ALDS Game One: Yankees @ Twins

We’ve all been here before, haven’t we? Yeah, we have. Just last year these same two teams matched up in the American League Division Series, though the circumstances we’re quite the same. The Yankees had won the AL East by a considerable margin and were opening at home while Minnesota eked in after a Game 163 win against the Tigers, forcing them to throw rookie Brian Duensing in Game One with all of nine big league starts to his credit.

Things are slightly different this year. The Twinkies were the ones to coast in the postseason with a huge division lead while the Yanks had to sweat a little down the stretch. Ron Gardenhire’s team is much stronger this season thanks to a deeper and much improved lineup (last year they started Brendan Harris, Matt Tolbert, and Nick Punto in Game One), but more importantly they now have a bonafide ace. Francisco Liriano was arguably the best pitcher in the league this year, striking out 9.44 batters per nine innings while walking just 2.72 in the same time frame. He gave up nine homeruns all season (three in his last start though), all to righthanded batters. Three years out from Tommy John surgery, Liriano threw a career high 191.2 innings in 2010 and seemed to tire down the stretch (4.69 ERA, .346 wOBA against in his last ten starts). Let’s hope that trend continues today.

There are no fatigue concerns about who the Yankees are sending to the mound, and that’s CC Sabathia. Sabathia eats 191.2 inning workloads for breakfast – over the last four years he’s averaged (averaged!) over 254 innings per season, including playoffs – so as far as I’m concerned he’s just starting to get warmed up this time of year. He gave his team a win in Game One of the ALDS last year with six and two-thirds strong innings, holding the Twinkies to just one earned run while striking out eight and walking zero. CC is very important to the Yanks’ World Series hopes, but then again what ace isn’t?

Joe posted his Game One preview at FanGraphs with some sweet charts earlier today (Jack Moore did the same for the Twins), so make sure you check that out between now and first pitch. Here are your lineups…

1. Derek Jeter, SS
2. Nick Swisher, RF
3. Mark Teixeira, 1B
4. Alex Rodriguez, 3B
5. Robbie Cano, 2B
6. Marcus Thames, DH
7. Jorge Posada, C
8. Curtis Granderson, CF
9. Brett Gardner, LF

CC Sabathia, SP (21-7, 3.18 ERA)

1. Denard Span, SP
2. Orlando Hudson, 2B
3. Joe Mauer, C
4. Delmon Young, LF
5. Jim Thome, DH
6. Michael Cuddyer, 1B
7. Jason Kubel, RF
8. Danny Valencia, 3B
9. J.J. Hardy, SS

Francisco Liriano, SP (14-10, 3.62 ERA)

First pitch is scheduled for 8:37pm ET, and the game can be seen on TBS. Enjoy.

Teixeira received cortisone shot last month

Via Marc Carig, Mark Teixeira received a cortisone shot in his injury thumb at some point last month. Tex bruised the thumb on a diving play against the White Sox in late August, though the soreness lingered and it affected him at the plate for much of September. We don’t when exactly he received the shot, but he really started crushing the ball around the 21st or 22nd of last month, so a day or two before that is a good bet. Tex hit .293/.388/.585 with three homers in the last two weeks of the season, so it would be nice if he maintained that pace this month.

Joe Girardi’s not-so-big dance

For much of the last six weeks, Joe Girardi and his decisions have unwillingly grabbed the New York media spotlight. The Yankees, after all, had their playoff spot wrapped up in early August, and the sports writers, radio screamers and obsessed fans needed something to dissect as the season whiled away the final few weeks. So Joe Girardi and his moves came under fire.

On the one hand, questioning Girardi’s approach made sense. He didn’t seem to manage with much urgency over the final few weeks and often make lineup decisions and pitching moves that left the Yanks on the wrong side of a lopsided score and left many scratching their heads. But on the other hand, Girardi had a plan, and despite protestations that he truly wanted to win the AL East, he stuck with his plan. He made sure that his bullpen arms weren’t burned out; he rested Nick Swisher and his ailing knee; he gave aching Mark Teixeira time off. The team is well rested heading into its impending ALDS match-up with the Twins, and that is all thanks to Girardi.

Still, the murmuring about Girardi’s future continues to bubble. The Yankees have a policy that they keep in place for everyone: The team does not extend contracts before they run out. Derek Jeter will hit free agency. Mariano Rivera will hit free agency. Joe Girardi will hit free agency.

Girardi’s free agency brings with it intrigue. Joe’s hometown Chicago Cubs also have a managerial vacancy, and as everyone knows, GM Jim Hendry salivates at the thought of a Girardi homecoming for the hapless Cubs. As Buster Olney said last week, “Cubs remain intent on taking a run at Joe Girardi, partly to learn about him, and partly to placate fan base; they want to at least try.”

In today’s Chicago Tribune, Phil Rogers ponders the Cubs’ relationship with Girardi. He believes the Cubs have Girardi atop their list, but no one he has spoken with thinks the Yanks will jettison their skipper or that the skipper will leave New York. He writes:

As the Yankees worked out to face the Twins in their American League Division Series, I polled a dozen people who either work for the Yankees or deal with them on a regular basis.

Asked to rate the chances Girardi will change jobs after the playoffs on a 1-10 scale, with 1 being the least chance, the New York insiders gave replies ranging from a -1 to a 3.5. “The door’s open,” one said, “but just a crack.”

None among those surveyed thinks there is even a 50-50 chance Girardi is sufficiently weary of New York and all that life there entails to pull the plug. That could change if something goes very bad against the Twins, but one person close to the Yankees’ brain trust offered a take that must be the worst fear for anyone who covets Girardi in the Cubs’ dugout. “If he does go somewhere, it won’t be (to Chicago),” he said.

Similarly, in idle chatter on Twitter, I’ve asked Ken Davidoff and Mark Feinsand about Girardi’s future, and they both think he will return as the Yanks’ manager. Fans though are divided. They see a guy too married to match ups and fringe role players. They claim he can hurt the Yankees more often than not despite his .591 winning percentage as the Bombers’ helmer. In New York, even winners can’t win.

So in a few hours, Girardi and his A-lineup behind CC Sabathia will take the field, and while many think this is a big series for Girardi, it isn’t. He has his team as healthy as any can be on October 6 after 162 games, and he’s lined up his rotation so that his ace pitches two of five games and lefties face a lineup vulnerable to southpaws in four of five contests. His bullpen too is rarin’ to go with a Hall of Fame closer and four legitimate set-up man in front. That’s what the manager is supposed to do, and even though the pressure is on Girardi to win because that’s what we do in New York City, this ALDS will not make him or break him. Unless he doesn’t want to be, he’ll return to the Yankees in 2011 and beyond, and that’s as close to a sure thing in baseball as you’ll find.

NLDS Game Thread: Reds @ Phillies

Roy Halladay vs. Edinson Volquez. I like Cincinnati to steal this one, but what do I know? Game’s on TBS starting at 5:37pm ET, talk about it here.

Ryan Pope headed to Arizona Fall League

Via Josh Norris, righthander Ryan Pope will be the seventh Yankee farmhand headed to the Arizona Fall League this summer. He joins Manny Banuelos, Craig Heyer, George Kontos, Austin Romine, Jose Pirela, and Brandon Laird (who will play the outfield).

Pope is in an interesting spot; he’s eligible for the Rule 5 Draft if not added to the 40-man roster after the season, and he really gave the Yanks something to think about this year. He moved to the bullpen after seven poor starts, then struck out 62 batters against just 14 walks in 57.1 innings. The 2007 third round pick had been an afterthought for most of his career, but the relief version of Pope is intriguing and probably one the Yankees will decide to protect. He is definitely on the fence though.

ALDS Preview Chat

Hello, Twins. We’ve met before, haven’t we?

In seven hours when Francisco Liriano steps onto the mound to face Derek Jeter, another ALDS between the Yanks and the Twins will begin. These two teams are long-time first-round foes, and the Yankees, who beat the Twins last year en route to their 27th World Series championship, have never lost a playoff series to the Twins. In fact, their triumph over the Minneapolis franchise dates back to the days of the Washington Senators and even inspired a popular Broadway musical.

In recent years, the Yanks have had the Twins’ number. They faced the Twins ten times in 2009 — including the three playoff games — and won every match-up. This year, the Twins took just two of the six regular season games from the Yanks, and one of those was quite the stunner. In fact, under Ron Gardenhire, the Twins are just 16-45 against the Yankees.

This year, the season series with the Twins was a bit odd. The Yankees and Twinkies played each other six times over the span of 13 games in mid-May and then not at all throughout the rest of the season. Even though the two clubs have changed their make-up since then, let’s relive those moments of the 2010 baseball season.

May 14, 2010: Yankees 8, Twins 4 (Box Score) (RAB Recap)
WP: Joba Chamberlain
LP: Scott Baker
HR: Joe Mauer, Brett Gardner, Alex Rodriguez

Both the Twins and Yankees entered their first match-up of the season at 22-12, but the Yankees drew first blood. The Twins held a 4-3 lead into the 7th, but Scott Baker couldn’t nail down an out as the Yanks hung up a four-spot that inning. A.J. Burnett threw six decent innings, but just 51 of his 100 pitches were strikes. Joba Chamberlain struck out Delmon Young, Alexi Casilla and Nick Punto to nail down the win, and Mariano recorded the save. This one was, by and large, a pretty forgettable memorable game due to A-Rod‘s grand slam after an intentional walk issued to Mark Teixeira. Let’s see Gardenhire pull that mistake again.

May 15, 2010: Yankees 7, Twins 1 (Box Score) (RAB Recap)
WP: Andy Pettitte
LP: Francisco Liriano
HR: Mark Teixeira, Jorge Posada

The next day saw a battle of the lefties as Andy Pettitte and tonight’s Game 1 starter Francisco Liriano squared off in the Bronx. The Yanks jumped out to an early 1-0 lead in the first on three singles, but Liriano struck out the side as well. He would finish with seven strike outs and no walks, but the Yanks scored three runs on nine hits against the southpaw. The Yanks broke this one wide open when they scored four off of Jesse Crain and Ron Mahay in the 7th. Home runs by Mark Teixeira and Jorge Posada accounted for those runs, and Andy Pettitte threw six shutout innings en route to his fifth win of the year.

Mariano allowed a bases-loaded walk and a grand slam in Twins' stunner on May 16. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

May 16, 2010: Twins 6, Yankees 3 (Box Score) (RAB Recap)
WP: Nick Blackburn
LP: Joba Chamberlain
SV: Jon Rauch
HR: Justin Morneau, Jason Kubel

The Yanks suffered through a lot of “worst loss of the season” games this year, but this one might just take the cake. After a strong outing from Sergio Mitre and up 3-1 in the 8th, the Yanks turned the game over to Joba Chamberlain, and things went south in a hurry. Denard Span singled, and after an Orland Hudson ground-out, Joe Mauer walked. Joba struck out Justin Morneau, but Michael Cuddyer singled to load the bases. Joe Girardi went to Mariano for a four-out save, and Rivera promptly walked Jim Thome to force in a run and allowed a grand slam to Jason Kubel. Never had Yankee Stadium been so quiet.

May 25, 2010: Yankees 1, Twins 0 (Box Score) (RAB Recap)
WP: A.J. Burnett
LP: Brian Duensing
SV: Mariano Rivera
HR: Derek Jeter

Just nine days later, these two teams went at it again, this time in brand-new Target Field. Through five innings, the Twins and Yanks were scoreless when rain halted play. The game resumed on Wednesday afternoon, and Derek Jeter, the second batter of the afternoon, hit a rare home run to left-center. That lone run would hold up as David Robertson, Joba Chamberlain and Mariano Rivera finished the win for A.J. Burnett.

Delmon Young gets himself into a rundown during the Yanks' victory. (AP Photo/Andy King)

May 26, 2010: Yankees 3, Twins 2 (Box Score) (RAB Recap)
WP: Andy Pettitte
LP: Jon Rauch
SV: Mariano Rivera
HR: Nick Swisher

Now, this one was a thriller. Andy Pettitte and Francisco Liriano again faced off against each other, and this time, the pitcher’s duel lived up to its billing. The Twins took an early first-inning lead when Joe Mauer singled home Denard Span, but the Yanks got one back when Kevin Russo doubled in Francisco Cervelli. A Brett Gardner triple gave the Yanks a 2-1 lead, but a Delmon Young double knotted the score at two in the 7th. With two outs in the top of the ninth and with then-closer Jon Rauch on the mound, Nick Swisher launched a home run to right field to give the Yanks a 3-2 lead that Mariano Rivera would not surrender. If Liriano and CC Sabathia — who never faced the Twins this year — are on tonight, expect a thriller like this one.

May 27, 2010: Twins 8, Yankees 2 (Box Score) (RAB Recap)
WP: Nick Blackburn
LP: Javier Vazquez
HR: Jason Kubel (2)

The final match-up of the season between these two clubs was your typical Javy Vazquez/Chan Ho Park special. Javy gave up five earned runs in 5.2 innings, and Park gave up a pair while recording just one out. By the time Chad Gaudin allowed the Twins’ 8th run to score in the 8th inning, the Yanks had long since lost this one. It was just one of those days as the top of the Yanks’ order went 6 for 16 but scored just two runs.