GameChat – Yankees @ Twins, 7:30, ALDS Game #1: Lou Brown Said It Best

Yes, I’m aware that the Yankees are the defending World Champions.

Yes, I’m aware that the Twins have had a little trouble beating the Yankees, whether in the playoffs, regular season or (I suspect) Spring Training since Ron Gardenhire took over for Tom Kelly in 2002.

Yes, I know the Yankees have Cy Young “lock” (according to Bryant Gumble anyway) CC Sabathia ready to face the Twins in Game 1 of the series.

Yes, I’m aware that the Yankees have more likely future Hall of Famers in their clubhouse than the Twins have had in their entire 50 year history.

And I don’t see how any of us could help but be aware that the national media considers this series to be nothing more than a minor inconvenience to be overcome on the way to the Yankees/Rays AL Championship Series they’ve all been salivating over for weeks.

But to quote (or at least paraphrase) perhaps the best fictional baseball manager ever, Lou Brown of Major League fame, “I’d just like to point out that every newspaper in the country has picked us to [lose to the Yankees]. The press seems to think that we’d save everyone the time and trouble if we just went out and shot ourselves. Me, I’m for wasting sportswriters’ time. So I figured we ought to hang around for a while and see if we can give ‘em all a nice big shitburger to eat!”

As much as the media and a significant and vocal part of their fan base would like us to believe, these Yankees are not the same Yankees who dispatched the Twins on the way to winning the 2009 World Series. The Yankees 2009 post-season rotation of Sabathia, Burnett and Pettitte consisted of three guys who could easily have been aces on the staff of most contending teams last year. Sabathia will again be a formidable presence for the Twins to overcome, but the likely starters for games 2, 3 and, if necessary, 5 are performing nowhere near “ace” levels lately.

The Yankee offense can score runs, as always. But if they’re going to waltz over the Twins in games at Target Field, they’re likely going to have to do so using speed and defense because I just don’t see either team being likely to overpower the other in the cool evening air at a ballpark that has been reluctant to give up home runs to the gaps or center field in even the warmest days of summer. But make no mistake about it, the Yankees DO have the speed and outfield defense to potentially do serious damage.

Likewise, these are not your 2009 Minnesota Twins, either.

As the discussion about the likely playoff roster has heated up over the past couple of weeks, there has been a lot said and written about how thin the Twins’ bench will be. That’s fair, to a degree. But if you think having a bench consisting of utility infielders like Nick Punto and Matt Tolbert is problematic, just keep in mind that those two players were in the Twins STARTING infield the last time the Twins lined up for Game 1 against the Yankees… and the Twins’ DH in that game was Brendan Harris. You may have heard that the Twins have a different DH lined up for this year.

There’s no question that, defensively and offensively, the current infield of Valencia, Hardy, Hudson and Cuddyer is a significant improvement over Tolbert, Cabrera, Punto and Cuddyer from 2009.

Of course, many fans are talking about how this year’s outfield defense of Young, Span and Kubel doesn’t measure up to last year. But guess what… that’s exactly the defensive outfield that started Game 1 and Game 3 for the Twins last year. Carlos Gomez essentially played a similar role to what Jason Repko plays this year… late inning defensive replacement.

For those of you who think predicting the Twins will win this series is bordering on crazy, here’s something to consider… the Yankees have entered post-season as the Wild Card team three times. How many times have they survived to move on to the ALCS? Exactly… zero.

Yes, home field advantage in a 5-game series IS a big deal.  It’s even more so in the newly dubbed Ballpark of the Year!

Fasten your seatbelts, folks, I think we’re going to enjoy this ride! – JC

NY Yankees @ Minnesota
Jeter, SS   Span, CF
Swisher, RF   Hudson, O, 2B
Teixeira, 1B   Mauer, C
Rodriguez, A, 3B   Young, D, LF
Cano, 2B   Thome, DH
Thames, DH   Cuddyer, 1B
Posada, C   Kubel, RF
Granderson, CF   Valencia, 3B
Gardner, LF   Hardy, SS
  Sabathia, P     Liriano, P

 

  1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
NY Yankees 0 0 0 0 0 4 2 0 0 6 9 0
Minnesota 0 2 1 0 0 1 0 0 0 4 8 0

 

Just going to let this one sit quietly for a bit – no one really wants to start this way.  But here’s my perception of the game overall:  this was NOT our historical ‘give the game to the Yankees because we’re ‘quaking in our boots’.  This was a well-battled game of baseball that didn’t go our way in the end.  Last year we started really making the Yankees have to play baseball to beat us and then giving it away at the end.  This was the best they had to offer in their pitching rotation so now?  yeah, I’m oddly optimistic!!  Let’s bring it back out there tomorrow and see what they got!

Yankee Fan vs. Jim Crikket, ALDS Offense

In this final installment of the YF vs JC discussion of the Yankee/Twin ALDS series, they take an in-depth look at the two teams’ respective offensive lineups.

Let’s start with a look at the likely starting line ups for the Yankees and Twins.

 

YANKEES @ TWINS
Jeter, SS   Span, CF
Swisher, RF   Hudson, O, 2B
Teixeira, 1B   Mauer, C
Rodriguez, A, 3B   Young, D, LF
Cano, 2B   Thome, DH
Posada, C   Cuddyer, 1B
Thames / Berkman   Kubel, RF
Granderson,   Valencia, 3B
Gardner   Hardy, SS

 

Yankee Fan: There is a nice symmetry with this lineup comparison.  The scary parts are the 3-7 hitters, with the 8-9s being setups for the top of the order.  Some speed mixed with some station-to-station guys, and of course, some power through the order.

Looking at the top third of the order, for the Yankees, ideally, Jeter gets on, Swisher walks, and Tex/A-Rod clear the bases.  Problem is, Swisher has fallen in love with the long ball and savvy ground ball pitchers are his weakness.  On the other hand, I firmly believe that Jeter’s batting troubles are behind him and that non-strikeout pitchers who depend on contact are good for him.  Confident that he wont strike out, I think he’ll be comfortable spraying singles to all fields.  The most troubling component here is Tex and his tendency to wilt under pressure.  Until I see otherwise, I think he’s a buzzkill in the top third of the lineup.

For the Twins, Mauer is the key here.  I don’t foresee him leaving men in scoring position.  The man is clutch, has intangibles, and don’t forget the sideburns!  Jeter doesn’t have sideburns… If you haven’t figured it out by now, I worry about Mauer in any situation.  You have two guys who can get on base at a decent clip in Span and Hudson, and Span can go first to third in an instant.  Indeed, the threat of power from the 3-7 hitters will keep Yankee pitchers honest, and Span could have his way on the base paths.  I see that top third scoring 2+ runs per game.  So before we get to the meat of the order, I give the advantage to Minnesota.

 

Derek Jeter shows his form at Target Field in May

Jim Crikket: You’ve seen the Yankees more than I have, certainly, but I’m not so sure Jeter’s hitting problems are behind him. He’s an extreme ground ball hitter and the Twins infield doesn’t let a lot of those get through. Swisher is the guy who concerns me here. I want to see Teixeira coming up with the bases empty as often as possible.

Mauer certainly has earned the respect you give him, but if Span and Hudson aren’t getting on base at a healthy clip, the damage Mauer inflicts will be suppressed considerably. Neither of those guys at the top of the order were getting on base nearly frequently enough the last month of the season. Until I see evidence that they’re going to do better, I give a slight advantage to the Yankees.

The middle of the order is where things get interesting for both teams. There’s a healthy debate among Twins fans as to whether Mauer or Young was the team’s MVP during the regular season. I don’t think there’s a wrong answer to that question but for my money, I’d go with Delmon. He can be streaky, but he has come through in the clutch time and time again. Jim Thome isn’t going to win any footraces, but he’s still as dangerous as any hitter in this series. His effectiveness is, however, likely to be more limited against the Yankees’ left handed starting pitchers. Cuddyer is not having one of his better offensive seasons, but he’s got as much power potential as the others. It would be helpful, however, if we could get a rule adopted outlawing the throwing of breaking balls to Michael. Even without the rule adjustment, I like him in the 6-spot over Posada.

On the Yankee side, as long as Gardy never… ever… lets Matt Guerrier face Alex Rodriguez again, I’ll be more concerned about Robinson Cano than Rodriguez. Rodriguez had a good post-season last year and it’s funny how now all of a sudden all those choke jobs he pulled in prior Octobers apparently never happened. As for Posada, in my opinion he no longer belongs in the middle third of a contending team’s batting order. I give the middle third to the Twins.

Yankee Fan: A-Rod and Cano are monsters right now.  If I was looking at pairs of hitters instead of trios, those two would be (by far) the best combo (only because Morneau is out).  The only issue here is Posada.  Yes, Posada will crush a mistake here and there, and sometimes even in an important spot.  That Minny is throwing some contact pitchers out there benefits Jorgie.  Alas, old grey Jorgie ain’t what he used to be, and again the Yanks have an anchor to sink this middle third of the lineup.  Because of Tex and Jorge, the offense will start then sputter.

Jim Thome

In addition to Mauer, another Twin who scares me is Thome.  Anchoring the second third of the lineup, he acts as a second cleanup hitter of sorts.  With Mauer keeping innings going, I see Thome driving him in.  Young and Cuddyer are perfect Yankee Stadium hitters — that ballpark lends itself to some decent home runs.  The end result here is that every player scares you, and Thome might scare you the most.  He’s a savvy veteran who knows how to keep an inning alive. Advantage: NYY (A-Rod and Cano are that good).

Looking at the bottom third of the Yankee order, Thames/Berkman have their strengths.  Thames is a power threat and handles himself at the plate decently.  Berkman, like Thome, knows how to get a job done when necessary, like driving in a run from third with less than 2 outs, or hitting to the right side when the runner needs to advance from second to third.  The lineup brightens for the Yanks at the bottom — Granderson has a mix of decent hitting, power and speed.  Gardner gets on base and can run, setting up Jeter for more “intangible” and “clutch” postseason moments.  Sure, it’s a joke when McCarver (can we agree that he sucks?) raves about Jeter, but you have to admit, he’s been pretty clutch for the Yanks in the past.

Similarly to the Yankee analysis — Kubel can pound the ball, and Valencia and Hardy can set up the potent top of the order.  Granted, Danny and JJ (which I think was the name of my second favorite ’80s sitcom after Dukes of Hazzard) aren’t as big of a threat to steal bases, but they are better than your average 8-9 hitters. I give the advantage to the Yankees.

Jim Crikket: For someone who’s been looking at things in such a balanced manner, I think you finally let your Yankee bias shine through, YF. There frankly isn’t a single Yankee in the bottom third of their order that I would take over his counterpart on the Twins side. Kubel has certainly earned his drop in the order to #7, but I’d still take him over whichever DH the Yankees trot out there. Granderson hasn’t hit lefthanded pitcing since before he left the Tigers (and isn’t hitting righties particularly well either this season), and Gardner, after getting off to a decent start to his year, has not really hit well since the All Star break.

Danny Valencia

Danny Valencia is probably the best hitter of the six guys in the bottom of these orders and JJ Hardy has put up an OPS of nearly .800 over the last month of the season. A case could be made that Valencia and Hardy have been producing better than Span and Hudson.

So, YF… after all of this analysis, how do you see this series going? Another 3-game sweep for the Evil Empire?

Yankee Fan: With hitting being the deciding factor, I do think the Yankees will prevail once again.  I think the Twins can outhit the Yankees, just not over a 5 game series.  If the Yankees want to win, they need game 1, and hope to outslug the Twins in games 2-4.  Sorry, I know I am a guest to this blog, but I think the Yankees have too many good hitters against contact pitchers. Prediction: Yankees in 4.

Jim Crikket: This is not the same roll-over-and-find-a-way-to-lose Twins team the Yankees have casually discarded in years past. They have deeper pitching, a more balanced offensive line up and a defense that is at least comparable to the Yankees… and they get to begin and end (if necessary) this series in Target Field. I honestly believe the Yankees tanked on purpose to get the Wild Card and this match up with the Twins, rather than face Cliff Lee and the Rangers in a short series… and they’re going to regret having done so.  Prediction: the Twins in 5 games… and if Gardy’s boys can beat Captain Cheeseburger in Game 1, get out the brooms!