A-Rod powers Yankees to ALDS sweep of sloppy, punchless Twins

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This series had to be awfully confusing for the baseball-watching public, who for years have been assured by every announcer, columnist, and talking head that Alex Rodriguez is incapable of coming through in the clutch and the Twins win by “doing the little things.”
Neither of those prepackaged storylines proved accurate in New York’s sweep of Minnesota, but then again they weren’t entirely accurate coming into the ALDS either.
Rodriguez going 5-for-11 with two homers and six RBIs in the three-game series is certainly a big change from his recent playoff struggles, but for all the criticism that he’s taken for wilting under pressure he has a higher lifetime postseason OPS than Derek Jeter and has hit extremely well in “close and late” situations during the regular season throughout his career.
And while fans and media members who don’t actually see Minnesota play all that much tend to blindly repeat the various mantras about “playing the right way” the Twins’ focus on fundamentals and execution has steadily eroded since Tom Kelly stepped down as manager in 2001. Both positive and negative, reputations can be difficult to shake once established.
A few big hits in the ALDS aren’t going to keep Rodriguez from being labeled a choker again after his next strikeout in a crucial situation, just as a few bone-headed mistakes aren’t going to keep non-Minnesotans from believing that the Twins are a well-oiled, small-ball machine. However, both reputations took a major hit over the past three games and because of it the Yankees are headed for an ALCS matchup with the Angels.
Game 2 and Game 3 were both there for Minnesota to claim, but instead the Twins blew leads, made mental and physical mistakes, and came up empty in far too many scoring opportunities while falling to 0-10 against the Yankees this season and 16-48 against them overall in eight years under Ron Gardenhire. Those are remarkable numbers considering that the Twins are 699-560 (.555) against all other teams during that time.
Of course, the Yankees aren’t like all other teams. CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, and Andy Pettitte each turned in a Quality Start against Minnesota and the bullpen trio of Mariano Rivera, Joba Chamberlain, and Phil Hughes appeared in all three games. Thanks to the drawn-out playoff schedule they’ll continue to lean heavily on that outstanding six-man core. Oh, and they also have the deepest, highest-scoring lineup in baseball.
After blasting an MLB-high 244 homers during the regular season the Yankees homered six times against the Twins. Meanwhile, the hitters on Minnesota’s playoff roster combined for just 127 long balls and the Twins failed to homer even once in three games. The good news for the Yankees is that their hitters can do damage against any pitching staff. The bad news for the Yankees is that the Angels’ offense is far more dangerous than the Twins’ injury-wrecked lineup.
Right now though, New York sure looks like the team to beat.

Yasiel Puig was late to a workout on Monday, so Dave Roberts benched him

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Earlier, Craig wrote about how Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig is back in manager Dave Roberts’ doghouse once again. Puig didn’t slide into second base when he was caught stealing to end Saturday’s game, which irked Roberts.

Puig didn’t earn himself any brownie points on Monday as he was late to a team workout and was benched as a result, MLB.com’s Ken Gurnick reports. Roberts said, “That was a decision he made, not me.” Roberts added that he was disappointed in Puig, though he did note that the former All-Star’s behavior has been improved for most of the season.

Puig, 26, has had a solid season, batting .259/.339/.474 with 26 home runs, 70 RBI, 66 runs scored, and 15 stolen bases in 554 plate appearances. While he hasn’t provided value on the same level as Justin Turner or Corey Seager, he’s been a valuable part of the lineup which makes this drama all the more unfortunate with just a week and a half before the start of the NLDS.

MLB, MLBPA grant Pirates exemption for Jung Ho Kang to participate in Dominican Winter League

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Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports that the Pirates were granted an exemption by Major League Baseball and the players’ union which will allow infielder Jung Ho Kang to participate in the Dominican Winter League without being removed from the restricted list.

Kang, 30, has been denied a visa by the Department of State as a result of his third DUI in South Korea last September. Kang was also under investigation in 2015 for alleged sexual assault.

Kang is under contract through the end of 2018 and the Pirates have a club option for the 2019 season as well, so it makes sense they would try to get him into some type of baseball action ahead of next season. The infielder has hit .273/.355/.483 in 837 plate appearances across two seasons in the majors. As Brink notes, Kang has already arrived to the Dominican Republic and will work out with his team, Aguilas Cibaenas, ahead of the start of the season on October 20.