ALDS Preview: Yankees vs. Twins


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

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.

Game 2 is going to be the poster child for pace of play arguments this winter

CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 26:  Zach McAllister #34 of the Cleveland Indians is relieved by manager Terry Francona during the fifth inning against the Chicago Cubs in Game Two of the 2016 World Series at Progressive Field on October 26, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Getty Images

In August, it was reported that Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred would like to implement pitch clocks, like those in use in the minor leagues for the past two seasons, to improve the pace-of-play at the major league level. You can bet that last night’s Game 2 will be the lead argument he uses against those who would oppose the move.

The game was moved up an hour in order to get it in before an impending storm. By the time the rain finally started falling the game had been going on for three hours and thirty-three minutes. It should’ve been over before the first drop fell, but in all it lasted four hours and four minutes. It ended in, thankfully, only a light rain. The longest nine-inning game in postseason history happened a mere two weeks ago, when the Dodgers and Nationals played for four hours and thirty two minutes. There thirteen pitchers were used. Last night ten pitchers were used. Either way, the postseason games are dragging on even for those of us who don’t mind devoting four+ hours of our night to baseball. It is likely putting off more casual fans just tuning in for the Fall Classic.

It’s not all just dawdling, however. Yes, the pitchers worked slowly and a lot of pitching changes took place, but strikeouts, walks and the lack of balls in play contribute to longer games as well. We saw this both last night and in Game 1, which was no brisk affair despite each starting pitcher looking sharp and not working terribly slowly. Twenty-four strikeouts on Tuesday night had a lot to do with that. Last night featured 20 strikeouts and thirteen — thirteen! — walks. It’s not just that the games are taking forever; the very thing causing them to drag feature baseball’s least-kinetic forms of excitement.

But no matter what the cause for the slower play was — and here it was a combination of laboring pitchers, the lack of balls in play and, of course, the longer commercial breaks in the World Series — Manfred is likely to hold Game 2 up as Exhibit A in his efforts to push through some rules changes to improve game pace and game time. So far, the centerpiece of those efforts is the pitch clock, which has proven to be successful and pretty non-controversial in the minor leagues. It would not surprise me one bit if, at this year’s Winter Meetings in Washington, a rule change in that regard is widely discussed.

Kyle Schwarber is the feel-good story of the 2016 postseason


Most baseball fans and even the Cubs had resigned themselves to most likely not seeing Kyle Schwarber in game action until spring training next year after he suffered a gruesome knee injury in a collision with teammate Dexter Fowler back in early April. Schwarber suffered a fully-torn ACL and LCL in his left leg.

To the surprise of everyone, including manager Joe Maddon, Schwarber was cleared by doctors to play if the Cubs wanted to put him on the World Series roster. So they did. And, boy, are they glad they did it. In preparation, Schwarber saw over 1,000 pitches from machines and pitchers in the Arizona Fall League.

Schwarber essentially crammed for the final exam and unlike most students who do it, it has panned out well thus far. No one was expecting him to look outstanding against Indians ace Corey Kluber in Game 1, but in his first at-bat — his first in the majors since suffering the injury in April — Schwarber worked a 3-1 count before eventually being retired on strikes. Schwarber came back up in the fourth and drilled a Kluber sinker to right field for a two-out double.

In the seventh inning, facing one of the American League’s two scariest left-handed relievers in Andrew Miller, Schwarber worked a full count before drawing a walk. During the regular season, Miller walked exactly one lefty batter. Schwarber made it two. Schwarber would face Miller again in the eighth, going ahead 2-1 before ultimately striking out. He finished 1-for-3 with a walk and a double in the Cubs’ 6-0 loss. Considering the circumstances, that’s amazing.

Schwarber continued his great approach in Game 2 in what turned out to be a 5-1 victory. He struck out against Trevor Bauer in the first inning, but returned to the batter’s box in the third inning and singled up the middle to knock in the Cubs’ second run. Schwarber made it 3-0 in the fifth when he singled up the middle again, this time off of Bryan Shaw, to make it 3-0. Facing Danny Salazar in the sixth, Schwarber drew a four-pitch walk to put runners on first and second base with two outs. Finally, he struck out against Dan Otero in his eighth-inning at-bat, finishing the evening 2-for-4 with a pair of RBI singles and a walk.

But now, as the Cubs return to Chicago for World Series Games 3, 4, and 5 at Wrigley Field, they have to contest with National League rules, a.k.a. no DH. Will Maddon risk Schwarber’s subpar defense to put his dangerous bat in the lineup? Even if Schwarber is not put in the starting lineup, he can at least serve as a dangerous bat off the bench late in the game when the Indians send out their trio of relievers in Shaw, Miller, and closer Cody Allen. At any rate, what Schwarber has done already in the first two games of the World Series is mighty impressive.