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.

Settling the Scores: Memorial Day edition

ARLINGTON, VA - MAY 21:  American flags are shown after being placed by members of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment at the graves of U.S. soldiers buried at Arlington National Cemetery, in preparation for Memorial Day May 21, 2015 in Arlington, Virginia. "Flags-In" has become an annual ceremony since the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) was designated to be an Army's official ceremonial unit in 1948  (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
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Memorial Day commemorates the men and women who died in military service. At some point in the past couple of decades, however, it has become an all-purpose flag-waving, patriotism-declaring, civilians-in-camouflage holiday. It’s understandable why this is the case. We, as a country, haven’t always done mourning well. I think it’s part of our national cultural DNA that we don’t and it’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it does make days like this difficult.

I feel like the flag-waving and troop-supporting stuff is some sort of subconscious reaction to death. It’s our way of instantly trying to justify those deaths or to explain how they were not in vain, much the same way we might tell someone upon the death of a loved one that they’re in a better place or that they had a full life. Feeling the pain of loss is hard. We want to soften it in any way we can and make our pain serve a larger, better purpose. And so we get today, when Major League Baseball puts its players in camouflage caps and in jerseys with camouflage logos. They’ll sell them too, with proceeds going to good and noble veterans charities. The intent is noble and the ultimate effect of it all is beneficial. But it’s also a little beside the point. Maybe not beside the point as much as mattress sales or big celebratory barbecues which have come to characterize Memorial Day for so many, but still not exactly the purpose of the holiday.

I don’t condemn it. As I wrote last year, the men and women who actually fought and died in wars were hoping that they were, ultimately, making a better and happier world for those they left behind. And they no doubt hoped, among everything else they hoped, that others didn’t have to face what they were facing. They wanted our lives to be happy and our country to be safe and part of a happy and safe country involves 300 million people doing whatever it is they damn please, even if it’s just having barbecues and wearing camo at the ballpark.

I won’t say have a happy Memorial Day because that seems odd. Have any kind of Memorial Day you want, really, even if it includes barbecuing, drinking beer and wearing a cam ballcap. But as you do, please make sure you take some time to think about those who died in military service. And remember that they didn’t get to have as many days like the one you’re having as they were meant to have. And make at least some effort to offset your happy, patriotic or silly pursuits with some mourning and reflectiveness. It’s OK for that to stand on its own.

The scores:

Red Sox 5, Blue Jays 3
Orioles 6, Indians 4
Yankees 2, Rays 1
Nationals 10, Cardinals 2
Brewers 5, Reds 4
Royals 5, White Sox 4
Cubs 7, Phillies 2
Rangers 6, Pirates 2
Astros 8, Angels 6
Athletics 4, Tigers 2
Twins 5, Mariners 4
Giants 8, Rockies 3
Diamondbacks 6, Padres 3
Marlins 7, Braves 3
Dodgers 4, Mets 2

 

Should Dave Roberts have taken Clayton Kershaw out of Sunday’s game?

NEW YORK, NY - MAY 29:  Clayton Kershaw #22 of the Los Angeles Dodgers delivers a pitch in the first inning against the New York Mets at Citi Field on May 29, 2016 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Dodgers manager Dave Roberts will likely be second-guessed heavily during tomorrow’s news cycle. Starter Clayton Kershaw had pitched a terrific ballgame, as is his tendency, but with 114 pitches to his name, Roberts decided to pull him from the game in the eighth inning with two outs and a runner on first base.

Roberts opted not for closer Kenley Jansen, who hasn’t pitched since Wednesday, but for another lefty in Adam Liberatore. He was playing the numbers, with the left-handed-hitting Curtis Granderson coming up. Liberatore, much to Roberts’ chagrin, served up what turned out to be a game-tying triple to Granderson, hitting a rocket to right-center just out of the reach of a leaping Yasiel Puig.

Jansen has, for six years, been one of the game’s elite relievers. Kershaw, though at a high pitch count, doesn’t seem to suffer from the times through the order penalty like most pitchers. Kershaw’s opponents’ OPS facing him for the first time was .525 coming into Sunday. Twice, .597. Three times, .587. Four times, .526 (but this suffers from survivorship bias so it’s not exactly representative).

Furthermore, Kershaw held lefties to a .546 OPS over his career. Liberatore, in 99 plate appearances against lefty hitters, gave up a .575 OPS. Jansen? .560. It seems that, faced with three decisions, Roberts arguably made the worst one. Playing conservative with Kershaw at 114 pitches is defensible, but only if Jansen comes in. If Roberts wanted the platoon advantage, Kershaw should have stayed in.

Luckily for the Dodgers, Mets closer Jeurys Familia didn’t have his best stuff. He loaded the bases with one out in the top of the ninth on a single and two walks, then gave up a two-run single to Adrian Gonzalez, giving the Dodgers a 4-2 lead. Jansen came on in the bottom half of the ninth and retired the side in order to pick up his 15th save of the season.

Royals sweep White Sox over the weekend on three late rallies

KANSAS CITY, MO - MAY 28:  Brett Eibner #12 of the Kansas City Royals celebrates his game-winning RBI single with teammates in the ninth inning against the Chicago White Sox at Kauffman Stadium on May 28, 2016 in Kansas City, Missouri. The Royals won 8-7. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
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The Royals had themselves a pretty good weekend. The quickly fading White Sox, not so much.

On Friday, the Royals fell behind 5-1 after the top of the sixth. They would score once in the bottom of the sixth, four times in the seventh, and once in the eighth to steal a 7-5 win facing pitchers Miguel Gonzalez Dan Jennings, Matt Albers, Zach Duke and Nate Jones.

On Saturday, the Royals entered the bottom of the ninth down 7-1. They scored seven runs on closer David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle to win 8-7.

On Sunday, the Royals were down 4-2 after the top of the eighth. They plated three runs in the bottom half of the eighth against Jones and Albers, going on to win 5-4.

Coming into the weekend, the Royals were 24-22 in third place. The White Sox were 27-21, a half-game up in first place. Now the Royals are in first place by a game and a half, and the White Sox are in third place, two games out of first.

Here’s video of the Royals’ comeback on Saturday, since it was so unlikely:

Report: Ryan Braun is “the hot name out there”

ATLANTA, GA - MAY 24: Ryan Braun #8 of the Milwaukee Brewers waits to hit during the first inning against the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field on May 24, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
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In Saturday’s column for The Boston Globe, Nick Cafardo notes that, according to a scout, Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun is “the hot name out there.” Braun has been bothered by neck and back issues this year, missing on Sunday his eighth start out of the Brewers’ last 14 games, but he has still put up a quality .351/.424/.583 triple-slash line in 170 plate appearances this year.

More importantly for an acquiring team, Braun is in the first year of a five-year, $105 million contract. He’s earning $19 million this season and in the ensuing two seasons, and then his salary decreases slightly to $18 million in 2019, $16 million in 2020, and $15 million if both sides pick up his mutual option (else a $4 million buyout would be exercised).

Per Cafardo, the Astros, Cardinals, Red Sox, Phillies, Mets, Giants, and White Sox are potential landing spots for Braun.