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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
David Price vs. Cliff Lee in Game One. You can watch this one on TBS starting at 1:37pm, so talk about it here if you want.
Baseball America posted their list of the top 20 prospects in the High-A Florida State League today, and four Yankees made the cut: Dellin Betances at #4, Adam Warren at #13, Melky Mesa at #19, and Andrew Brackman at #20. Matt Moore (Rays), Chris Archer (Cubs), and Jacob Turner (Tigers) were the only players ahead of Betances. Manny Banuelos didn’t have enough innings to qualify.
In the subscriber only scouting reports they noted that Betances’ delivery is improved but there are still some concerns because of a head jerk and a stiff landing. The latter is pretty easy correct and is not uncommon at all. As for his stuff, they call it a “93-95 mph fastball and a power curveball” and a work-in-progress changeup. BA lauded Warren’s deep repertoire, which features “heavy 90-93 mph fastball”, a slow curveball, and a cutter/slider kind of breaking pitch. They also mention that his 6-foot-1, 200 lb. frame is maxed out, and there’s a chance he’ll end up as more of a setup man than a starter.
Mesa was said to have the best set of tools in the league behind Phillie turned Astros turned Blue Jay Anthony Gose. He “showed true four-tool ability” because he has “excellent raw power that already makes its presence felt in games, runs well, covers a lot of ground in center field and owns a strong, accurate arm.” His ability to make consistent contact and handle breaking balls is, as it always was, a concern. Brackman “showed an 89-94 mph fastball and a power curveball … giving him a pair of plus pitches on his best days.” They note that he uses his height to his advantage and that his changeup is improved, but his command can still waver from time to time.
The Double-A Eastern League list comes out on Friday, and the Yankees should be well represented once again. Brackman is again eligible for that list, and you’ve also got Hector Noesi, Austin Romine, and even Brandon Laird. David Adams is a long shot given his injury, and if Banuelos didn’t have enough innings to qualify for the FSL list, he definitely won’t have enough for the EL. For shame.
The Twins’ lineup is not one the Yankees should underestimate. The team finished second in the majors in OBP, seventh in SLG, and fifth in wOBA. Yet, as Matt Klaassen of FanGraphs explained on Monday, looking at a team’s overall season stats doesn’t necessarily paint the whole picture. A good part of the Twins’ numbers came from Justin Morneau, who was on an MVP-like tear before missing the second half with a concussion. He will not factor into the series. There are other factors, too, such as bench players. Some of them got playing time during the season so that starters could rest. They will not play much of a role in this series.
The best way to look at a team’s offense, then, is to examine the strengths and weaknesses of its components. That will not only give us an idea of what they do as hitters, but will also help us see how they match up against the opposing pitcher. Tonight that will be CC Sabathia against the best the Twins have to offer.
In the bottom of the first Sabathia will face an immediate challenge. Denard Span might have had a poor 2010 season, but he’s still a dangerous guy from the leadoff spot. He actually hits lefties a bit better than righties not only this year, but in his career. This year he has a .347 OBP in 243 PA against fellow lefties, but Sabathia has done a good job of keeping them off base, a .305 OBP to the 220 he’s faced. Span has hit far better at home than he has on the road, which certainly bodes well for the Twins in the series. Sabathia has pitched slightly worse on the road, but the spacious Target Field should help him keep the ball in the park. Sabathia’s ground ball tendencies also play to his favor against the leadoff man; Span has not gotten on base well against that type of pitcher.
While Span is the guy who can swipe a bag if he’s on — he went 26 for 30 this season — Orlando Hudson is the Twin who can do the most damage on the base paths. Hi EQBRR of 2.2 leads the team even though he’s not by any means a prolific base stealer. Thankfully for the Yankees, Hudson got on base this year at a lower rate than he has since 2005. He has hit a bit better at home, a .353 wOBA against a .324 mark on the road, but he hits lefties a bit worse than righties. He also hits ground ball pitchers better than fly ball ones, which could help him against Sabathia. Then again, the fastball and slider have hurt him this year, so perhaps Sabathia can keep him neutralized. He has hit changeups well, though, and Sabathia is apt to throw one to a righty.
Even if Sabathia can keep Span and Hudson off base, he’ll still have to deal with one of the league’s more dangerous hitters. Joe Mauer’s .373 wOBA is only disappointing when compared to his 2009 MVP season. He produced despite multiple injuries, the latest of which was a knee injury from which he just recovered. What hurts him in Game 1 is his lack of power both against lefties and at home. Just two of his nine home runs this season have come at home, and just one of nine has come off a left-handed pitcher. Still, he has hit .272 with a .342 OBP against lefties, so he can still produce. If the Yankees can keep him moving just one base at a time they’ll be in good shape.
Where the Twins order used to feature Justin Morneau it will now feature Michael Cuddyer. That’s a significant drop-off, especially considering Cuddyer’s poor 2010 season. He immediately stepped up in July, following Morneau’s injury, and produced a .376 wOBA on the month. But since then he’s been much less productive. Yet he has still hit lefties well, a .376 wOBA, and has also produced at Target Field, a .340 wOBA. Both of these, plus his quality numbers against ground ball pitchers, are reasons he’ll likely bat behind Mauer in Game 1, and likely Game 2 as well.
That leaves Delmon Young for the fifth spot. Can you believe he’s just 24 years old? The time he spent in Tampa Bay feels like it was eons ago. Instead he’s finally found his stride in Minnesota. He followed up a quality second half of 2009 with a very good 2010 season that included career highs in BA and ISO. As expected he produces better against lefties, a .390 wOBA, but he doesn’t have much of a home/road split. He also hasn’t hit ground ball pitchers that well this year. During the course of his career he has, but something must have changed this season.
In the final four spots Sabathia might have to worry most about a rookie. True, it’s tough to write off Jim Thome, even if he battled back problems in September and he doesn’t hit lefties as well as he does righties. Sabathia will have that advantage over him. Thome also has had trouble against the slider, a pitch that Sabathia will throw to a lefty in any count. He also hits relatively worse against power pitchers and ground ball pitchers, both of which describe Sabathia. Still, Thome has produced quality numbers at Target Field. Considering the alternatives, I’m certain he’ll be in the starting lineup tonight.
Jason Kubel is another player who will likely bat higher in the order when a right-handed pitcher is on the mound. He actually battled wrist problems in September, but it appears he is back and healthy, having started every game since the 21st. He hits lefties particularly poorly, a .297 wOBA this year and .299 for his career. The slider has given him fits all year, so Sabathia has weapon with which he can retire Kubel. Jason Repko took most of the starts when Kubel was hurt, but there’s little chance he starts in the series. His right-handedness might help, but he’s actually been dominated by lefties this year and doesn’t have good career numbers against them.
While he probably won’t win the AL Rookie of the Year Award, Danny Valencia might be the most dangerous first-year player in the AL. In just 322 PA he produced 2.6 WAR. His .351 wOBA ranks sixth among AL third basemen with at least 300 PA, though that does put him third out of the four playoff third basemen. He’s done an especially excellent job against lefties, a .424 wOBA in 111 PA, and he gets on base against ground ball pitchers more often than he does against fly ball pitchers. Valencia hasn’t played against the Yankees yet, and I fear that he might become a thorn in their sides this series.
J.J. Hardy finishes things for the Twins. He was brought in with hopes that he’d return to his 2008 form, but that didn’t happen. Instead he missed plenty of time to injury — nearly 50 days — and was largely ineffective when healthy. His .320 OBP is an improvement over 2009, but his power remains at the same, low level. He continues to play excellent defense, but his bat makes him the No. 9 hitter in this lineup.
In terms of hitters, the Twins don’t have much on the bench. Drew Butera, Nick Punto, Alexi Casilla, Jason Repko, and Matt Tolbert likely won’t play much of a role in the series beyond pinch running and playing defense. There doesn’t seem to be any reason to use any of them otherwise. Maybe you’d see someone pinch-hit for a lefty if Girardi goes to Logan in the late innings, but I’m not sure that it gives the Twins much of an advantage. Their starting lefties against left-handed pitching inspires more confidence than a backup righty against a lefty.
The Twins’ lineup has some potential issues against Sabathia, but it does appear as though they have a number of advantages. The guys at the top of their lineup haven’t done a great job, but Mauer has gotten on base, if nothing else, against lefties and at home this season. He can set the table for the righties Cuddyer and Young, who seemingly back up well against Sabathia. The quality of hitters drops off after that, though, so the key will be working around those 3-4-5 hitters. That’s probably true in every game, but particularly true here. Sabathia can certainly handle the hitters at the top and at the bottom. With a little careful planning and some luck he can definitely make it through this lineup and look like the ace he has been all season.
Back in July you guys voted the Alex Rodriguez/Marcus Thames tag-team walk-off comeback against Jonathan Papelbon as the best moment of the first half of the season, and now it’s time to address the second half. Here’s a recap of some of the most memorable moments from the last three-plus months, with the poll to follow…
July 16th: Swish walks off in first game after George Steinbrenner‘s death (video)
For the first time since 1973, the Yankees played a game without George Steinbrenner at the helm. The Boss passed away the day of the All Star Game, and when the team he loved resumed play a few days later, they did so after honoring his memory. Nick Swisher honored in George in his own way, by doing a mean Bobby Murcer impression. Swish got the Yanks on the board with a run-scoring single in the third, trimming Tampa’s lead to 2-1. Five innings later, with his team down one, Swish teed off on a Joaquin Benoit fastball, tying the game with a solo shot to right. The game remained tied an inning later, when the man of the hour stepped to the plate with runners on first and second and two outs. Swish ended the game with a walk-off line drive single to right, scoring Curtis Granderson and sending everyone home with a smile on a day that started with tears.
July 21st: Colin Curtis pinch homers for Brett Gardner (video)
Five days after Swisher’s dramatic game, Curtis hit the first homerun of his big league career. It was a three-run shot and the Yankees were ahead at the time, so all it did was extend the lead. Nothing special, except that he didn’t even start the at-bat. Brett Gardner did, but he got tossed after taking two straight strikes and arguing with home plate ump Paul Emmel. Lil’ CC came off the bench and inherited the 0-2 count, but he then took three straight Scot Shields offerings for balls to work the count back full. The fourth pitch was in the zone and Curtis put his A-swing on it, hitting it out to right. It gave the Yanks a bit more a cushion, but for a rookie to work that kind of an at-bat off the bench was something to behold.
Aug. 16th-20th: HOPE Week (videos)
This was not a single moment. It didn’t involve any meaningful games and yet everyone won. The Yanks held their second annual HOPE Week in late August, which the official site describes as “a unique week-long community program that will bring to light five remarkable stories intended to inspire individuals into action in their own communities.” They invited a host of amazing people to Yankee Stadium during the week for a once in a lifetime experience that didn’t celebrate the Yankees, but their guests. It was one of those times when even the most dedicated of fans put baseball on the back burner. If it didn’t tug on your heartstrings, then you just don’t get it.
Aug. 11th: A Texas-style comeback (video)
The Yanks were coming off two straight losses, including a tough walk-off defeat at the hands of the Rangers with the immortal Mariano Rivera on the bump. Texas jumped all over Javy Vazquez early and often the next day, and they started the sixth inning up 6-1 with Cy Young contender Cliff Lee on the mound. Derek Jeter lead the inning off with a triple and came around to score on a wild pitch, and the Yanks tacked on two more in the seventh thanks to a Lance Berkman double and a Gardner single. Thames closed the gap to 6-5 with a solo homer in the eighth, but any further comeback would have to come against wunderkind closer Neftali Feliz. Berkman walked to lead off the ninth, was pinch hit for by Granderson who moved over on a Gardner walk. A wild pitch but the tying and go-ahead runs in scoring position temporarily, because Jeter singled in the tying run one batter late. Feliz as removed from the game but it did no good; that Thames guy came through again with a go-ahead single. Rivera pitched around a leadoff triple in the ninth to earn the save and give the team arguably it’s most impressive win of the year.
Sept. 17th: A-Rod teaches Uehara a lesson (video)
Things got pretty ugly for the Yanks down the stretch, and they opened their series in Baltimore having lost eight of ten games, coughing up their lead in the AL East. A-Rod got his team on the board early with a solo homer, but they couldn’t muster anything else until Orioles’ closer Koji Uehara was on the mound in the ninth inning. Down 3-1, Jorge Posada started the inning off with a monster 11-pitch at-bat, reaching on a single. Curtis Granderson moved him over to second with a single two batters later, but Mark Teixeira popped up for the second out. That brought A-Rod to the plate, but given how poorly things were going in Yankeeland it felt like just another tease. Uehara pounded him inside pitch after pitch, and it even looked like he got strike three on a borderline pitch. Instead the home plate ump ruled it outside, and the next inside fastball caught a little too much of the plate and A-Rod put a lot of hurt on it. The three run homer gave the Yanks a 4-3 and an eventual win, one they desperately needed.
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Time to vote. If you don’t think one of those five moments above wasn’t the most memorable of the second half, them tell us about it in the comments! Here’s to many more wonderful memories in the coming weeks…
Yesterday morning I wrote about a roundtable discussion with Bernie Williams. It was in no way comprehensive; it was just the parts of the conversation that stuck out most to me. Bernie had plenty of other interesting things to say. Thankfully, a couple of other people caught different parts. Emma Span has her account at Bronx Banter, and Amanda Rykoff fills in all the details on The OCD Chick. Both offer a different take on the experience of meeting and talking with Bernie Williams.