Royals, they’ll finish with an aggregate record v. the AL Central of either 25-9 or 26-8.

    That would make them the only team in all baseball to have single digit losses against another intraleague division. In fact, we would be the first team to lose less than 10 games against an entire division since the Phillies went 22-9 against the NL West in 2005.

    We’ve owned the AL Central this year like the Giants owned the Buccaneers yesterday.

    Tigers? Twins? Who gives a crap. We’ll fustigate either of them.

  10. Bob Stone says:

    The Twins/Detroit game is on MLB TV tonight.

  11. Yankees combined results v. Tigers and Twins, 2009:

    12 wins, 1 loss
    71 runs scored, 40 runs allowed

  12. More Fun Facts:

    Remember how YankeeHaters like to point out that CC may be a horse, but he struggles in the postseason:

    Justin Verlander, career postseason: 1-2, 5.82 ERA

  13. mryankee says:

    I think the Twins would be a better matchup, weaker overall offense and pitching. The Tigers offense could be tricky with Granderson,Polanco, Cabrera and Carlos Guillen. Howeever I do think the twins bullpen might be better. This Kid Duensing looks pretty good.

    • Zack says:

      Granderson hits .178/.243/.237 against LHP. He’ll disappear is 3 of the 5 games

    • “The Tigers offense could be tricky with Granderson,Polanco, Cabrera and Carlos Guillen.”

      Cabrera – .329/.399/.552 (145+)

      Yes.

      Granderson – .250/.328/.454 (102+)
      Polanco – .250/.328/.454 (92+)
      Guillen – .258/.344/.449 (105+)

      No. Color me unimpressed.

      • Sorry, that Polanco line should be .288/.335/.405. Cut and paste FAIL.

      • mryankee says:

        Either is very winable of course but in The Tiger’s favor at the very least is experience(2006) now again before I get jumped on the Yankees should win this series if it comes to pass. I have seen enough from CC to believe he will match up well with Verlander. Edwn Jackson has struggled in the 2nd half. The Twins to me are the poor man’s Angels with a better bullpen. No Morneau though and except for Duensing who has been pretty good no dominant starters. I guess you would take the Twins.

    • No, Duensing looks pretty terrible. He has the results, but his strikeouts and walks are pretty bad. I have a feeling he’ll fall right back down to earth soon enough.

      • mryankee says:

        I suppose the numbers would point to a preferred matchup against Minnesota as opposed to Detroit. Are there any factors that would change that feeling>?

        • Zack says:

          Are there any factors that would change that feeling>?

          If Cabrera and Verlander get injured and are unavailable for the series, other than that then no.

      • andrew says:

        His K’s have gone up over the past month and his walks are limited to 1 or 2 per start. Pretty manageable. I think he’s pitching a bit over his head right now, but it wouldn’t be impossible if he stayed hot for another few weeks.

        • The problem with his Ks rising is that he never attained that level in the minors. Sure, there are guys who greatly outperform their minor league numbers in the majors, but they’re the exception. I wouldn’t count on this sticking for Duensing.

  14. mike says:

    At one time we all prayed to see Kenny Rogers in the playoffs too….

    Also, even though some guys have picked up where Morneau left off, I always think its easier to plan to not let “one guy beat you” – ie pitch around Mauer and let the other Twinkies beat you.

    Plus, I like the Yankees offense inside a building where the weather is not a factor for an older team.

    However, Nathan is a monster and Span is tough too….nonetheless I’ll take the Twinkies!

    • Accent Shallow says:

      Nathan is a monster, but a dominant closer just isn’t that worrisome if the Twins lack great SP or a solid rest of the ‘pen.

  15. Kiersten says:

    My instinct is to root for the Twinkies, but my gut is telling me Detroit.

  16. mryankee says:

    Another factor that might be worth mentioning, if the Twins and Tigers go down to the wire that would force either to stretch their starting pitching to the wire. Verlander for example would pitch Tuesday and then Sunday if needed. Same scenario for Minnesota. I f this is the scenario and lets say Verlander can only pitch once in the series, does that change the desired opponent?

  17. Accent Shallow says:

    Baseball reference query in re: Scott Baker

    http://www.baseball-reference.com/pi/shareit/A3zzp

  18. Andy In Sunny Daytona says:

    For shits and giggles.

    http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/.....xpertpicks

  19. Sal says:

    I wouldn’t hope for Min Or Det . The thing we need is a one game lead with one to play for either one of them. Best thing for the yankees is a non rested pitching staff for both of them coming into game one.

  20. Brian Harvey says:

    “Nick Blackburn, who sports a Wang-esque 4.2 K/9 rate”

    I think I would have preferred “Wangian” here instead of “Wang-esque”

  21. matthew brooke says:

    How do the bullpens stack up against ours?
    (have to believe the Yanks view Nathan as a formidable factor…)

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