You knew it was coming, so let’s cut the formalities and get right to it.
Jorge Posada is a good catcher. Of American League catchers with at least 400 plate appearances, he has the second highest wOBA. Compared to any other catcher in the league, he’d get the edge (or, in the case of Victor Martinez, it would be even). Against Joe Mauer he doesn’t stand a chance. The MVP apparent not only led all catchers in wOBA, but also led the AL by a wide margin. That he fit 600 plate appearances into five months only helps his case. And, if that’s not enough of an edge, the Yanks will start Jose Molina at least one game in the series, even further separating Mauer.
On September 12, Justin Morneau took his final swing of the season. A stress fracture in his back put him on the shelf for a few months, and seemingly put the Twins’ outside AL Central hopes on life support. But then the Twins went on a six-game streak and ended up winning 15 of their final 19 to force a one-game playoff. They got there with Mike Cuddyer manning first and he went on a tear, hitting 10 homers in September and October. While Cuddyer had a fine season, it was not quite as good as Mark Teixeira’s. While the MVP is out of the question, Tex still finished fifth in the AL in wOBA. It’s pretty clear that Teixeira has the edge here, and he would even if it were Morneau.
Some capsules write themselves. Punto has never been known for his bat, but plays his position well. Robinson Cano is a born hitter who appears to play good defense, though the numbers say otherwise. Punto will save a run or two with his glove, but Cano has a chance to create quite a few with his bat.
Other capsules aren’t really worth writing. Alex’s UZR is ugly, but his bat more than makes up for it. Also, his defense has seemed better lately, so maybe that bad number is more reflective of his early season struggles. In any case, there’s no question which third baseman has the edge here.
O-Cab started the season with Oakland in hopes that Billy Beane built a winner in the off-season. That didn’t happen, but the Twins needed a shortstop. Cabrera’s numbers aren’t great, but it seems he has the knack for getting timely hits against the Yanks. Yes, that’s a completely subjective and biased statement, but that’s what sticks in my craw about Orlando Cabrera. On the other side is Derek Jeter, who has exuded awesome this season. He was ninth in the AL in wOBA this season, and along with Jason Bartlett absolutely dominated all other AL shortstops. Combine that with a defensive turnaround, and it’s an easy edge for Jeter. If Joe Mauer had for some reason missed this season, Jeter might be the front runner for MVP right now.
Johnny Damon has regressed on defense faster than most of us imagined. It was clear in 2007 that he wasn’t reliable in center, but I don’t think many of us thought he’d turn so bad in left so quickly. Still, bad as Damon may be, Delmon Young is worse — though at least Delmon has an arm, and a good one at that. On the offensive side, it remains all potential for young Delmon. He stampeded through September and October, hitting .347/.365/.561, and really hit a lot better in the second half — .303/.322/.501 vs. .266/.292/.344 in the first half. Damon was kind of the opposite, recording a better first half than second, though his bad second half was pretty much attributable to a terrible September and October. Damon is as well rested as he’s ever been at this point in his career, but if Delmon can keep up his second half pace this isn’t such an uneven matchup.
While Melky is the best worst hitter in the playoffs, he’s not quite at his counterpart’s level. For the second straight season he’s hit for average and shown good plate discipline. He also has some speed, as he led the league with 10 triples and also swiped 23 bags — though his 30 percent caught stealing rate suggests he should cut down on that. After Melky’s rookie season (.280 BA, .360 OBP), I thought he could turn into a player like the one Span has turned into. There’s still time, but until then…
Both Jason Kubel and Nick Swisher are good offensive players. Kubel hits for a much better average, but Swisher makes slightly fewer outs and hits for a bit more power (.249 Iso for Swish vs. .235 for Kubel). Swish also makes his .249 average count: his SLG is exactly double his BA, meaning each of his his is roughly equivalent to a double. Kubel’s UZR/150 is a bit skewed because he spent just 212 innings out there, but it’s pretty clear that Swisher is better with the glove out there. This one could probably go to Swish, but if it did it wouldn’t be by much.
Jose Morales has had a nice run since being recalled on September 1, hitting .280/.373/.320. I doubt that lasts. Even if it does, Hideki Matsui has a clear edge. Brendan Harris has gotten a few at bats at DH, but he’s pretty terrible, too. Matsui? Matsui’s good.
Game 1 starter
A pair of lefties will duel in Game 1, but their handedness may be their only similarity. CC is an enormous veteran, while Duensing is a 5’11” rookie. CC averages 94 with his fastball and slows that down with a slider and change. Duensing averages around 91 with the fastball and mixes in a slider (which is actually faster on average than CC’s), change, and occasionally a curve. The numbers clearly favor Sabathia, so we’ll leave it at that.
It’s unclear how the Twins rotation will unfold, so here are their three options, plus the two that will start for the Yanks.
There should be no shortage of fly balls in this series. That’s good for the Yankees, who tend to turn fly balls into home runs, especially at home. The Yankees have the edge in ERA by a small margin, but the Twins pitchers have good peripherals, especially in walks. Talk about a difference in staffs. Scott Baker walks the most of the three Twins regulars (Duensing was a late addition) at 2.1. The X factor in this A.J. Burnett, who can dominate any time he takes the hill. The trade-off is that he can also bomb. And then there’s always the in-between setting. If he’s on, it’s a clear Yanks edge. So I’ll give it to them.
Phil Hughes and Mariano River make up the best setup man – closer combination in the game. Matt Guerrier and Joe Nathan aren’t far behind. The Twins have some decent options beyond them, including Jon Rauch, who has pitched well since arriving in a trade. Jesse Crain isn’t as bad as his ERA suggests, though his walk rate is alarming. Jose Mijares fares well as the Twins’ token lefty — kind of like Phil Coke but without as many homers. The Yanks will carry strikeout artist David Robertson, will move Al Aceves into a short-relief role, and will have Joba Chamberlain, the X factor in the bullpen. It’s not a blowout, but the Yanks seem to have the edge in both the back-end and the other options.
While it’s neat to compare the combatants based on their season numbers, it all gets tossed out for the playoffs. It’s all about how they play from now on, now how they played leading up to this. Of course, how they played before will give us an idea of what to expect from the future. But in a small sample, anything can happen. The Yanks have a clear edge in this series, but then again so would any team that finished with 103 wins. It guarantees them nothing at this point. The Yanks know as well as any team what can happen when you run into a hot team.
Prediction: None. I regret the last playoff prediction I made. Now’s not the time to make another one.