The Texas Two-Step brings Yanks one win from ALCS

Fat Elvis is leaving the building. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

Throughout September, Yankee fans worried that the team was squandering the opportunity to secure home-field advantage in the ALDS. Yesterday, the Bombers showed everyone why it didn’t matter. Powered by seven strong innings from Andy Pettitte and a home run from his fellow Texan Lance Berkman, the Yanks downed Carl Pavano and the Twins by a score of 5-2 to take a two games-to-none lead in the best-of-five ALDS. Fittingly, Nick Swisher — or at least his Twitter handlers — called the duo “the Texas Two Step,” and I think that’s a fitting nickname. The Yanks return home on Saturday looking for just one more win to secure an ALCS berth.

We’ll have more analysis on the game in a bit.

ALDS Game Two: Yankees @ Twins

Last night’s Game One win gave the Yankees a nice advantage for the rest of the series. They’ve taken homefield advantage away from the Twins, and they have a tiny little bit of wiggle room should Andy Pettitte falter in Game Two this evening. Pettitte has been so-so since coming off the disabled list, struggling with his command more than his overall stuff, and it’s resulted in a lot of deep counts and high pitch counts early in the game. Pay attention to his location early on. If he’s keeping the ball down and generally hitting the catcher’s mitt, he’ll be fine. If he’s up in the zone and missing by a considerable margin, we could be in for a long night.

As for the rest of the Yanks, they’re going to take their shot against Carl Pavano, arguably the worst free agent signing in baseball history. Well, not this current version, I mean. Pavano had a very nice season in Minnesota (4.02 FIP), and ironically enough has been a bit of a workhorse for Ron Gardenhire, completing seven of his 32 starts. He was able to do that because he’s ultra efficient, throwing just 14.2 pitches per inning during the season. That’s the exact same amount as Roy Halladay, and trails only Cliff Lee (14.0) for the best in baseball.

That said, Pavano hasn’t been very good down the stretch, similar to Game One starter Francisco Liriano. He pitched to a 5.26 ERA in his final eight starts, allowing hitters to post a .314/.339/.507 batting line. Pavano struck out just 4.76 men per nine innings this season, so the Yankees are going to have plenty of chances to put the ball in play. They just have to make sure they don’t get overanxious and swing at Pavano’s pitches, make him come to you. It sounds crazy with such an extreme strike thrower on the mound, but if they start hacking early in the count, they’re falling right into his trap.

Make sure you check out Joe’s Game Two preview at FanGraphs, ditto Zach Sanders’ version for the Twins. Here are the lineups…

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

Andy Pettitte, SP (11-3, 3.28 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

Carl Pavano (17-11, 3.75 ERA)

This one is scheduled to start a little earlier than yesterday, at 6:07pm ET. Ernie Johnson, John Smoltz, and Ron Darling again have the call on TBS. Enjoy the game.

Matching up the Yankees pitching and Twins hitters, Game 2

Well, that sucked. (Paul Battaglia/AP)

The Twins might feature the same lineup tonight as they did last night, but the match-ups will not at all be the same. Andy Pettitte and CC Sabathia might throw with the same hand, but they feature completely different repertoires and they attack hitters in different ways. So while the general match-up numbers might be the same, we need to get into more specifics in order to break down this game.

At this point in his career, Andy Pettitte is no longer a ground ball pitcher. Previously he’d keep the ball on the ground roughly half the time, but for the past two years he has been around 43, 44 percent. Thankfully for thim those have turned into more fly balls than line drives. Even better, those fly balls haven’t been particularly well-hit, since his HR/FB ratio is actually down from where it was earlier in the decade.

In my FanGraphs preview I looked at the Twins hitters against pitchers similar to Pettitte. Since they haven’t faced him that often we can’t learn much from those small samples. The samples when including three other pitchers — Brett Cecil, John Danks, and Mark Buehrle — aren’t adequate by any means, but it should give us a better idea than if we used Pettitte’s numbers alone. Here’s the grim table.

Pettitte and similar pitchers have trouble dealing with the righties in the Twins lineup, plus Denard Span. The only saving grace is that the Ron Gardenhire tends to break up his lefties and righties. So while Span might set the table, the next two hitters don’t tend to fare as well. Still, we could be in for a night similar to last, where the righties Young and Cuddyer lay into some pitches.

(Of course, this isn’t necessarily more significant than any other way to preview the game. By the numbers Curtis Granderson was the least likely guy to get a big hit against Liriano. It’s just a different way to look at it.)

Also working in the Twins favor is general success against two types of pitchers. As a team this year they hit .272/.344/.420 against fly ball pitchers. Even if Pettitte’s fly ball rate doesn’t necessarily classify him as a fly ball guy, the Twins have hit average pitchers to the tune of .287/.351/.457. They also hit average power/finesse guys well, at a .277/.341/.431 clip. Pettitte might seem like a finesse guy, but given the criteria (top third of the league in strikeouts plus walks for power, bottom third for finesse) I’m pretty sure Pettitte fits in the middle. If he does fall into the finesse category it gets even worse, as the Twins hit .279/.345/.444.

The numbers certainly line up in favor of the Twins. Carl Pavano seems to pitch well every time he faces the Yankees, which is infuriating on a number of levels. That’s the only reason I’d be upset with a loss tonight. They won Game 1 on the road, which gives them an advantage. If they head back to New York tied it’s a pretty favorable situation. But not if it is the result of Carl Pavano’s pitching.