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.

And That Happened: Wednesday’s scores and highlights

NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 28:  Mark Teixeira #25 of the New York Yankees celebrates his game winning ninth inning grand slam home run against the Boston Red Sox at Yankee Stadium on September 28, 2016 in the Bronx borough of New York City.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Yankees 5, Red Sox 3: Congratulations to the Red Sox, I guess. They won the AL East thanks to the Blue Jays loss while this game was still going on, but they were deprived of the right to woop and holler on the field in New York given Mark Teixeira‘s stunning walkoff grand slam with two outs in the ninth. The Yankees were down 3-0 heading into the inning. The Yankees staved off elimination for another night. It will come, but in the meantime this was their 82nd win, ensuring a winning season at the very least.

Orioles 3, Blue Jays 2Hyun Soo Kim hit a ninth inning pinch hit homer which gave the Orioles a 3-2 lead and, eventually, 3-2 win over the Blue Jays. It simultaneously gave the Red Sox the American League East. Not too bad. Unless you’re a Jays fan, that is. For the O’s, it kept them a game ahead of the Tigers in the Wild Card and pulled them to within a game behind Toronto for the top slot.

Tigers 6, Indians 3: The Tigers likewise keep pace with Baltimore, thanks to a tiebreaking three-run homer from Miguel Caberea moments before the game was stopped on a very rainy night in Detroit. It ended up being shortened to a five inning affair. There was an earlier stoppage of 45 minutes before the 72 minute delay turned into the end of the game. If the Indians hadn’t already clinched the Central I’m guessing they’d be pissed about this, but at least this way they got to go back to the hotel and relax.

Mariners 12, Astros 4: Robinson Cano hit a three-run homer in the first inning and the M’s added four more before the Astros scored their first run, making this one a breeze. The pile on led to a win which kept Seattle two games behind Baltimore for the second Wild Card slot.

Mets 5, Marlins 2: Jay Bruce and James Loney homered as the Mets give themselves a one and a half game lead over San Francisco for the NL’s top wild card spot. The Marlins’ pregame routine for this one was Jose Fernandez’s funeral, so it’s understandable if their heads weren’t completely in this one.

Reds 2, Cardinals 1: Cardinal-killer Anthony DeSclafani allowed only one run over six innings as Adam Duvall‘s two run single in the third holds up. DeSclafani is 4-1 with a 2.13 ERA against St. Louis in his young career. He’s 15-19 against everyone else.

Rockies 2, Giants 0: The Rockies, paced by Tyler Chatwood‘s eight scoreless innings, shut out the Giants. Nolan Arenado singled in a run in the fourth and Gerardo Parra singled in one in the seventh. Jeff Samardzija struck out 11 while pitching into the seventh. If needed, he’ll pitch in a Wild Card tiebreaker on Monday.

Pirates 8, Cubs 4: John Jaso hit for the cycle. It was the first cycle for a Pirates hitter since Daryle Ward did it in 2004. Remember Daryle Ward? Meanwhile, Jake Arrieta went five innings and allowed 10 hits and seven runs in his worst start of the year.

Braves 12, Phillies 2Freddie Freeman extended his hitting streak to 30 games, Matt Kemp hit a two-run homer and Mike Foltynewicz pitched two-hit ball over five innings. The Braves’ second half has been pretty darn good.

Royals 5, Twins 2: The Red Sox lost, but won the AL East anyway. The Royal won, but were officially eliminated from the postseason. Oh well. The Twins lost their 10th game in their last 11. That ties the record for the most losses since the franchise moved to Minnesota. One more loss and they’ll top the 1982 club for this grand honor. Gary Ward was the offensive star of that team. No one remembers Gary Ward, do they?

Diamondbacks 3, Nationals 0: Another rain-shortened game, this one lasting through the top of the sixth. The Nats have lost seven of 11. Between that and all of their injuries, they have to be the division winner with the least amount of confidence heading into the playoffs.

Rangers 8, Brewers 5: Texas was down 5-4 heading into the bottom the eighth but rallied for four. Elvis Andrus singled in run to tie it and then Carlos Gomez hit a three-run homer to give the Rangers the game. It was the second night in a row Gomez hit a three-run shot. In all, he has eight homers and 24 RBI in 31 games since joining the Rangers after being released by Houston.

White Sox 1, Rays 0: Miguel Gonzalez pitched a three-hit shutout into the ninth inning but was pulled when he put a runner on his pitch count went over 100 in what is a meaningless game. His workload was actually higher, as he threw a lot of warmup pitches during a rain delay. Todd Frazier‘ 40th homer was the game’s only scoring. Overall he’s hitting .228/.307/.474.  Statistically this has to be one of the worst 40-homer seasons ever, right?

Angels 8, Athletics 6: A win is nice, but having Mike Trout get hit with a pitch late in the game which will cause him to have tests on his shoulder isn’t the best news. Kole Calhoun homered as the Angels sweep the A’s.

Padres 6, Dodgers 5: Padres rookie outfielder Hunter Renfroe hit a homer onto the roof of the Western Metal Supply Building in right field at Petco Park. He’s the first one to ever do that in the park’s history. Not bad. Now the Padres have something to lead the 2016 highlight reel anyway. Renfroe was the PCL MVP this year and has hit four home runs and drove in 12 in the seven games since he’s been called up.

CC Sabathia wants to pitch beyond 2017

BOSTON, MA - SEPTEMBER 18: CC Sabathia #52 of the New York Yankees pitches during the fifth inning against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park on September 18, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Red Sox won 5-4. (Photo by Rich Gagnon/Getty Images)
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CC Sabathia‘s contract with the Yankees expires after the 2017 season but the lefty feels that he has enough left in the tank to pitch in 2018 and beyond, Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News reports.

Sabathia said, “I just know myself. I know I feel like it’s not my time yet. Barring any crazy injuries I know I can pitch past next year. I feel like this is just the beginning of what I’m trying to do. I feel like there’s a lot more still to learn and a lot better to get. It’s exciting.”

The 36-year-old lefty currently holds a 4.02 ERA and a 144/63 K/BB ratio in 172 1/3 innings. It’s his best and healthiest season since 2012. He battled a knee injury last season and checked into rehab for alcohol addiction last October. Sabathia said that being treated for his addiction put him “in a good spot.”

Sabathia is owed $25 million through a vesting option for the 2017 season.