Yankee Doodle Dandy

After some early season snafus relating to the Twins’ previous post-season failures against the Yankees, the Twins have an opportunity to put some of those demons to bed, starting tonight, as the open a 4-game series in New York tonight at 6:05pm central.

Image from M.T.'s Blog, http://matt7.mlblogs.com/

While some former Twins (Torii Hunter, Michael Cuddyer, etc.) may have indicated that they Twins were mentally beat against the Yankees before their previous post-season collapses, there is a wealth of historical precedence that helped create those mental barriers.  In the past 10 years the Twins are 18-51 against the Yankees, and that does not include the three times the Yankees eliminated the Twins from post-season play.  Add those in and the Twins are an even more embarrassing 20-63 against the Bronx Bombers. A W-L% of  about .241.  To put that in perspective, over a 162 game season, playing ONLY the Yankees, the Twins would win 39 games.

In those 83 games against the Yankees, 42 were in New York, and the Twins won only 7 times, which does not bode well for the Twins as they roll in to Yankee Stadium this evening.

But here is why I think the Twins have a chance to split* this four game series, which would be a resounding victory, historically:

*Let’s just assume that C.C. Sabathia is his regular self, and Francisco Liriano is the disappointing fallen star that we’ve come to know, so the Twins are not going to win tomorrow night.  And while only two Twins have faced Hiroki Kuroda (Ryan Doumit and Josh Willingham), both have been unsuccessful and the Yankees have blasted Jason Marquis to the tun of .361/.395/.778 for an OPS of almost 1200! In the other two games, the Twins will face Freddy Garcia, and Phil Hughes.  Both are beatable and if the Twins can pitch well enough to keep the Yankees to 5 runs per game, they will have a chance to steal a couple of wins from the Yanks.

Hitting:

In addition to hitting 4 home runs and 6 doubles against Garcia in 71 plate appearances, Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer have combined to walk 10 times compared to just 5 strikeouts.  Of the 114 total plate appearances by current Twins, only Danny Valencia (1/4) has an OBP against Garcia that’s lower than .285.  The Twins have not fared quite as well against Phil Hughes, but still post an OBP of .317, albeit in a sample size limited to just 38 at bats.  Either way, the Twins have an opportunity to get out front of the Yankees early and to allow their starters to work deeper into games, limiting the opportunities for the bullpen to let another close game slip away.

Pitching/Defense:

In addition to hitting well against the Yankees, Carl Pavano (tonight’s starter) and Anthony Swarzak (projected to take Nick Blackburn‘s start on Thursday) have managed to keep the Yankees in check.  Pavano has limited current Yankees to a triple slash of just .229/.252/.359 with just 9/30 hits against him going for extra bases.  Swarzak has faced current Yankees hitters just 39 times, but he has yet to give up a home run to any of the current Yankees, which has been one of their biggest weapons against the Minnesota Twins.  Decent starting pitching will be complemented with a defense that is likely to be near league average with Justin Morneau slotted into first base and either Trevor Plouffe or Clete Thomas taking an outfield spot away from Ryan Doumit.

Winning two games against the Yankees and splitting the series will not get this team any closer to contending for the AL Central, but it will help plant the seed in the minds of this current group of Twins that they can beat the Yankees, something the Twins haven’t really done for a decade.

It starts tonight!

- ERolfPleiss

Twins History Lesson: August 23-29

With about 6 weeks left in the season and the Twins grasping on to a five game lead in the AL Central standings, it’s tempting to start to feel like things are well within hand. But before we dig in to the upcoming week in Twins history, let’s keep one little piece of history in mind… one year ago, the Twins were not only 4.5 games behind the division leading Tigers, but 2.5 behind the White Sox. We all know those leads weren’t safe last year and it’s too early to assume the Twins’ current lead is any safer.

Let’s see what August 23 has brought the Twins direction:

1966: Jim Kaat got the W as the Twins notched win number 500 since the franchise relocated to Minnesota with a victory, appropriately enough, over the Senators.

1977: Dave Goltz threw a one-hitter at the Red Sox and got support from everyone in the line up (each of them recording at least one hit), including a home run from Rod Carew. Goltz struck out 10 in the 7-0 win over Boston.

Jacque Jones

2005: For the second time in Twins history, Minnesota won a game 1-0 with the only run coming on the team’s only hit, a 423 foot home run by Jacque Jones to lead off the 8th inning. Freddy Garcia of the White Sox gave up the dinger and lost to Johan Santana, who only gave up 3 hits, himself.

Kent Hrbek made his MLB debut with the Twins on August 24, 1981, and what a debut it was. In what was a sneak preview of things to come, Hrbie delivered a game-winning home run in the top of the 12th inning off of  George Frazier at Yankee Stadium.

A lot was made about the rain out of their Friday game this weekend resulting in the White Sox and Royals having to play three games inside of 24 hours and, without a doubt, that was a challenge for both teams. But on August 25, 1967, the Twins faced the prospect of playing their third double header in four days. That’s 7 games in four days in the middle of a four-team pennant race. Desperate for a complete game to give their bullpen a break, the Twins turned to Dean Chance, who would be pitching on just two days’ rest, to face the Indians in the second game of the twin bill. The result? Only the second no-hitter in Twins history. Chance actually gave up a run to the tribe in the first inning on two walks, an error and a wild pitch, before going on to strike out 8 to earn the 2-1 win.

Jack Kralick

Speaking of no-hitters, the first Twins no-no was recorded on August 26, 1962, by Jack Kralick, who came within a couple of outs in the ninth inning from being perfect. After Kralick helped his own cause against the A’s with a successful sacrifice bunt in the top of the 9th, followed by a Lenny Green sac fly scoring Bernie Allen, the Twins held a 1-0 lead heading in to the bottom of the ninth. Kralick lost his perfect game with a 1-out full count walk, but got two straight pop outs to put the Twins first no-hitter in the record books.

It’s hard telling which factoid was the most unusual to come out of the Twins’ 1-0 extra inning win over the Brewers on August 27, 1975… was it Craig Kusick tying the MLB record of getting hit by three pitches or iron man Bert Blyleven pitching the 11 inning complete game shutout?

August 28 has seen a couple of items of interest:

1981: Just four days after Kent Hrbek’s debut at Yankee Stadium, fellow rookie Tim Laudner also homered in his first MLB game against the Tigers at Metropolitan Stadium.

2009: The Twins acquired relief pitcher Jon Rauch from the D’Backs.

Lets wrap up this week’s trip down memory lane with a couple of items from August 29:

1963: In what has to be one of the more impressive demonstrations of power hitting in the franchise’s history, the Twins swept a double header from the Senators, 14-2 and 10-1. The Twins hit 12 home runs combined in the two games. Rich Rollins, Bob Allison and Zoilo Versalles each hit one HR, while Bernie Allen, Jimmie Hall and Vic Power each hit two balls out of DC Stadium. Harmon Killebrew won the club’s Home Run Derby with 3 round-trippers.

2009: The Twins signed lefty reliever Ron Mahay, who had been released by the Royals three days earlier.

That’s it! Tonight, the Twins start a critical four-game series against the Rangers at the Oven in Arlington (where high temperatures are forecast to be 106, 103, 93 and 94 degrees over the next four days). Meanwhile, the White Sox have the day off as they wait for the Orioles to show up in Chicago for a three-game series starting Tuesday. Should be an interesting week! – JC

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*We pull this information from a few different sources, including (but not necessarily limited to) Dave Wright’s excellent book, “162-0, The Greatest Wins!”, as well as some  internet sites like “Twins Trivia” and “National Pastime”.