Archive for Minnesota Twins
Last week we took a nice long look at the teams who figure to be the Yankees’ primary competition this season, meaning the Red Sox, Rays, Tigers, Angels, and Rangers. There are eight other clubs in the American League though, and the Yankees are going to play those eight teams quite a bit more than the five other contenders. Most of those eight teams aren’t very good, but every game counts the same.
Rather than doing a boring old offense/defense/pitching preview for each of those eight non-contenders, I decided to have a little fun with this one and put together some haikus. I encourage you to leave your own in the comments.
No pitching, few bats.
Buck is all talk and no bite.
Don’t dare dis Flanny!
Chicago White Sox
Rebuild or contend?
Kenny can’t seem to decide.
I wish we had Danks.
Some funny names,
Asdrubal and Ubaldo?
Not winning this year.
Kansas City Royals
Hosmer is the shizz.
Young pitching ain’t quite there yet.
Mauer and Morneau
Used to be really awesome.
Now they are broken.
Yoenis is here.
Trade all of the pitchers!
Where are the fans?
Felix is the man,
The rest of the team sucks.
I miss Montero.
Toronto Blue Jays
AA the best,
Until he gets Jeff Mathis.
New unis do rule.
As a Yankees fan, is there anything you’d rather see more than a four-game series against the Twins? I suppose it would be better if they were in the Bronx, but that’s just nitpicking at this point. The Yankees have won two of the three games they played against the Twinkies this season, and the one loss was that Rafael Soriano, four-run eighth inning gem way back in April. You remember, this game. Anyway, the Yankees are 59-19 against the Twins in the Ron Gardenhire era (including playoffs), and they’re 7-1 in new Target Field.
What Have The Twins Done Lately?
Minnesota just took two of three from the Tigers, but before that they had lost eight of nine and 11 of 13. Their 54-68 record is the third worst in the AL, besting only the Orioles (47-74) and Royals (51-73), but their -113 run differential is second worst to the O’s (-138). It’s been a pretty rough year for the Twins, who usually do a fine job of fielding competitive teams.
Twins On Offense
The Yankees are likely to welcome Alex Rodriguez back to the lineup at some point in this series, and the Twins have been getting some important pieces back as well. Justin Morneau returned from his latest round of concussion problems five games ago, and is hitting just .226/.281/.338 in 253 sporadic plate appearances this year. Jason Kubel (.294/.344/.460) missed nearly two months with a foot sprain before returning earlier this month. Rhett Bollinger reports that Kubel will be out for at least tonight’s game due to family reasons, however.
Bollinger also reports that either Michael Cuddyer (.295/.360/.485) or Denard Span (.263/.331/.342) will be placed on the DL before tonight’s game. The former has a neck strain that has kept him on the shelf for the past six games, the latter concussion-like symptoms. Losing Cuddyer would be a huge blow since he’s been their best hitter all season long; he leads the team in AVG, OBP, SLG, OPS, OPS+, ISO, wOBA, wRC+, HR, RBI, R … basically every significant offensive category whether you’re a stathead or a traditionalist (min. 250 PA).
Despite all those injury problems, the Twins still have Joe Mauer, who has hit .325/.395/.390 over his last 36 games to bring his season line to .281/.346/.340. It has not been a banner year for Mr. Mauer, who missed time with injury as well. Jim Thome is still mashing taters, with a .259/.365/.513 batting line in limited playing time. With Kubel and possibly Cuddyer out tonight, there’s a chance he’ll play even against the lefty CC Sabathia. Danny Valencia (.244/.288/.381) crashed back to Earth after last year’s stellar rookie campaign, and the rest of the lineup is filled out by guys like Ben Revere (.253/.301/.298), Trevor Plouffe (.206/.289/.373), Rene Tosoni (.215/.279/.342), and Tsuyoshi Nishioka (.214/.256/.240). Luke Hughes (.233/.296/.317) will be called up to take Cuddyer’s/Span’s spot, and the backup catcher is Drew Butera (.167/.208/.256. Yeah, they’re offensively challenged up in Minnesota.
Twins On The Mound
Thursday, LHP Brian Duensing (vs. CC Sabathia): A rematch of Game One of the 2009 ALDS, the Yankees typically hit Duensing very hard whether it’s the playoffs or regular season. His FIP (4.00) looks a lot better than his ERA (4.53), and his strikeout rate (6.54 K/9) is surprisingly good this year. Duensing will give up some homeruns though (1.04 HR/9), in part because he’s just not much of a ground baller (42.8%). The 28-year-old southpaw lives off his low-90′s two-seamer, throwing it just about half the time. He’ll also mix in a straight, low-90′s four-seamer, a low-80′s changeup, a low-80′s slider, and a low-70′s curveball. Duensing has a huge platoon split both this year and for his career, so it’s a good night to stack the lineup with righties.
Friday, RHP Kevin Slowey (vs. Phil Hughes): Slowey will be making his first start of the season after being banished to the minors in part because the team doesn’t seem like him all that much. He made six relief appearances earlier this year, got hurt, came back and was immediately sent to Triple-A where he’s started for the last two months or so. Slowey’s calling card has always been his control. His career unintentional walk rate is just 1.44 uIBB/9, and he misses enough bats to post respectable strikeout numbers (career 6.79 K/9). He’s a huge fly ball guy though (just 32% grounders for his career), so he’s definitely prone to the homerun (career 1.41 HR/9). Slowey will throw a low-90′s two-seamer, a high-80′s slider, a mid-70′s curveball, and the occasional low-80′s changeup.
Saturday, LHP Francisco Liriano (vs. A.J. Burnett/Freddy Garcia): Liriano could have won the Cy Young Award last year, but his numbers are down across the board this season, whether you want to look at ERA (5.12), FIP (4.63), xFIP (4.45), tERA (4.47), SIERA (4.39), K/9 (7.39), BB/9 (4.90), HR/9 (1.02), ground ball rate (47.9%), whatever your heart desires. He’s throwing more low-90′s four-seamers (33.2%) than last year (just 6.6%), and has scaled back the usage on his low-90′s two-seamer (18.1% after 42.7%). Liriano still has that big wipeout slider, and he’ll also throw a power changeup. It’s a roll of the dice every time out these days, he could be dominant or a disaster.
Sunday, RHP Nick Blackburn (vs. Burnett/Garcia/Ivan Nova): Blackburn is the quintessential Twins pitcher. He doesn’t strike anyone out (4.65 K/9), keeps the walks in check (2.76 uIBB/9), and gets a ton of ground balls (53.2%). They like him so much, they threw $14M at him last year by way of a four-year contract. Crazy. Blackburn doesn’t miss bats with his high-80′s sinker or his high-80′s cutter or his low-80′s curveball or his mid-80′s changeup. Pitching to contact works great in theory, but not so much when you’re facing a powerhouse offense like the Yankees (especially with men on base).
The Yankees’ rotation is a little up in the air for Saturday and Sunday. It all depends on Garcia’s finger, if it’s healed and allows him to throw his splitter, then he’s likely to start Sunday with Burnett going the day before. If not, then Freddy might hit the DL with Nova filling in. No one will be on short rest regardless of what happens, so don’t worry about that.
Bullpen: It took more than half-a-season, but Matt Capps (4.78 FIP) finally lost the closer’s job. Joe Nathan (4.70 FIP but much better of late) gets his old gig back, and his primary setup man is left-hander Glen Perkins, who’s been one of the very best relievers in baseball this year (9.92 K/9, 2.94 BB/9, 0.18 HR/9, 50.9% GB, 2.39 ERA, 2.11 FIP, 2.81 xFIP). The only other non-Perkins reliever in Minnesota’s bullpen that has been above replacement level this year is Anthony Swarzak, who’s pitching to a 4.00 FIP in 29.1 IP. The rest of the crew is filled with guys like Jose Mijares (4.80 FIP), Alex Burnett (4.52), and Phil Dumatrait (5.80). Yeah.
Until it stops, we’re going to continue talking about it. During the Ron Gardenhire era, which began in 2002, the Yankees have downright dominated the Minnesota Twins. Of their 75 games in that span, including playoffs, the Yankees have won 57. As FanGraphs’s Jack Moore explains, the probability of that happening is 0.021% — and that’s not a misplaced decimal point. That dominance really shines in the Bronx, as CBS’s Danny Knobler notes. The Yankees are 30-6 there against the Twins since 2002, and four of those losses came during Johan Santana starts.
Tonight marks the first of four games the two teams will play at the Stadium this week. For the Yankees to continue their string of dominance would only extend a vast statistical anomaly. But, since we’ve already seen some crazy trends this weekend, maybe the Yanks will keep things going.
What Have They Done Lately?
We have only one series in the books, so this section is even less meaningful than it normal. (I.e., we know that momentum can change at any time, without notice.) But if the opening series means anything, the Twins are in a heap of trouble. Their Nos. 1 and 2 pitchers got bombed during their starts, and their closer nearly blew Sunday’s game. In total they were outscored 21-8 by the Blue Jays. Now they come into New York and face another hot offense, but this time they’re putting their Nos. 4 and 5 starters on the mound to start the series.
The team’s lack of offense to this point has been a bit startling. They’ve gotten some quality production from the top of the lineup in Denard Span and from Jason Kubel, but after them the rest of the team hasn’t done a lick. It’s early, of course, and that will change. But will it change as the Twins face the team that has cursed them for the past nine seasons?
Twins On Offense
In the past it wasn’t difficult to note the Twins’ strengths as a team. They’ve always had contending clubs — even in 2008, after they traded Johan Santana, they came within a few games of a playoff spot — but this year they appear to have more weaknesses. For the moment, though, we’ll look at where the Twins are strong.
Clearly, at catcher they have an advantage over most of the league. From 2008 through 2010 Joe Mauer led all catchers in fWAR by no insignificant margin. His wOBA was 30 points higher than his closest peer, Brian McCann. In the same period another of the Twins up-the-middle player, Denard Span in center, ranked among the best at his position.
Then there’s Justin Morneau at first base. He’s off to a slow start, but the concussion he suffered last July kept him out for the entire second half. He still has some rust to scrape off, but once he has that worked out he’ll rank among the league’s best hitters. (In fact, he was an MVP candidate last year before he got bonked on the head.) In the outfield corners the Twins have a trio of solid hitters in Delmon Young, who stepped up last year, Jason Kubel, and Michael Cuddyer. And at DH they have Jim Thome, who, even at his advanced age, continued to mash taters last season.
Twins On The Mound
Game 1: Scott Baker. The past two years have not been kind to Scott Baker. In 2008 it appeared that he was reaching his peak, with a 3.45 ERA and 3.79 FIP. But then this fly ball propensity caught up to him. His home run rate jumped. It appeared that he had been granted a reprieve when the Twins moved to spacious Target Field, but his home run rate stayed around the same level. (
Since 2008, only Ted Lilly and Jered Weaver have a higher fly ball rate than Baker — though his teammate, Slowey, would also rank higher if he qualified. That is not a good mix with Yankee Stadium, especially given the way the Yankees opened the season. Baker does mitigate that rate with a low walk rate and average strikeout rate. There’s a good chance he bounces back this year, as his peripherals last season were good overall. But against the Yankees, at Yankee Stadium, he doesn’t appear a good match.
2010 numbers: 29 starts, 170.1 IP, 4.49 ERA, 3.96 FIP, 3.82 xFIP
Game 2: Brian Duensing. The Twins pretty clearly prefer their pitchers to induce contact and avoid walks. In that way, Duensing is the consummate Twin. Even in the minor leagues he didn’t manage an average strikeout rate. During his season and a half in the bigs he has a 5.49 K/9, which is among the lowest in the league. (His teammate, Nick Blackburn, owns the lowest strikeout rate in the last two years.) Yet he produced some excellent results last year, thanks to a low home run rate, low walk rate, and high strand rate.
Despite the low strikeout rate, Duensing does have excellent peripherals. He avoids handing out free passes, which should match-up well against the patient Yankees. He also keeps the ball in the park, in part due to a ground ball rates that eclipses 50 percent. Duensing might not be a top of the rotation pitcher, but he’s the type of guy I can see giving the Yankees fits.
2010 numbers: 53 games, 13 starts, 130.2 IP, 2.62 ERA, 3.85 FIP, 3.96 xFIP
Game 3: Carl Pavano. The story you’ll hear throughout this game is how the Yankees nearly signed Pavano this off-season. It didn’t happen, which pleased many fans who can’t stand to look at him. Those fans would have been doubly pissed if Pavano pitched for the Yankees like he pitched on Friday for the Twins. It was an ugly, ugly drubbing in which he allowed eight runs, seven earned, in four-plus innings.
Last year Pavano re-established himself as a solid MLB pitcher. His strikeouts dropped, but he made up for it with an uptick in ground balls. And, of course, he always seems to do well against the Yankees.
2010 numbers: 32 starts, 221 IP, 3.75 ERA, 4.02 FIP, 3.86 xFIP
Game 4: Francisco Liriano. The Liriano-to-the-Yankees rumors ran rampant this spring, but nothing came of it. The two sides could come together for a deal later this year, but if the Twins are contending they have little reason to trade their most dominant pitcher. That is, he’s the only arm in their rotation with an above-average strikeout rate. He combines that with a high groundball rate to give them one of their most complete pitchers.
As with Pavano, Yankees fans would have been steaming mad if the team had traded for Liriano and he turned in a performance like Saturday’s, in which he allowed four runs, on five walks and two homers, in 4.1 IP. Chances are, he’ll turn in a better performance this time around.
2010 numbers: 31 starts, 191.2 IP, 3.62 ERA, 2.66 FIP, 2.95 xFIP
Bullpen. For years the bullpen had been a strength for the Twins, but this past off-season they lost a number of key contributors. Jon Rauch, Jesse Crain, and Matt Guerrier all departed. That might not hurt too too much, though, as the Twins got back Joe Nathan and will have a full season of Matt Capps. They also now have Slowey in the bullpen, who should prove a solid option — until they need him in the rotation, at least — and Jose Mijares, who picked up the pace after a terrible start in 2010. The real loss for the Yanks here is Guerrier, off of whom Alex Rodriguez has hit four home runs.
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.
Update 4:45 p.m.: For those of you not watching the Phillies and the Rockies battle it out in the afternoon affair, WCBS 880 AM is doing a special extra-long pre-game show tonight starting at 5 p.m. The first 30 minutes will be streamed live online, and Yankee fans can listen via this link. We’ll be back with our game thread at 5:30 p.m.
When the Yankees and the Twins face off in around two-and-a-half hours, it will be the eighth meeting this year between these two clubs. It is no stretch to say that, so far, the Yankees have utterly dominated the Twins in 2009.
On the season, the Yankees are 7-0 against Minnesota. They’ve outscored the Twins 41-25, and the splits are equally as dominant. The Yanks’ bats hit .300/.380/.490 with 10 home runs against Minnesota while the Yanks’ pitchers held the Twins to a .232/.337/382 line. Yanks’ hurlers put up a 3.27 ERA during those seven games.
Yet, the Yanks/Twins contests were closer than these numbers would indicate. Four of the games were one-run affairs, and two others were decided by two runs. The Yanks celebrated Walk-Off Weekend with Minnesota in town, and those games could serve as a harbinger of things to come this week.
As we preview the ALDS, let’s hop in the Wayback Machine and relive the Yankees season series against the Twins.
May 15, 2009: Yankees 5, Twins 4 (Box Score) (RAB Recap)
WP: Jose Veras
LP: Joe Nathan
HR: Justin Morneau (2), Joe Mauer, Derek Jeter, Brett Gardner
In a game started by Phil Hughes and Francisco Liriano, the bullpens had the final say in this one. The Yanks entered the 9th down 4-2 and with Joe Nathan on the mound. After a game during which the Yanks and Twins got into a shouting match over Carlos Gomez, this one, as Mike predicted at the time, had walk-off written all over it. Brett Gardner, who had hit an inside-the-park home run earlier in the game, tripled to lead off the inning. Mark Teixeira singled him in, and A-Rod walked. After two outs and an intentional walk to Robinson Cano, Melky came to the plate. He singled to left-center, and the Yanks walked off victorious.