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.

Yordano Ventura exits game with back tightness

DETROIT, MI - SEPTEMBER 24: Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals pitches against the Detroit Tigers during the first inning at Comerica Park on September 24, 2016 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images)
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Royals’ right-hander Yordano Ventura was pulled in the fifth inning of Saturday’s matinee against the Tigers with an apparent injury. After throwing four pitches to start the fifth and serving up a Justin Upton double, Ventura was visited on the mound by head trainer Nick Kenney. Per Rustin Dodd of the Kansas City Star, he’s day-to-day with back spasms and lower back tightness.

It’s just another bump in the road for the defending champions, who currently sit 6.5 games back of a postseason spot with seven left to play. Through 176 innings in 2016, Ventura posted a 4.35 ERA and 1.2 fWAR, a considerable downgrade from the 4.08 ERA and 2.7 fWAR he contributed during last season’s championship year despite a moderate bounce-back in the second half.

Prior to his early exit from Saturday’s game, Ventura went four innings for the Royals, giving up three runs on 10 hits and two walks and striking out six of 24 batters faced.

Cubs are seeking a court order against unlicensed vendors

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If you’re looking to rep the red and royal blue this October, you best get your gear inside the ballpark. According to Lauren Zumbach of the Chicago Tribune, the Cubs have sought a court order that would allow them to seize unauthorized merchandise being hawked outside of Wrigley Field. That includes shirts with taglines like “Just One Before I Die” and apparel depicting a blue flag with a white “W.”

[The Cubs] received a trademark for “W” flags, but a trademark for use on apparel is pending. Deeming a letter of the alphabet worthy of a trademark might seem like a stretch, but around Wrigley, everyone knows what that particular W in that particular color combination means, [intellectual property attorney Douglas Masters] said.

While seven vendors have been named in the suit, the Cubs have a list of 30 more whom they suspect of trademark infringement, including retailers who primarily operate online.

Back in 2013, the Cubs ran into a similar issue when a fan dressed as alternative mascot Billy the Cub and made multiple appearances on game days outside the park. After six years in the role, Billy the Cub was ordered to cease and desist his ballpark activities by the team.

This time, however, Billy’s tip jar pales in comparison to the revenue unauthorized sellers stand to reap over the next two months. With the playoffs just around the corner and playoff merchandise sales in full swing, quashing the competition (both on the field and off) will be top priority in weeks to come.

The club’s full complaint can be found here.