ALDS Game Three: Twins @ Yankees

For the first time since walking off the field as World Champions last November, the Yankees will play a playoff game in the Bronx tonight. They grabbed the first two games of the best-of-five ALDS in Minnesota in entirely different fashions, using their offensive might to out-slug the Twins in Game One before riding their pitching depth in Game Two. Should they win tonight, they’ll celebrate on home turf once again, though it’ll just be the first of what we hope are several celebrations this month. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

On the bump for the good guys is the young Phil Hughes, who made it through his first full season as a starter in the AL East with flying colors. Sure, there were absolutely some bumps in the road, but the end result was a 2.4 fWAR season at age-24. Hard to complain about that. Hughes has had some a lot of trouble keeping the ball in the park at home this year (20 HR allowed in 106.1 IP), so he’s going to have to keep the ball down in the zone and away from the middle of the plate to keep Minny’s lefty power in check. With the bullpen fresh after an off day and Andy Pettitte‘s stellar Game Two effort, all Phil needs to do is give them five strong. Anything beyond that is gravy.

The Twins are handing the keys to their season over to 27-year-old Brian Duensing. He’s the kind of lefty that can give the Yankees fits; he’s got a good changeup (0.98 runs above average for every 100 thrown this year) and he pounds the zone (2.07 BB/9 if you take out intentional walks), but at the same time he won’t miss any bats (just 5.37 K/9 with a below average 7.7% swinging strike rate). Duensing’s going to give the Yanks the opportunity to put the ball in play, and I’ll happily take my chances with that. For what it’s worth, the Yanks tagged him for seven hits and five runs in just 4.2 innings in Game One of last year’s ALDS.

Make sure you check out Joe’s preview over at FanGraphs, ditto Jack Moore’s for the Twins. Here’s the 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

Phil Hughes (18-8, 4.19 ERA)

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

Brian Duensing (10-3, 2.62 ERA)

First pitch is scheduled for 8:37pm ET, and the game will be on TBS. Once again, Ernie Johnson, John Smoltz, and Ron Darling will have the call. Enjoy.

ALDS Game Thread: Rays @ Rangers

Matt Garza gets the ball with Tampa’s season on the line, and maybe his lineup will actually muster some offense against righty Colby Lewis. As Yankee fans, we’ve gotta pull for the Rays here. The longer this series goes, the better. TBS will carry this one starting at 5:07pm ET.

Matching up the Yankees pitching and Twins hitters, Game 3

(Kathy Willens/AP)

As mentioned in the first two installments of the series, the Twins’ lineup has two different looks. One puts Delmon Young in the cleanup spot. That’s against lefties, which the Twins saw in the first two games. The other moves Kubel into the more prominent spot. That’s the case tonight, as the Yankees throw righty Phil Hughes against the Twins.

Both the lefty Denard Span and the switch-hitting Orlando Hudson will remain at the top of the lineup. Span actually has a reverse split for his career and the 2010 season. Against righties this season he managed just a .322 OBP and .301 wOBA. His strikeout rate is low at 10.6 percent, so Hughes will probably use the cutter to help prevent solid contact. Hudson hits righties a bit better than lefties, but he hasn’t hit well at all away from Target Field. He and Span give the Twins a largely powerless top of the order.

While Joe Mauer’s season might not have lived up to the standard he set in 2009, he still approaches those numbers when facing right-handed pitching. Against them he has a .416 wOBA, including a .171 ISO. He has also hit for more power away from Target field, a .185 ISO. It was a key in the first two games, but an even bigger key in this one will be keeping Hudson and Span off base. Mauer can do some serious damage, and that’s sometimes unavoidable.

(Jack Rendulich/AP)

The Twins’ major weapon against righties this season has been Country Strong Jim Thome, who has an unbelievable .477 wOBA in 246 PA when facing opposite-handed pitchers. I figured he’d bat behind Mauer, but it appears as though Ron Gardenhire favors Jason Kubel in these situations. I’m not sure why, though. While Kubel has been much better against righties (.341 wOBA) than lefties (.297 wOBA) this season, he’s simply not as good as Thome. In either case, the Twins will have three viable left-handed hitters in the 3, 4, and probably 6 spots. Chances are Gardenhire won’t string together his three best lefty bats, as to prevent a Boone Logan attack.

While the Twins will have a few lefty weapons, they’ll also have mostly ineffective right-handed hitters towards the bottom of the order. Figure on Young batting fifth to break up the lefties. He’s not horrible against same-handed pitching, a .338 wOBA, but he’s not nearly as effective. He can still cause problems with his power, which is a weak point for Hughes, so he won’t be a non-factor by any means. Cuddyer, however, might be. His .308 wOBA against righties and .318 wOBA away from Target Field give him basically the opposite split as Mauer.

At the bottom of the order the Twins feature two more righties. Danny Valencia killed lefties in his rookie campaign, but struggled against righties. He did have a bit of pop, but managed to hit just .280 with a .303 OBP. I can see Hughes blowing some fastballs by him. Hardy actually has a reverse split this season and has hit righties far better than lefties. Then again, we’re dealing with small samples, since Hardy missed much of the season. In his career he has a .313 OBP and .312 wOBA against righties, though as with Valencia he has a little pop.

Given the breakdown of this lineup, I think it’s critical for Hughes to work his changeup tonight. He might be able to get by with his two fastballs and the curveball against the lesser hitters, but against Mauer, Kubel, and Thome in particular he’s probably going to need the changeup. He’s had problems with giving up homers at home and to lefties, so the situation in general doesn’t bode well for him. Changing things up, even if it means using a pitch with which he’s not completely comfortable, might be the best plan of attack. He continues to feed those Twins lefties fastballs I fear they might put more than a couple over the fence.

Ride ’em while you’ve got ’em

Lance and Kerry in their younger and more vulnerable days. (AP File Photo)

The New York Yankees playoff roster reads as one from a mid-2000s All Star Game would. Somehow, some way, both Kerry Wood and Lance Berkman landed on the 2010 New York Yankees, and while those two players aren’t nearly as good as they once were, they’ve each made their impacts felt during the first two games of the American League Division Series.

For Berkman, coming to the Bronx hasn’t been easy. A Texas man with Rice University in his blood, Berkman spent 12 years and played 1592 games for the Astros. At age 34, his health is failing him, but he can still hit right-handers. The Yankees picked him up in a salary dump for Mark Melancon, and while Berkman moved from the bottom of the NL Central to the top of the AL East, he was hesitant about the trade. He didn’t want to leave Texas and had no idea what New York held for him.

His regular season stint in New York wasn’t a booming success. In limited duty, he hit .255/.358/.349, and he didn’t power his one home run over the fence until his 32nd game in pinstripes. Yankee fans grew to despise Berkman when he made some fielding flubs in Tampa Bay and later hit A-Rod on the shin with a line drive during batting practice. Berkman’s two months on the Yanks resembled something out of the Murphy’s Law Handbook to Baseball.

Yet, with four at-bats on Thursday, Lance put the bad will behind him. He went 2 for 4 with a double and a home run and two runs batted in. His fifth inning home run put the Yanks up 2-1, and his seventh inning double put the Yanks on top for good as Jorge Posada scored from first. A week ago, Lance was an after-thought. Today, we love him.

With Lance’s bat providing the offensive thunder, Kerry Wood’s once-golden right arm has given the Yanks a solid set-up option in front of Mariano Rivera. We all know the Kerry Wood story — 20 strike outs at age 21, an arm injury, some good years a starter, overuse, more injuries, a move to the bullpen. After burning out in Chicago, Wood found success in the pen, but he seemed to flounder in Cleveland.

Dealing with some minor injuries, Wood’s first 23 appearances this year were less than impressive. As the trade deadline rolled around, Kerry was 1-4 with a 6.30 ERA, but he had 18 strike outs in 20 innings. Yankee scouts liked what they saw, and for cash, the Yanks got Kerry.

Since arriving in the Bronx, Wood has been revelation. He walks too many guys — 6.2 per 9 innings in 26 innings — but he’s striking out over 10 per 9 IP. His ERA in the Bronx was, with a little bit of luck, a minuscule 0.69. He’s inherited the role left, with little confidence, to Joba Chamberlain, and he came through in a big spot on Thursday. With the Yanks up 4-2, the Twins sent up J.J. Hardy, Denard Span and Orlando Hudson in the 8th. To strike out Hardy, Wood threw a literal knee-buckling breaking pitch. Span grounded back to Wood, and Hudson struck out on pure heat.

Wood and Berkman are the ideal deadline pick-ups for the Yanks. They’re veteran players with playoff experience and success who were toiling away on bad teams. For dollars, the Yanks could augment their roster and build up a bullpen and a bench. That’s how Brian Cashman, with the Yanks’ deep pockets at his disposal, should run his team.

The future for these two current playoff heroes remains hazy. Lance Berkman says he wants to play everyday next year. “I don’t like to platoon,” he said. “If I was the manager I would platoon me because I’ve been so bad righthanded this year. But I don’t think that’s a permanent problem. I like to play every day. The DH role is great but I also like to play the field. I feel like I’ve got something to offer still defensively.”

Kerry Wood’s deal features a club option for $11 million in 2011. That’s closer money, and unless Mariano Rivera unexpectedly retires, Wood will seek employment elsewhere. He has the mentality for the 9th inning and indications are that he wants to close. He and Berkman will be just a pair of rent-a-Yankees.

The Yankees certainly know that Wood and Berkman probably won’t return. They know that these two key cogs are fleeting, and they’re going to ride them for all they can. Girardi will give Wood the ball for the 8th, and he’ll let Berkman take his hacks against right-handers. Bring in the mercenaries with money, push them for the playoffs, and ride their coattails to victory. So far, it’s a winning formula.

The Killer B’s: Who is coming first?

Thankfully the Yankees have the Killer B's, not Killer Bees

Bobby (NY)

What is a realistic path for Banuelos to the majors? He is still young for AA right?

Yes, but I’ve talked to multiple scouts about him (and I think he’ll be here next week) and it sounds like he’s not very far off.

Picked up this question in Klaw’s chat at ESPN on Thursday and thought it was pretty interesting.  I look forward to seeing Law do an actual prospect profile on Banuelos next year.  He hasn’t seen him yet, but noted on twitter that several scouts told him Banuelos was the best pitcher they had seen all year. Considering Law says he’s not far off, could Banuelos be the first of the Killer B’s to make an impact in the Bronx?

Banuelos is by far the youngest of the three, as Betances has 3 years on him and Brackman has more than 5.  At the same time, both Brackman and Betances have struggled with injuries and neither have much more minor league experience than Banuelos does.  Brackman and Betances also are expected to take longer to develop due to their big frames.  While their length should give them an advantage down the road it can lead to struggles with repeating their deliveries and being consistent.  Banuelos on the other hand checks in at just 5’10”, which while concerning (not many sub 6 feet starters out there), also is helpful in his development as he has less to worry about in his delivery.  Without the extra length, it’s easier for him to be consistent.

Obviously Brackman has the biggest advantage in already being on the 40 man roster.  If he’s healthy and continues to progress, I would be very surprised if we didn’t see him in the bigs in 2011, even if he comes up in the pen (to be moved back the rotation, right?).  I wouldn’t be surprised to see Banuelos before Betances though.  Because the Yankees are always competing for the World Series, they often aren’t in a hurry to get young pitchers in the major leagues, and Banuelos will still be barely 20 on Opening Day next year.  If he dominates at AA (no sure thing) and Betances struggles or gets hurt, why wouldn’t Banuelos get the first crack at the majors, other than his age?  The biggest X factor in this is that they are all trade bait and there’s no guarantee any or all of them will ever throw a pitch for the Yankees, but I think it’s interesting that in the scouting community, Banuelos is closer than I would have expected.

A Game Three loss wouldn’t change CC’s schedule

Awww, the big guy's tired. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Let’s make this clear right now: In no way, shape, or form am I saying that a Game Three loss would be beneficial to the Yankees. It would be quite the opposite actually. No one wants a series to extend longer than necessary, especially in the very first round. However, what I am saying is that if the Yanks do in fact drop the game later tonight, it’s not the end of the world. All of you smart people already know that’s the case, simply because CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte would be going in Games Four and Five with just a single win needed to advance. I’ll take my chances in that situation every day of the week.

The biggest consequence of losing Game Three would be having to start Sabathia on Sunday night on three day’s rest. Even though CC’s a horse and has proven to be up to the task on more than one occasion in the past, everyone involved would still like to avoid that situation just out of common sense. He wasn’t sharp in his Game One start and potentially compromising his command even more because of short rest is not something worth rooting for. Let’s save those bullets for later, basically.

Like everyone else, I’ve been working under the assumption that if Sabathia does indeed have to start in a Game Four against the Twins, it would throw off his schedule for the next round should the Yankees advance that far. Well, it turns out it won’t matter at all. Through the miracle of bad scheduling, the first game of the ALCS won’t be playing until next Friday, the 15th. Sabathia would be able to start against the Twins on Sunday, and then again on Friday in the ALCS on his regular four day’s rest. How about that?

I certainly don’t want to get ahead of myself here, because we’ve learned the hard way that no series lead is safe. The Yanks have to come out tonight and play like it’s Game Seven, holding nothing back because tomorrow is a day you don’t want Minnesota to see. The comfort of being able to have Sabathia still pitch the first game of the ALCS while still throwing him in a potential Game Four of the ALDS is just that, a comfort. It’s not part of the plan, it’s the break glass in case of emergency plan right now.

The Yankees have put themselves in a great spot with their two wins on the road at Target Field. They can afford to play like every game is their last this weekend without all the risk, and they’ll still be set up for the ALCS regardless of what happens. They’ll have to beat the Twins one more time before we can really concern ourselves with the next round though, so let’s hope they finish off the sweep tonight and make all of the worrying about Sabathia moot.