ALDS Preview: Twins vs. Yankees

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Two full weeks after the Yankees clinched their spot in the playoffs, the Twins and Tigers played a 12-inning thriller yesterday to decide the AL Central.
Thirteen pitchers were used, 391 pitches were thrown, and when the Twins emerged victorious they had less than 20 hours to celebrate in front of a record crowd at the not-dead-yet Metrodome, get to the airport, fly from Minneapolis to New York, presumably get some sleep, and then be at Yankee Stadium for the first pitch of the ALDS tonight.
Congratulations on the division title. Hope you enjoyed the celebration. Now try beating this 103-win powerhouse with three times your payroll.
Before becoming the biggest underdogs of the playoffs the Twins trailed the Tigers by seven games on September 6 and remained three games behind with just four games to play, which is a deficit that no team in baseball history has come back from. Until now. Minnesota went 31-14 down the stretch, including 17-4 after losing Justin Morneau to a season-ending back injury, and scratched out a one-game playoff win after falling 1-0 to the White Sox in the same situation last year.
Their reward? A late-night flight to New York for a matchup against baseball’s most dominant team. Oh, and just in case the above scenario isn’t daunting enough the Twins are 16-45 against the Yankees under manager Ron Gardenhire, including 0-7 this season, and New York is responsible for two of their last three playoff exits. This is David versus Goliath, if Goliath wore pinstripes and David was tired from dousing himself with champagne the night before, but fortunately for the Twins their slingshot is still warm.
Rotations

GAME 1:
CC Sabathia         230 IP    7.7 SO/9    2.6 BB/9    42.9 GB%    3.94 xFIP
Brian Duensing       84 IP    5.7 SO/9    3.3 BB/9    45.5 GB%    4.97 xFIP
GAME 2:
A.J. Burnett        207 IP    9.5 SO/9    4.2 BB/9    42.8 GB%    4.50 xFIP
Nick Blackburn      206 IP    4.3 SO/9    1.8 BB/9    45.8 GB%    4.78 xFIP
GAME 3:
Andy Pettitte       195 IP    6.8 SO/9    3.5 BB/9    42.9 GB%    3.94 xFIP
Carl Pavano         199 IP    6.6 SO/9    1.8 BB/9    44.5 GB%    4.24 xFIP
GAME 4:
CC Sabathia         230 IP    7.7 SO/9    2.6 BB/9    42.9 GB%    3.94 xFIP
Scott Baker         200 IP    7.3 SO/9    2.2 BB/9    33.9 GB%    4.39 xFIP
GAME 5:
A.J. Burnett        207 IP    9.5 SO/9    4.2 BB/9    42.8 GB%    4.50 xFIP
Nick Blackburn      206 IP    4.3 SO/9    1.8 BB/9    45.8 GB%    4.78 xFIP



* xFIP stands for Expected Fielding Independent Pitching, which is generally a better measure of pitcher performance than ERA. GB% is ground-ball percentage.
Minnesota had to rebuild its rotation on the fly thanks to Francisco Liriano falling apart and injuries to Kevin Slowey and Glen Perkins, and the revised front four of Scott Baker, Nick Blackburn, Carl Pavano, and Brian Duensing went 17-9 with a 3.76 ERA over the final 45 games of the season. Ideally the Twins would start Baker in Game 1, but since he was needed in yesterday’s one-game playoff they’ll go with the 26-year-old rookie Duensing against CC Sabathia.
Duensing was 5-2 with a 3.64 ERA in 84 innings split between the rotation and bullpen, but his secondary numbers weren’t nearly as impressive, his stuff is mediocre, and he went 20-22 with a 4.00 ERA at Triple-A before making his big-league debut this year. Sabathia versus Duensing is the biggest mismatch of a lopsided series, but the Yankees also hold smaller edges in each of the other four games and it’s possible that the Twins’ best starter won’t ever take the mound.
Sabathia struggled in his final start, but went 11-2 with a 2.74 ERA after the All-Star break and is 13-8 with a 3.05 ERA lifetime against the Twins, including seven innings of one-run ball in July. Minnesota will likely need to win two of the other three matchups, because it’s awfully difficult to envision the Twins beating Carsten Charles twice. One matchup that could favor the Twins is the Blackburn-Burnett combo, because Blackburn has repeatedly come up big in key starts and Burnett has been mediocre all season.
Lineups
New York led all of baseball in hits, homers, walks, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage on the way to scoring an MLB-high 915 runs, which is 32 more than any other team and 145 more than the league average. Eight of the nine regulars in the lineup posted an OPS above .800, and even the Melky Cabrera-Brett Gardner platoon in center field managed above-average production. Minnesota’s fly ball-heavy pitching staff will be in constant danger as seven Yankees smacked at least 20 homers.
No team can match the Yankees when it comes to lineup depth and offensive firepower, but the Twins were plenty good at scoring runs themselves, ranking fourth in the league with 816. Joe Mauer had one of the greatest seasons of all time for a catcher, hitting .365/.444/.587 with 28 homers for his third batting title in four seasons, and Jason Kubel, Michael Cuddyer, and Denard Span were also among the league’s top bats.
Morneau’s injury robs Minnesota of a fifth big-time threat, but Cuddyer hit .333 with nine homers and 24 RBIs in 21 games after replacing him at first base and guys like Delmon Young, Orlando Cabrera, and Matt Tolbert caught fire down the stretch after being easy outs for most of the season. They’re certainly not going to out-slug the Yankees, but the Twins have plenty of pop and scored 6.3 runs per game during the season-ending 17-4 stretch.
Bullpens
Twins relievers had a 3.88 ERA in 512 innings and Yankees relievers had a 3.91 ERA in 515 innings, but bullpen depth ceases being a big factor once the playoffs begin. In other words, no more R.A. Dickey and Edwar Ramirez. Instead playoff bullpens are all about closers and their primary setup men, which means Mariano Rivera, Phil Hughes, and Joba Chamberlain for New York and Joe Nathan, Matt Guerrier, and Jon Rauch for Minnesota. No pitcher can match Rivera’s postseason success, but Nathan is right there with him when it comes to regular-season dominance since becoming a closer in 2004:

             IP      ERA     WHIP      SV      SV%
Rivera      440     1.90     0.94     243     93.1
Nathan      419     1.87     0.93     246     90.8



Amazingly close, as Rivera and Nathan have been the two best closers in baseball during that time. However, while the Twins feature a solid but unspectacular setup trio of Guerrier, Rauch, and Jose Mijares the Yankees potentially have two shutdown relievers in front of Rivera. Hughes has been overpowering since moving to the bullpen, going 5-1 with a 1.40 ERA and 65 strikeouts in 51 innings, and while a question mark Chamberlain has a 1.50 ERA in 50 career relief appearances.
Overrated Angle: Pavano versus his former teammates
Yes, the Yankees and their fans still hold a grudge against Pavano, who made a grand total of 26 starts in four injury-filled seasons in New York and earned nearly $5 million per win. However, he’s been healthy and productive this season while making a career-high 33 starts, going 14-9 with a 4.67 ERA since a rough April. Plus, for all the drama of Pavano facing New York in a playoff series he’s already pitched against the Yankees twice this season, allowing four runs over 13.1 innings in a pair of no-decisions.
Underrated Angle: Burnett over Pettitte in Game 2
Because of the incredibly drawn-out ALDS schedule the first two starters will each pitch twice. Sabathia was a no-brainer atop the rotation, but Burnett over Pettitte in Game 2 is somewhat curious. Burnett was 13-9 with a 4.04 ERA and Pettitte was 14-8 with a 4.16 ERA, so they had similar seasons, but Pettitte is a tougher matchup for the Twins given that three of their four best hitters are left-handed. Beyond that, manager Joe Girardi announced that Jose Molina will serve as Burnett’s personal catcher, so Jorge Posada’s bat will be on the bench 40 percent of the time.
Prediction
Minnesota has all the momentum in the world, but history has shown that doesn’t mean a whole lot once the playoffs begin and New York is simply a superior team with the benefit of rest and homefield advantage. Yankees in four.

Eyebrows raised as ESPN cuts Schilling’s segment from a 2004 Red Sox documentary

Curt Schilling
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Several years ago ESPN produced a documentary about the 2004 Boston Red Sox’ amazing comeback in the ALCS called “Four Days in October.” They’ve re-run it a lot. Yesterday, in the run up to last night’s Yankees-Red Sox game, they ran it again, on ESPN2. Only it was a bit shorter than usual. Why? Because it omitted the part about Curt Schilling and his bloody sock in Game 6.

Which, um, that’s one of the signature moments of that series, right? It’s one of the signature moments of the entire modern era of the franchise. Why edit that out? Many Red Sox fans — who also didn’t much care for ESPN’s handling of the DeflateGate story — believe that it was a vindictive act. A figurative airbrushing out of Schilling and his moment given his recent termination by the World Wide Leader. Even Schilling himself snarked about it:

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For its part, ESPN had a simple explanation: the softball game which led in to the documentary ran long and they needed to cut someplace. Which makes some sense. It’s probably also worth noting that decisions about programming on their secondary network on a sleepy Sunday afternoon are not likely made in a board room by mustache-twirling villains. If ESPN really has it in for Schilling at this point, that’s a rather random and passive aggressive way to show it. My gut instinct is that this is just a coincidence.

But when it’s ESPN and Schilling it’s understandable when people assume there’s something more to it than coincidence. Both sides have, in the past, behaved in curious enough ways with respect to innocuous things that the benefit of the doubt is not something which is likely to be given automatically by some. Especially in Boston.

And That Happened: Sunday’s scores and highlights

Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw throws to the plate during the second inning of a baseball game against the San Diego Padres, Sunday, May 1, 2016, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Associated Press
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WE’RE GOING STREAKING!

Well, we’re talking  a lot about streaks or the end thereof. The end of a lot of losing streaks. The end of some winning streaks. Getaway day games can be momentum disruptors. Anyway, here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Dodgers 1, Padres 0: Clayton freakin’ Kershaw, man. A three-hit complete game shutout with fourteen strikeouts AND he drove in the only run of the game with an RBI single. That’s some one man gang action there, buddy. Still, I wonder if it’s yet safe for me to note, again, that the Padres are terrible. Phillies fans got mad when I said that after Vince Velasquez dominated them. Maybe Dodgers fans won’t get mad if I note it again given that, you know, a pitcher being great and a team sucking aren’t mutually exclusive things.

Nationals 6, Cardinals 1: When people ask me why baseball can’t market its young players like the NBA does, I point to games like this one in which the biggest star in the game, Bryce Harper, goes 0-for-4 with 4Ks and the Nats still cruise to victory. If you tease a big Cards-Nats matchup with “Watch Bryce Harper take on the Cardinals!” he might go 0-for-4 and strike out four times and the Nats could still win easily. Or, he might have a big game and the Nats may still lose. Thing is, in lots of games what a big star does doesn’t matter a lick to the outcome. If someone neutralizes Steph Curry like that, the Warriors probably aren’t winning. There are so many moving parts in baseball, however, that no one game is ever likely to live up to NBA-style hype, especially with respect to one big star. Anyway, Max Scherzer is a star too and he pitched seven shutout innings and struck out nine. That helped. That’s a three-game sweep of the Cardinals for Washington. The Redbirds have lost four in a row overall and now go to take on the [checks glasses] dangerous Philadelphia Phillies.

Phillies 2, Indians 1: Six straight wins for a team most thought would be garbage. They’re 15-10 now. They may wilt, but once you bank wins no one takes them away from you. Vince Velasquez pitched six shutout innings and struck out six.

Astros 2, Athletics 1: Houston only got two hits but one of them was a Jose Altuve homer. It was his seventh, by the way. That’s a 40+ homer pace for the diminutive second baseman. Doug Fister allowed one run in six and two-thirds. He needed that one. He’s been pitching like a dog this year.

Giants 6, Mets 1: The Mets had won eight in a row before this one and lost due to a dominant performance from one of the best pitchers in the game in Madison Bumgarner, so no reason to feel ashamed. Bumgarner has shut the Mets out for the last 18 innings in which he has faced them. Hunter Pence homered and drove in three.

Blue Jays 5, Rays 1: It was Marcus Stroman‘s birthday yesterday. He partied too, allowing one run in eight innings on only three hits and struck out nine. Still, when he left the game he had every reason to think he’d get a no decision, as it was tied 1-1 through eight. The Jays rallied for four while he was still pitcher of record, however, capped off by a Troy Tulowitzki three-run homer.

White Sox 7, Orioles 1: Chris Sale‘s amazing start continues, as he allowed only one run, five hits over five and a third. Walked four too, as he wasn’t particularly sharp, but he’s now 6-0 on the year in six starts.

Reds 6, Pirates 5: The Reds end their six game losing streak. The Pirates’ six game winning streak is snapped. This is very satisfying for those of us who seek out the symmetrical in life. Scott Schebler hit a go-ahead double in the ninth inning for Cincy, they blew that lead, so then he hit another RBI double in the 11th. “I can do this all day,” he would’ve said evenly, if this was some kind of movie and he was a badass. Instead I assume he said something bland about finding his pitch to hit and then credited his teammates more than himself. That’s another reason baseball can’t market young stars, by the way. Most of them don’t act like the sorts of stars who are easy to market. And when they do, they’re criticized for being all me-first. Why this occurred to me in response to a guy like Scott Schebler I have no idea, but the point stands.

Brewers 14, Marlins 5: Lots of streak-ending yesterday. Here the Marlins’ seven-game winning streak ended. Chris Carter went 3-for-5 with two homers as the Brewers got 18 hits in all. After the game Carter, who had been struggling, said “You can’t let the past get to you. You’ve just got to focus on looking forward.” “Can’t repeat the past?” Gatsby cried incredulously in response. “Why, of course you can!”

Tigers 6, Twins 5: The Tigers’ bats have warmed up and, less than a week after Victor Martinez complained about their “horses**t” offense, they’ve won five games in a row. Jarrod Saltalamacchia doubled home the go-ahead run in the eighth inning and Nick Castellanos hit a three-run homer

Braves 4, Cubs 3: Julio Teheran pitched seven scoreless innings striking out nine, but the Braves’ bullpen blew it. Nothing we’ve seen from this team suggested that they wouldn’t just wilt after that, but they showed a bit of fight for once when Daniel Castro singled and scored on Nick Markakis‘ sacrifice fly in the 10th inning and they held on. It wasn’t all glory, however, as the Braves were playing with only 24 men because the front office messed up a transaction yesterday morning. I’ll post on it later. Let me enjoy a win for a few minutes.

Angels 9, Rangers 6: L.A. stops the Rangers four-game winning streak. Starter Garrett Richards was pulled after four innings because of dehydration, but the pen responded with four shutout innings before running into some trouble in the ninth. Kole Calhoun got three hits and drove in two.

Royals 4, Mariners 1: The Royals’ five-game losing streak ends. The last two of those losses were shutouts to the M’s so the fact that Eric Hosmer homered, Lorenzo Cain had an RBI single and Alex Escobar had three hits would’ve been welcome even if they lost again.

Rockies 6, Diamondbacks 3: Nolan Arenado had two hits and three RBI. One of those hits was his major league-leading 11th. I have no idea if the Dbacks will turn their season around and challenge in the NL West like many thought they would, but if they do and fall short, they’ll recall that they dropped five of their first six against the Rockies this year and that’s not the sort of thing a would-be contender does.

Red Sox 8, Yankees 7Christian Vazquez hit a two-run homer to break a tie in the seventh. Dustin Pedroia and Xander Bogaerts each had three hits and Travis Shaw homered. The Sox have won seven of eight and are in first place in the AL East. The Yankees have lost five in a row and six of seven. You’re gonna see some “if the Boss was still alive!” action in the coming days. Count on it.

Tim Lincecum to hold long-awaited showcase on Friday

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - JUNE 16:  Tim Lincecum #55 of the San Francisco Giants pitches against the Seattle Mariners during the game at AT&T Park on Tuesday, June 16, 2015 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Brad Mangin/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
Brad Mangin/MLB Photos via Getty Images
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At long last, the Tim Lincecum showcase has an official date: this Friday, May 6 in Scottsdale, according to CSN Bay Area’s Alex Pavlovic (citing a report from MLB Network’s Jon Heyman). Lincecum, still a free agent, has been allowed to throw at the Giants’ facility in Arizona.

Lincecum, 31, has reportedly still drawn the interest in at least half the league. San Francisco remains Lincecum’s preferred landing spot, however, per Pavlovic.

The right-hander showed better results in 15 starts last season after three consecutive tough campaigns. He finished the 2015 season with a 4.13 ERA and a 60/38 K/BB ratio in 76 1/3 innings. Given how starting pitching is always in demand, Lincecum should walk away with a handful of offers.

Video: J.J. Hardy collects carom off Manny Machado’s glove, converts the out

A ball hit by Chicago White Sox' Todd Frazier gets by Baltimore Orioles third baseman Manny Machado during the fourth inning of a baseball game, Sunday, May 1, 2016, in Baltimore. Baltimore Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy, not seen, was able to get the ball and throw it to first to get out Frazier on the play. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
AP Photo/Nick Wass
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Some great defensive plays leave you saying, “Wow!” This one will leave you saying that, and, “How the heck did that happen?”

In the top of the fourth inning at Camden Yards, White Sox slugger Todd Frazier lined a Ubaldo Jimenez offering right at third baseman Manny Machado. The ball skipped and caromed off of Machado’s glove, creating what seemed to be an easy single for Frazier. Shortstop J.J. Hardy, however, was ranging to his right and used his cat-like reflexes to snag the redirected ball. He planted and threw a one-hopper to Chris Davis at first base to convert the out.

The replay at about 21 seconds really does the play justice. Outstanding stuff by Hardy. The Orioles, however, wound up losing 7-1 to the White Sox.