ALDS Preview: Twins vs. Yankees

Leave a comment

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.

Justin Verlander and Kate Upton are engaged

Detroit Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander, left, and model Kate Upton pose for a photograph during second half NBA All-Star Game basketball action in Toronto on Sunday, Feb. 14, 2016. (Mark Blinch/The Canadian Press via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT
Associated Press
Leave a comment

Justin Verlander and Kate Upton have been a couple for a long time. And dudes like me have been writing about them for a long time because, well, Justin Verlander and Kate Upton.

They’ve fallen a bit off the radar in recent years thanks to Verlander taking a step back from Cy Young contender status and Upton’s profile likewise receding a bit, but if anything that probably helped things out given how hard it probably is to live a life with paparazzi hovering every time you want to out and get a burger or something.

In any event, those two crazy kids have made it work. Made it work so well that Verlander have Upton a big fat rock that she showed off at last night’s Met Ball, which is a fundraising gala for the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Check it out:

Screen Shot 2016-05-03 at 8.20.56 AM

When you’re on a $180 million contract you can afford stuff like that, I guess.

Anyway, it looks like Upton enjoyed the fancy, star-studded gala in New York. I’m sure Verlander had a good time on the Tigers’ off-day in Cleveland. There’s a lot to do in Cleveland if you know where to look.

And That Happened: Monday’s scores and highlights

Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon yells toward Pittsburgh Pirates relief pitcher Kyle Lobstein after Cubs' Ben Zobrist was hit by a pitch in the seventh inning of a baseball game, Monday, May 2, 2016, in Pittsburgh. The Cubs won 7-2. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
Associated Press
3 Comments

Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Cubs 7, Pirates 2: Plunky Brewster. Archie Plunker — no, Archie Plunker’s Place.  Plunkingham Palace. Fran Plunkington. I dunno, but there was plunking here, starting with Jason Hammel hitting Starling Marte to lead off the sixth followed by Kyle Lobstein hitting Ben Zobrist in the seventh. Hard to deny that Hammel hitting Marte wasn’t retaliation for Tony Watson hitting Jake Arrieta in the Wild Card Game last year, though I’m sure everyone denied it. Boys will be boys. Hammel allowed two runs pitching into the sixth and his ERA almost doubled, which tells you how good he’s been in the early going.

Rangers 2, Blue Jays 1: Nomar Mazara won April’s Rookie of the month award yesterday afternoon and several hours later hit a tiebreaking home run in the top of the eighth. Then, in the bottom of the eighth, he threw out a dude at home plate. Not a bad day for the kid. This was also a playoff rematch that had the potential for a plunking. Some think the Rangers still want to hit Jose Bautista for the infamous bat flip last October. Maybe it’ll come later in the series when the game is not as close, but for now the Rangers are probably pretty happy with him going 0-for-4 with two strikeouts.

Giants 9, Reds 6: Johnny Cueto returned to Cincinnati to pitch in front of his old home crowd. He didn’t pitch well, giving up six runs in five innings, but you have a bit of a margin for error against this Reds teams. The Giants bats supplied the margin, rattling out 14 hits, including Brandon Crawford‘s three-run homer in the seventh to put the Reds ahead. He added a fourth RBI in the ninth for some insurance.

Mets 4, Braves 1: Mike Foltynewicz got called up yesterday to make his first big league start of the year. He was greeted by a four-run first inning. Gwinnett County is in the same time zone as New York so you can’t blame jet lag, but maybe he got some bad shortbread cookies on the flight or something. Or maybe, based on the fact that he sucked in 15 starts last year, he’s simply not that great. Maybe if these are the 1988 Braves all over again, as I’ve hoped and suspected, he’s our Kevin Coffman: the guy purported to have great stuff and a great future who just got eaten alive by big league pitching before disappearing into witness protection. Meanwhile, Bartolo Colon — who is way closer in age to Kevin Coffman than Mike Foltynewicz — tossed eight shutout innings.

Brewers 8, Angels 5: Jimmy Nelson had two hits including a go-ahead RBI single. He also allowed only two runs over seven innings and got the win. The Brewers got their runs in bunches, with four in the fifth and four in the sixth.

Twins 6, Astros 2: The Twins, who started the season with a notable losing streak and are considered to be among the top underachievers of the young season, now have the same record as the Astros who were favored by many to win the AL West and who most have said “it’s OK, they’ll come around.” And it’s not because the Twins have turned into world-beaters in the past couple of weeks. I’m not saying it’s time to panic in Houston or anything, but eww. Jose Berrios got his first career win, giving up two runs on three hits with eight strikeouts in five and a third. Much better than his debut.

Nationals 2, Royals 0: Four in a row for the Nats as Gio Gonzalez and the bullpen combine on a five-hit shutout. The Royals have lost six of seven. Three of those losses have been shutouts.

Cardinals 10, Phillies 3: Adam Wainwright provided the game’s biggest highlight with a monster homer. The Cards hit five homers in all. When Wainwright was asked about his homer later he used the term “ducks on the pond” to refer to men on base when he came to bat. Which makes me think that Wainwright is 86 years-old. Seriously, I’m pretty sure he started Game 3 of the 1964 World Series against the Yankees. He was really salty when his manager, Johnny Keane, left St. Louis to take over for Yogi Berra in New York the following year. Everything turned out OK, though.

Mariners 4, Athletics 3Nathan Karns gave up three runs while pitching into the seventh. The M’s won for the fifth straight time in the Coliseum. They may be the only ones who like it there. Not that I can or should slam the place. I’m taking my kids on vacation to California next month and I’m taking them to a game there. I could just as easily take them to a Giants game at AT&T but I sort of want them to see what it was like to go to a ballgame in some weird multi-use place with a better proletariat-to- bourgeoisie ratio like I did in the 70s and 80s.

Padres 2, Rockies 1: Matt Kemp hit a two-run double in the first inning and it held up thanks to James Shields allowing one run over six. Shields has gotten seven runs in support in his six starts this season.

Video: Adam Wainwright crushes a three-run homer into the second deck

St. Louis Cardinals' Adam Wainwright connects for a three-run triple against the Arizona Diamondbacks during the sixth inning of a baseball game Wednesday, April 27, 2016, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin
1 Comment

Adam Wainwright has been bringing the lumber lately. The Cardinals’ pitcher delivered a three-run triple in his previous start, last Wednesday, against the Diamondbacks.

During Monday’s start against the Phillies, he doubled to lead off the third inning. Then, in the top of the fourth, he absolutely demolished a Jeremy Hellickson offering for a three-run home run into the second deck at Busch Stadium to tie the game at three apiece.

It’s the seventh home run of Wainwright’s career and brings his season total up to six RBI, matching a career high.

Video: A Delino DeShields base running gaffe costs the Rangers a run

Texas Rangers' Delino DeShields reacts after he struck out swinging to end the tenth inning of a baseball game against the Seattle Mariners, Wednesday, April 13, 2016, in Seattle. The Mariners beat the Rangers 4-2 in ten innings. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
AP Photo/Ted S. Warren
4 Comments

The Rangers would’ve easily taken a 2-1 lead in the top of the seventh inning of Monday’s game against the Blue Jays if not for a base running mistake by Delino DeShields.

Facing R.A. Dickey, Mitch Moreland led off the frame with an infield single. He advanced to second base on a passed ball. After Elvis Andrus flied out, Brett Nicholas drew a walk and DeShields singled to right, loading the bases. Gavin Floyd came in to relieve Dickey, facing Rougned Odor.

Odor skied a fly ball to right-center, which seemed like an obvious sacrifice fly. Center fielder Kevin Pillar made the catch and alertly made a strong throw into second base. Moreland tagged up and scored from third, and DeShields was attempting to tag up on the play as well. However, DeShields was tagged out by shortstop Troy Tulowitzki. The play was reviewed and the ruling on the field — that Moreland scored before DeShields was tagged out — was overturned, erasing the run from the board. That left the game in a 1-1 tie.

The Rangers would eventually take a 2-1 lead in the top of the eighth when Nomar Mazara drilled a solo home run to center field off of Floyd. All’s well that ends well, right?