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.

Bud Norris exits outing with right knee soreness

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Angels’ right-handed reliever Bud Norris made his 23rd appearance of the season on Friday, and after just three pitches, he was done for the night. He worked a 2-1 count to Marlins’ Dee Gordon in the eighth inning, then promptly exited the field after experiencing some tightness in his right knee. Neither Norris nor manager Mike Scioscia believe the injury is cause for major concern, and the 32-year-old right-hander admitted that it may have had something to do with his lack of stretching before he took the mound. For now, he’s day-to-day with right knee soreness, with the hope that the issue doesn’t escalate over the next few days.

While the Angels are lucky to have avoided serious injury, they’ll need Norris to pitch at 100% if they want to stay competitive within the AL West. They currently sit a full nine games behind the league-leading Astros, and haven’t been helping their cause after taking five losses in their last eight games. Friday’s 8-5 finale marked their third consecutive loss of the week.

 

When healthy, Norris has been one of the better arms in the Angels’ bullpen. Through 23 2/3 innings, he’s pitched to a 2.66 ERA, 3.4 BB/9 and an outstanding 11.8 SO/9 in 23 outings. The righty hasn’t allowed a single run in four straight appearances, recording three saves and helping the club clinch four wins in that span. This is his second setback of the year after sustaining a partial fingernail tear on his pitching hand during spring training.

Video: Max Scherzer sets record with 13-strikeout outing

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Max Scherzer is a force to be reckoned with. The Nationals’ right-hander delivered a season-high 13 strikeouts against the Padres on Friday, locking down his fifth win and his fourth double-digit strikeout performance of the year.

More remarkably, it was also the 53rd double-digit strikeout performance of Scherzer’s career, tying Clayton Kershaw for the most 10+ strikeout appearances by an active major league pitcher. Chris Sale is a distant third, with 43 to his name, though he’s been making considerable strides to catch up so far this spring.

Scherzer took the Padres to task on Friday night, whiffing 13 of 31 batters during his 108-pitch outing. He started strong, catching Allen Cordoba swinging on a 1-2 count to start the game and keeping the game scoreless until Ryan Schimpf unleashed a home run in the fourth inning. That was the first and final run the Padres managed off of Scherzer, who retired 14 consecutive batters following the blast and came one out shy of a complete game in the ninth inning. (Fittingly, Koda Glover polished off the win with a final strikeout, bringing the total to 14 on the night.)

It’ll take more than one stellar start to advance Scherzer and Kershaw on the all-time list, however. Their 53-game record ranks 13th, about 159 games behind second-place Hall of Fame hurler Randy Johnson and a full 162 games shy of the inimitable Nolan Ryan.