ALDS Preview: Yankees vs. Twins

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Here at HardballTalk we pride ourselves on writing dozens of posts a day obsessing on every single little thing possible. We’re told, however, that some of you have lives and thus not all of you are able to read dozens of posts a day obsessing on every single little thing possible.  That’s a shame, but for that reason, we’ve put together a few previews covering the broad strokes of each of the four Division Series matchups, which will pop up between now and first pitch on Wednesday afternoon. Let’s begin, shall we?

The Matchup: New York Yankees (95-67) vs. Minnesota Twins (94-68)

How’ve they been doing?
Both teams enter the playoffs stumbling, with the teams losing six of ten and seven of ten, respectively. The Yankees are 13-17 in September and October. The Twins, 18-12.  It’s worth noting, of course, that neither team had a ton to play for down the stretch. The Twins more or less had the division sealed up in early September. The Yankees were theoretically challenging for the AL East title, but a playoff spot had been assured for several weeks, if not longer. Both teams are better — and will play better — than they did down the stretch.

Haven’t I seen you before?
The Yankees won the season series 4-2. Since Ron Gardenhire took over the Twins in 2002, the Yankees have owned him, going 54-18 against the Twins, including wins in the 2009, 2004 and 2003 Division Series.

Who’s pitching?
For the Yankees it will be CC Sabathia, Phil Hughes and Andy Pettitte out of the gate. Minnesota counters with Francisco Liriano, Carl Pavano and Brian Duensing. Each team likely fears having to go with their fourth starter — AJ Burnett for New York and Nick Blackburn for Minnesota. The Yankees have ruled Burnett out. Like New York, if the straits are dire, look for Minnesota to think about heading back to their top guys on short rest for games 4 or 5.

The storyline which doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things
but which TBS will nonetheless beat to death

Probably that stuff from above about the Yankees recent dominance of the Twins. Yes, I understand why it’s something worth mentioning and I even mentioned it myself in HBT’s Playoff Power Rankings. But baseball should come with the same disclaimer that comes on the mutual funds in your 401k: past performance is no guarantee of future results. While interesting, recent history is not exactly illuminating. As they say, momentum is only as good as your next day’s starter. And given that Andy Pettitte’s back and Phil Hughes’ stamina at this point of the season is in question, the next day’s starter for the Yankees is not as strong as it used to be.

The storyline which actually does matter but about which TBS won’t spend a lot of time
talking

Less of a storyline than a dynamic: unlike the previous three playoff meetings between these clubs, the Twins should be considered the favorites. I don’t care about seeding: bet your bippy that we’ll hear a lot about the allegedly plucky Twins and the Big Bad Bronx Bombers. The betting lines and even smart guys like Aaron Gleeman disagree with me, but I think the Twins are a better team. At least on paper. Their starters are better right now. Their bullpen is stronger than most people think. The differences between the team’s offense are not that great. If you tell mystique and aura to go down the street and get you a box of chicken or something, you’ll be able to see clearly enough to realize that the Twins should be favored here. That said . . .

What’s gonna go down?
Favored is one thing. That’s an objective, intellectual concept. We’ve lived with the Jeter-era Yankees so long by now, however, that it’s impossible to ignore gut feeling.  As I sit and think about the components of each team, I can make a case for the Twins taking the series. To actually pick them, though, would force me to ignore all of the times that the Yankees seem to have simply willed themselves to victory over the past 15 years.

When I told Gleeman that I was thinking about picking the Twins, he told me that the betting line had them as +170 underdogs, and that if I felt so strongly about it, I should put some money on them. I don’t bet on baseball, but even if I did, I don’t think I could bring myself to do so. My head says Twins but my gut says Yankees.

If Francisco Liriano can pitch a deadly efficient Game 1 and set himself up nicely to come back on short rest later, I think the Twins can do it. If Delmon Young can draw on some of that early-season magic and not muff a bunch of fly balls, I think the Twins can do it.  Every time I try to imagine the ultimate outcome of this thing, however, I see Jeter getting clutch hits, Pettitte coming up bigger than he should and Brett Gardner making some crazy diving catch to rob Joe Mauer of a bases loaded double. In short, I see the Yankees taking it.

Yell at me all you want, objective thinkers, but I’m going with my gut: the Yankees in 5.

Twins pitcher barfs before almost every appearance

NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 18:  Ryan O'Rourke #61 of the Minnesota Twins reacts after loading up the bases in the seventh inning against the New York Yankees on August 18, 2015 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Twins righty Ryan O'Rourke has pitched in 54 big league games. He has barfed before almost every one of them.

No, really:

Through his first 54 big-league outings over the last past two years, O’Rourke estimates he emptied the contents of his stomach close to every time.

“I don’t do it in the public’s eye,” O’Rourke said Tuesday. “I go in the bathroom, or sometimes it’s just on the back of the mound. But, yeah, it happens.”

I wonder if I’ve barfed 54 times in my entire life. I doubt I have. Then again, I’m not doing anything in front of tens of thousands of people with potentially millions of dollars at stake.

Yet he who is without sin hurl the first, um. Well, never mind.

The new intentional walk rule isn’t a big deal but it’s still dumb

PHOENIX, AZ - JUNE 06:  Anthony Recker #20 of the New York Mets calls for an intentional walk as Paul Goldschmidt #44 of the Arizona Diamondbacks looks on during the eighth inning at Chase Field on June 6, 2015 in Phoenix, Arizona.  (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)
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Let us preface this by stipulating that the new rule in which pitchers will no longer have to throw four balls to issue an intentional walk is not a big deal, objectively speaking. Teams don’t issue many IBBs to begin with. A couple a week, maybe? Fewer? Moreover, the times when a pitcher tosses one to the backstop or a batter reaches out and smacks a would-be intentional ball may be a lot of fun, but they’re extraordinarily rare. You can go years without seeing it happen.

So, yes, the intentional walk rule announced yesterday is of negligible consequence. We’ll get used to it quickly and it will have little if any impact on actual baseball. It won’t do what it’s supposed to do — speeding up games — but it won’t harm anything that is important either.

But let us also stipulate that the new rule is dumb.

It’s dumb because it’s a solution in search of a problem. Pace of play is a concern, but to listen to Rob Manfred and his surrogates in the media tell it, it’s The Most Pressing Issue of Our Time. Actually, it’s not. No one is abandoning baseball because of 5-15 minutes here or there and no one who may be interested in it is ceasing their exploration of the game because of it. And even if they were, IBBs are rare and they’re not time-consuming to begin with, so it’s not something that will make a big difference. It’s change for change’s sake and so Rob Manfred can get some good press for looking like a Man of Action.

It’s also dumb because it’s taking something away, however small it is. One of my NBC coworkers explained it well this morning:

I agree. Shamelessness is a pretty big problem these days, so let’s not eliminate shame when it is truly due.

Picture it: it’s a steamy Tuesday evening in late July. The teams are both way below .500 and are probably selling off half of their lineup next week. There are, charitably, 8,000 people in the stands. The game is already dragging because of ineptitude and an understandable lack of urgency on the part of players who did not imagine nights like this when they were working their way to the bigs.

Just then, one of the managers — an inexperienced young man who refuses to deviate from baseball orthodoxy because, gosh, he might get a hard question from a sleepy middle aged reporter after the game — holds up four fingers for the IBB. The night may be dreary, but dammit, he’s going to La Russa the living hell out of this game.

That man should be booed. Boo this man. The drunks and college kids who paid, like, $11 to a season ticket holder on StubHub to get into this godforsaken game have earned the right to take their frustrations out on Hunter McRetiredBackupCatcher for being a wuss and calling for the IBB. It may be the only good thing that happens to them that night, and now Rob Manfred would take that away from them. FOR SHAME.

And don’t forget about us saps at home, watching this garbage fire of a game because it beats reading. We’re now going to have to listen to this exchange, as we have listened to it EVERY SINGLE NIGHT since the 2017 season began:

Play-by-Play Guy: “Ah, here we go. They’re calling for the intentional walk. Now, in case you missed it, this is the way we’re doing it now. The new rule is that the manager — yep, right there, he’s doing it — can hold up four fingers to the home plate umpire and — there it goes — he points to first base and the batter takes his base.”

Color Commentator, Who played from 1975-87, often wearing a mustache: “Don’t like it. I don’t like it at all. There was always a chance the pitcher throws a wild pitch. It happened to us against the Mariners in 1979 [Ron Howard from “Arrested Development” voice: it didn’t] and it has taken away something special from the game. I suppose some number-cruncher with a spreadsheet decided that this will help speed up the game, but you know what that’s worth.

No matter what good or bad the rule brings, this exchange, which will occur from April through September, will be absolutely brutal. Then, in October, we get to hear Joe Buck describe it as if we never heard it before because Fox likes to pretend that the season begins in October.

Folks, it’s not worth it. And that — as opposed to any actual pro/con of the new rule — is why it is dumb. Now get off my lawn.