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: Sunday’s scores and highlights

ARLINGTON, TX - AUGUST 28: Derek Holland #45 of the Texas Rangers points out a pop fly against the Cleveland Indians in the first inning at Globe Life Park in Arlington on August 28, 2016 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Rick Yeatts/Getty Images)
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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Rangers 2, Indians 1: Derek Holland was solid, allowing one run over six innings and Ian Desmond and Jonathan Lucroy each had an RBI single. The Rangers take three of four in what could be an ALCS preview. Although, given that no teams have been eliminated yet, any game between AL teams could be an ALCS preview if you think about it hard enough. Open your mind, man.

Dodgers 1, Cubs 0: All goose eggs until the eighth when the Dodgers cobbled together a run out of a hit-by-pitch, a two-base throwing error by Trevor Cahill and a fielder’s choice. Then all goose eggs after that. Brock Stewart and four relievers combined on a four-hit shutout for the Dodgers. This could be an NLCS preview, by the way. I won’t finish the joke here. I already told it.

Orioles 5, Yankees 0: Kevin Gausman had no trouble with the somehow resurgent Yankees, shutting them out for seven innings and fanning nine. I rarely say “fanning” for striking out and I don’t hear at all that often anymore. Back in the 80s it seemed like there was a lot more “fanning” going on. Steve Pearce drove in three. Earlier this season, while he was still with the Rays, I mistakenly identified some Orioles player in a photo as Steve Pearce. I’m glad he’s back where he belongs.

Blue Jays 9, Twins 6: Josh Donaldson hit three homers, including the go-ahead dong, continuing a year that, by the numbers, is better than his MVP year last season, even if people aren’t talking about it as much. On his third homer Jays fans tossed hats out onto the field. Get it? Yeah. Anyway, Minnesota had a 5-2 lead in the middle of the game but blowing moderate leads with lots of time to go is one of the primary traits of teams that suck.

Angels 5, Tigers 0: Jefry Marte hit a two-run homer and drove in a third run on a sac fly. Marte’s performance would really serve as a great “bet you miss me NOW, huh?!” game for him if anyone remembered that he played for the Tigers last year.

Phillies 5, Mets 1: A.J. Ellis hit a two-run double to break a 1-1 tie in the seventh inning. Somewhere Clayton Kershaw shed a single tear, Iron Eyes Cody-style.

Padres 3, Marlins 1: Luis Perdomo tossed a complete game while allowing only one run and requiring only 99 pitches. Having six double plays get turned behind you certainly helps the old pitch count.

Rockies 5, Nationals 3: Nolan Arenado went 4-for-4 with a homer and a triple as the Rockies take two of three from the Nats. Lucas Giolito ran into trouble in the third when Arenado hit that dinger. Dusty Baker after the game: “It’s that one bad inning that does you in. That was the one bad inning.”

One Bad Day

So what I’m saying is, yes, Lucas Giolito is now either The Joker or Batman. That’s how this works.

White Sox 4, Mariners 1: Carlos Rodon allowed a run and five hits while pitching into the seventh. After a pretty disappointing season he’s turning things around lately, going 3-0 with a 1.47 ERA in his last five starts.

Pirates 3, Brewers 1: The Sweep. John JasoGregory Polanco and Starling Marte all homered. Ivan Nova pitched well but left with a wonky hamstring. Which, given that Gerrit Cole is hurt, does not bode well for a team that needs everything to go right for the next month and change if they don’t want to go home in a month and change.

Athletics 7, Cardinals 4: The A’s have won four of five. Khris Davis hit a two-run shot and Steven Vogt hit a three-run homer. A’s starter Andrew Triggs got his first win. He’s from Nashville and said that a bunch of his friends and family drove to St. Louis from there to see him pitch. Can’t think of a road trip I’d rather do less in the August heat than Nashville-to-St. Louis, but you crank up the AC and do it for your friends and family I suppose.

Rays 10, Astros 4: Chris Archer allowed three runs on four hits in seven innings and struck out ten. Astros pitchers allowed ten runs on 15 hits and only struck out four. The order of things matters, man. Corey Dickerson his a three-run homer.

Giants 13, Braves 4: Four homers from the Giants — two from Joe Panik — to back a less-than-perfectly-sharp-but-good-enough-against-a-team-like-the-Braves Madison Bumgarner. The Giants took two of three from Atlanta to remain two back of the Dodgers. It was only the second series they have won since the All-Star break.

Diamondbacks 11, Reds 2: A.J. Pollock went 3-for-5 and stole two bases, showing Diamondbacks fans what they missed with him gone all year. Welington Castillo drove in four in this laugher of a game.

Royals 10, Red Sox 4: Down 4-2 in the sixth and the Royals put up an 8-run inning. Raul Mondesi‘s bases-loaded triple and Eric Hosmer‘s two-run single were the big blows. The Royals have won 17 of 21 and have moved to 5.5 back in the AL Central and three back in the wild card. They’re tied with Houston and are a game back of Detroit in that race. Maybe the defending champs were only mostly dead.

Orioles signed Tommy Hunter to a major league contract

ANAHEIM, CA - JUNE 12:  Pitcher Tommy Hunter #48 of the Cleveland Indians pitches in the ninth inning during the MLB game against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on June 12, 2016 in Anaheim, California. The Indians defeated the Angels 8-3. (Photo by Victor Decolongon/Getty Images)
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The Orioles announced, prior to Sunday’s game against the Yankees, that the club signed pitcher Tommy Hunter to a major league contract. In related roster moves, the club recalled pitcher Oliver Drake from Triple-A Norfolk and designated pitcher T.J. McFarland and outfielder Julio Borbon for assignment.

The Indians released Hunter on Thursday after he struggled in a rehab assignment with Triple-A Columbus. Hunter was recovering from a non-displaced fracture in his lower back. The right-hander put up a respectable 3.74 ERA with a 17/5 K/BB ratio in 21 2/3 innings for the Indians.

This will be Hunter’s second stint with the Orioles. The O’s had acquired him along with first baseman Chris Davis at the trade deadline from the Rangers in 2011 in the Koji Uehara trade.

The Orioles are only responsible for paying Hunter the prorated major league minimum.