Oh, October baseball is here. Well, thanks to Silly Bud Selig it will once again become November Baseball, but that’s a discussion for another time. This is about the Wild Card round, and in specific the ALDS where there is plenty to discuss and probably not enough time to even begin running through it all.
The Minnesota Twins
At one point closing out September they were in prime position to take the best record in baseball cranking out win after win with sweeps of Detroit, Kansas City, Chicago and Cleveland before the wheels fell off in the last two weeks and they were swept by Detroit and lost the series with Kansas City and Toronto. This is not your older brother’s Twins team anymore. They do not function as a small market, low payroll, homegrown franchise. They have one of the leagues premier players in Catcher Joe Mauer who recently signed a superstar contract. They spent big money on bringing in pitchers like Matt Capps, Carl Povano and Brian Fuentes along with bats by the likes of Jim Thome as well. They were active at the trade deadline. They are playing in a shiny new ball park and they the expectations are there. Including the expectation they break the curse of 11 straight playoff losses, exasperated by last year’s sweep by their current opponent and long time nemesis the Bronx Bombers. For the most part, the roster going into the ALDS is about what one would expect, except the pitching rotation which opens with Lariano rather than Povano. Both have ace potential for the team, and it may be Povano’s history with the Yanks ultimately effected the decision, but Povano seemed like the stronger starter to face the formidable Sabbathia.
New York Yankees
Constantly competing with the Tampa Bay Rays in the most oppressive AL-E, both the Yanks and Rays maintained .600 averages for long stretches in the seaons. That way until they ran into their all division opponents to close out the season and the constant beating on one another inter-divisional rivalries. Throughout most of the season the starting staff of the Yanks was, well, complicated. On paper, it looked to be fairly straight forward with ace CC Sabbathia being supported by Burnett and Pettite while Hughes broke back into the starting role and Vasquez filled in the gaps. That isn’t how it worked out… Burnett became the epitome of inconsistency, Vasquez befriended the bullpen, Pettite got hurt and toward the end of the season Hughes was starting to show wear. With as much invested in the rest of the team as there was the bullpen was able to pick up the slack when necessary and a ferocious 1-9 of starters and deep bench allowed the bombers to blast their way through a lackluster limp into the playoffs. There were certainly some interesting moves in putting together the playoff roster for the Yanks with Burnett and Vasquez being enormous question marks as well as how to handle what was becoming once again, a very crowded outfield featuring regulars Gardener, Granderson and Swisher along with Marcus Thames, Greg Goldson and Austin Kearns in the mix.
Assuming the Yanks go with only three starters of CC, Pettite and Hughes the upside is that should be a dominate starting three, more than capable of quieting the Minni bats. If it is a sweep it leaves everyone well rested for the next round and allows the rotation to start with those three again, which worked well last year. The kink is if it goes extra games, CC starts on short rest and probably isn’t available to anchor the next round. The Twins will counter with Lariano, Povano and Duesing which has to worry them a little. Although all three probably match up alright against the opposing starter, the real question is how they will match up against the opposing lineup and that’s where the disadvantage probably lies. Lariano is a strikeout pitcher going against a lineup that is patient enough to wait him out. Povano is a man of two minds and although he looks good in is post-pinstripe campaigns one has to wonder how the ghosts of old might still effect him, especially since he’s in a contract year.
K to it: Yanks
Two words: Mariano Rivera. When push comes to shove, when a tight game is on the line, there is just no equal. Even with his meltdown moments in the past, the Sandman hitting the mound is about as automatic as it might come. Former closer Kerry Wood and possible closer in the making Joba Chaimberlain set it up while Robertson and Mitre provide depth. Across the grass the set-up / closer combination of Rouch, Fuentes and Capps are just as mighty of a combination while Crain and Mijaris add depth. Unfortunately, the nearly flawless play and experience of the Yanks probably means there isn’t a weak point to fully exploit over a short series once the starter steps off the field
Close it all: Yanks
Defensively, the Yanks and Minni are fairly even in this category. An aging and less than defensively adept Posada backstops to the formidable Tiexeira and Cano on the right side, while another aging, yet how-the-heck-did-he-make-that-play-making Jeter and the unpredictable A-Rod counter on the left. AL MVP catcher Joe Mauer provides the presence behind the plate with a solid right side of Cuddyer and Hudson balanced by Hardy and Valencia on the left. If you had to give an edge in the field, it probably lies with the Yanks solely on historical inventiveness and overall experience.
Completing the DP: Yanks
The Twins feature Young, Kubel in the corners and Span up the middle to complete a consistently performing and predictably placed OF. The Yankees counter with a flexible and adaptable Garnder and Swisher usually playing the corners with Granderson probably playing up the middle, but, on any given night, with any given pitcher you never know how Goldson, Kearns and even Thames might be worked in. The shifting and shuffling might make for a positive in the lineup but it can be an Achilles heal as well if the wrong defensive combination ends up out there. Minnesota certainly sets up a more consistent OF staff than the Yank and that probably gives them the edge.
Stealing the HR: Twins
The Yankees feature by far one of, if not the strongest 1 through 9 in the league. Granted, there are occasionally questions about the actual running order but just the fact you can have Jeter, Swisher, Tiexeira, A-Rod, Cano, Posada, Berkman Granderson and Gardner as a lineup regardless of how you place them is intimidating. Add in the depth of Thames, Goldson, Kearns, Pena and Cervelli off the bench and it is a mighty flexible lineup. It features speed and power. Despite the Bomber’s nickname and propensity to hit the long ball, they can manufacture runs when they need to. Countering, the Twins will attack with Maur, Hudson, Cuddyer, Hardy, Valencia, Young, Span, Kubel and Thome. While there are no easy outs there either, it isn’t as threatening top to bottom and when every run will count there isn’t as much flexibility and depth on the bench as what the Yanks offer. The dependency on small ball of days past is behind Minni now and the big boppers in the lineup have to take that command in order for the lineup to truly be successful.
Out of the Park: Yanks
Manager & Staff
Gotta like Ron Gardenhire in this matchup. Every aspect of his game is managed well and his staff are impeccable. There is no reason to believe he won’t bring and abundant amount of baseball smarts to this series and probably dictate a lot of the moves the Yankees end up making trying to counter his ingenuity. On the flipside is Girardi, who’s deft use of pitching (the complete opposite of his predecessor Joe Torre at times) with Dave Eiland is only matched by his somewhat inefficient use of the lineup and bench. The chaos that is Girardi managing might be the only benefit he has against Gardenhire because it might just throw him off the scent of strategy. Overall though, Minni might be better managed overall and that says a lot going against last years World Champions.
The skip says: Twins
Whatever these are, they belong to the Yankees. There is something about the Pinstripes that just does it. Is it the complete and utter dominance the Yanks had over the Twins in the past? Is it the unprecedented 27th World Series title they earned just last year? Is it the “Do it for the Boss” rallycry for the passing of Mr. Steinbrenner? Who knows, but simply opening a new stadium to the delight of a mighty fanbase might not be enough for the Twins to overcome. And, all that plus how the teams match up on paper has the Yanks probably advancing again over the Twinkies this year.
Campaign bubbles: Yankees