ALDS Preview: Twins vs. Yankees

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Two full weeks after the Yankees clinched their spot in the playoffs, the Twins and Tigers played a 12-inning thriller yesterday to decide the AL Central.
Thirteen pitchers were used, 391 pitches were thrown, and when the Twins emerged victorious they had less than 20 hours to celebrate in front of a record crowd at the not-dead-yet Metrodome, get to the airport, fly from Minneapolis to New York, presumably get some sleep, and then be at Yankee Stadium for the first pitch of the ALDS tonight.
Congratulations on the division title. Hope you enjoyed the celebration. Now try beating this 103-win powerhouse with three times your payroll.
Before becoming the biggest underdogs of the playoffs the Twins trailed the Tigers by seven games on September 6 and remained three games behind with just four games to play, which is a deficit that no team in baseball history has come back from. Until now. Minnesota went 31-14 down the stretch, including 17-4 after losing Justin Morneau to a season-ending back injury, and scratched out a one-game playoff win after falling 1-0 to the White Sox in the same situation last year.
Their reward? A late-night flight to New York for a matchup against baseball’s most dominant team. Oh, and just in case the above scenario isn’t daunting enough the Twins are 16-45 against the Yankees under manager Ron Gardenhire, including 0-7 this season, and New York is responsible for two of their last three playoff exits. This is David versus Goliath, if Goliath wore pinstripes and David was tired from dousing himself with champagne the night before, but fortunately for the Twins their slingshot is still warm.
Rotations

GAME 1:
CC Sabathia         230 IP    7.7 SO/9    2.6 BB/9    42.9 GB%    3.94 xFIP
Brian Duensing       84 IP    5.7 SO/9    3.3 BB/9    45.5 GB%    4.97 xFIP
GAME 2:
A.J. Burnett        207 IP    9.5 SO/9    4.2 BB/9    42.8 GB%    4.50 xFIP
Nick Blackburn      206 IP    4.3 SO/9    1.8 BB/9    45.8 GB%    4.78 xFIP
GAME 3:
Andy Pettitte       195 IP    6.8 SO/9    3.5 BB/9    42.9 GB%    3.94 xFIP
Carl Pavano         199 IP    6.6 SO/9    1.8 BB/9    44.5 GB%    4.24 xFIP
GAME 4:
CC Sabathia         230 IP    7.7 SO/9    2.6 BB/9    42.9 GB%    3.94 xFIP
Scott Baker         200 IP    7.3 SO/9    2.2 BB/9    33.9 GB%    4.39 xFIP
GAME 5:
A.J. Burnett        207 IP    9.5 SO/9    4.2 BB/9    42.8 GB%    4.50 xFIP
Nick Blackburn      206 IP    4.3 SO/9    1.8 BB/9    45.8 GB%    4.78 xFIP



* xFIP stands for Expected Fielding Independent Pitching, which is generally a better measure of pitcher performance than ERA. GB% is ground-ball percentage.
Minnesota had to rebuild its rotation on the fly thanks to Francisco Liriano falling apart and injuries to Kevin Slowey and Glen Perkins, and the revised front four of Scott Baker, Nick Blackburn, Carl Pavano, and Brian Duensing went 17-9 with a 3.76 ERA over the final 45 games of the season. Ideally the Twins would start Baker in Game 1, but since he was needed in yesterday’s one-game playoff they’ll go with the 26-year-old rookie Duensing against CC Sabathia.
Duensing was 5-2 with a 3.64 ERA in 84 innings split between the rotation and bullpen, but his secondary numbers weren’t nearly as impressive, his stuff is mediocre, and he went 20-22 with a 4.00 ERA at Triple-A before making his big-league debut this year. Sabathia versus Duensing is the biggest mismatch of a lopsided series, but the Yankees also hold smaller edges in each of the other four games and it’s possible that the Twins’ best starter won’t ever take the mound.
Sabathia struggled in his final start, but went 11-2 with a 2.74 ERA after the All-Star break and is 13-8 with a 3.05 ERA lifetime against the Twins, including seven innings of one-run ball in July. Minnesota will likely need to win two of the other three matchups, because it’s awfully difficult to envision the Twins beating Carsten Charles twice. One matchup that could favor the Twins is the Blackburn-Burnett combo, because Blackburn has repeatedly come up big in key starts and Burnett has been mediocre all season.
Lineups
New York led all of baseball in hits, homers, walks, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage on the way to scoring an MLB-high 915 runs, which is 32 more than any other team and 145 more than the league average. Eight of the nine regulars in the lineup posted an OPS above .800, and even the Melky Cabrera-Brett Gardner platoon in center field managed above-average production. Minnesota’s fly ball-heavy pitching staff will be in constant danger as seven Yankees smacked at least 20 homers.
No team can match the Yankees when it comes to lineup depth and offensive firepower, but the Twins were plenty good at scoring runs themselves, ranking fourth in the league with 816. Joe Mauer had one of the greatest seasons of all time for a catcher, hitting .365/.444/.587 with 28 homers for his third batting title in four seasons, and Jason Kubel, Michael Cuddyer, and Denard Span were also among the league’s top bats.
Morneau’s injury robs Minnesota of a fifth big-time threat, but Cuddyer hit .333 with nine homers and 24 RBIs in 21 games after replacing him at first base and guys like Delmon Young, Orlando Cabrera, and Matt Tolbert caught fire down the stretch after being easy outs for most of the season. They’re certainly not going to out-slug the Yankees, but the Twins have plenty of pop and scored 6.3 runs per game during the season-ending 17-4 stretch.
Bullpens
Twins relievers had a 3.88 ERA in 512 innings and Yankees relievers had a 3.91 ERA in 515 innings, but bullpen depth ceases being a big factor once the playoffs begin. In other words, no more R.A. Dickey and Edwar Ramirez. Instead playoff bullpens are all about closers and their primary setup men, which means Mariano Rivera, Phil Hughes, and Joba Chamberlain for New York and Joe Nathan, Matt Guerrier, and Jon Rauch for Minnesota. No pitcher can match Rivera’s postseason success, but Nathan is right there with him when it comes to regular-season dominance since becoming a closer in 2004:

             IP      ERA     WHIP      SV      SV%
Rivera      440     1.90     0.94     243     93.1
Nathan      419     1.87     0.93     246     90.8



Amazingly close, as Rivera and Nathan have been the two best closers in baseball during that time. However, while the Twins feature a solid but unspectacular setup trio of Guerrier, Rauch, and Jose Mijares the Yankees potentially have two shutdown relievers in front of Rivera. Hughes has been overpowering since moving to the bullpen, going 5-1 with a 1.40 ERA and 65 strikeouts in 51 innings, and while a question mark Chamberlain has a 1.50 ERA in 50 career relief appearances.
Overrated Angle: Pavano versus his former teammates
Yes, the Yankees and their fans still hold a grudge against Pavano, who made a grand total of 26 starts in four injury-filled seasons in New York and earned nearly $5 million per win. However, he’s been healthy and productive this season while making a career-high 33 starts, going 14-9 with a 4.67 ERA since a rough April. Plus, for all the drama of Pavano facing New York in a playoff series he’s already pitched against the Yankees twice this season, allowing four runs over 13.1 innings in a pair of no-decisions.
Underrated Angle: Burnett over Pettitte in Game 2
Because of the incredibly drawn-out ALDS schedule the first two starters will each pitch twice. Sabathia was a no-brainer atop the rotation, but Burnett over Pettitte in Game 2 is somewhat curious. Burnett was 13-9 with a 4.04 ERA and Pettitte was 14-8 with a 4.16 ERA, so they had similar seasons, but Pettitte is a tougher matchup for the Twins given that three of their four best hitters are left-handed. Beyond that, manager Joe Girardi announced that Jose Molina will serve as Burnett’s personal catcher, so Jorge Posada’s bat will be on the bench 40 percent of the time.
Prediction
Minnesota has all the momentum in the world, but history has shown that doesn’t mean a whole lot once the playoffs begin and New York is simply a superior team with the benefit of rest and homefield advantage. Yankees in four.

And That Happened: Sunday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Braves 10, Marlins 9: The Braves rallied for six runs, all with two outs, in the bottom of the ninth to walk off winners on getaway day against the Marlins. The Marlins took a 6-0 lead in the fourth inning after Lewis Brinson cracked a grand slam down the left field line. Miguel Rojas hit a two-run homer in the seventh to bring the Marlins’ lead back to six runs at 8-2. The Braves entered the bottom of the ninth trailing 9-4, but Marlins relievers Brad Ziegler and Tayron Guerrero both melted down. Here’s what happened. It’s the Braves’ largest ninth-inning comeback in exactly eight years, when this happened:

Red Sox 5, Orioles 0: J.D. Martinez homered twice, tying teammate Mookie Betts for the major league lead in home runs with 15. Andrew Benintendi also homered and picked up three hits. Red Sox starter Eduardo Rodriguez pitched 5 2/3 scoreless innings, striking out seven. The Orioles had their opportunities, racking up 13 hits, but went 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position and only one of their 13 hits went for extra bases. The Orioles’ 13 hits were the most compiled by a team that was shut out since August 25, 2008 when the Dodgers racked up 13 while being shut out by the Phillies. It’s only the 22nd time it’s happened dating back to 1908, according to Baseball Reference.

Athletics 9, Blue Jays 2: Daniel Mengden was magnificent for the A’s, tossing seven scoreless frames on two hits and a walk with two strikeouts. Marcus Semien hit a two-run home run and Matt Chapman picked up three hits. The Jays committed four errors on what was a very forgettable afternoon.

Cubs 6, Reds 1: Things haven’t been going well this year for Yu Darvish, but they did go well at least on Sunday afternoon. The right-hander held the Reds to a lone run on two hits and three walks with seven punch-outs across six innings, lowering his ERA on the season to 4.95. Kyle Schwarber and Javier Baez hit back-to-back homers in the second inning off of Tyler Mahle. Joey Votto was the only Red to have more than one hit.

Mets 4, Diamondbacks 1: Clay Buchholz made his first start in over a year and it went well. He held the Mets to one run, which came on Amed Rosario‘s solo home run in the top of the sixth, ultimately the hit that knocked Buchholz out of the game. Rosario added another homer in the seventh, when the Mets scored three runs to take a lead they’d never relinquish. Noah Syndergaard fanned seven in seven innings, giving up one run on six hits and a walk. D-Backs first baseman Paul Goldschmidt remains mired in a season-long slump. He went 1-for-4 with a single and now owns an uncharacteristic .690 OPS.

Padres 8, Pirates 5: The Padres rallied for four runs in the top of the ninth, turning a 5-4 deficit into an 8-5 lead. They rapped out five singles and benefited from an error as well. Christian Villanueva hit his 12th homer of the season, a two-run blast in the fourth inning. Austin Meadows knocked his first major league homer.

Dodgers 7, Nationals 2: This was mostly a clinic on power, as the Dodgers hit three homers, one each from Yasmani Grandal, Enrique Hernandez, and Yasiel Puig. Trea Turner hit one for the Nationals. Alex Wood pitched well, holding the Nationals to two runs on three hits and a walk with four strikeouts, but left the game after apparently injuring himself warming prior to the bottom of the seventh inning. Stephen Strasburg gave up three runs on five hits and four walks with seven strikeouts in 6 2/3 innings.

White Sox 3, Rangers 0: This one was all Reynaldo Lopez. The 24-year-old fired eight shutout frames, yielding only two hits and two walks while striking out eight. In doing so, he lowered his ERA to 2.98. The three runs came on a solo homer from Welington Castillo in the second and a two-run Leury Garcia single in the third.

Yankees 10, Royals 1: Tyler Austin blasted a pair of homers, giving him eight on the season. Miguel Andujar and Austin Romine also homered for the Yankees in what was a drubbing of the lowly Royals. Sonny Gray went eight innings, giving up a lone run on four hits and a walk with five strikeouts. The Yankees now have a major league-best 30-13 record while the Royals drop to 14-32. Only the White Sox (.302) have a worse winning percentage than the Royals (.304).

Cardinals 5, Phillies 1: Jack Flaherty was phenomenal for the Cardinals, striking out 13 batters while limiting the Phillies to a run on two hits and a walk over 7 2/3 innings. 21-year-old Freddy Peralta also struck out 13 earlier this season. Before Flaherty and Peralta, the last pitcher younger than 23 years old to strike out 13 in a game was Noah Syndergaard nearly three years ago against the Diamondbacks. Aaron Nola, who has been ace-like all year for the Phillies, didn’t have his best stuff on Sunday, surrendering four runs over six innings to the Cardinals. Rhys Hoskins homered but Odubel Herrera‘s on-base streak finally ended at 45 consecutive games. It’s tied for the fourth-longest in Phillies history.

Twins 3, Brewers 1: Logan Morrison knocked in two runs with a single to right field in the bottom of the eighth, breaking a 1-1 tie. That proved to be the game-winning hit as Fernando Rodney came in and struck out the side in the top of the ninth to seal the deal.

Giants 9, Rockies 5: The Giants scored nine runs for a second consecutive day. Gorkys Hernandez, Brandon Belt, and Nick Hundley each homered, accounting for six of the nine runs. Nice. The Rockies got three hits each from Nolan Arenado and Trevor Story but it wasn’t enough. Starters Ty Blach and Tyler Anderson both had forgettable days on the mound, giving up five and four runs in 5 1/3 and 4 1/3 innings, respectively.

Angels 5, Rays 2: Shohei Ohtani continued to pitch well, holding the Rays to a pair of runs on six hits and a walk with nine strikeouts. With seven major league starts under his belt, he’s sporting a 3.35 ERA. He’s also batting .321/.367/.619. Sergio Romo started for the Rays for a second day in a row. He pitched an inning yesterday before giving way to Ryan Yarbrough. This time, he got four outs before Matt Andriese relieved him. Martin Maldonado homered for the Angels; Johnny Field went yard for the Rays. Matt Duffy collected three hits as well.

Tigers, Mariners (11 innings): Mitch Haniger hit a game-tying two-run home run in the bottom of the ninth inning to send the game into extras. Jean Segura broke the 2-2 tie in the bottom of the 11th with an RBI single. Tigers starter Francisco Liriano brought a no-hitter into the seventh inning but lost it when Haniger singled to center. Liriano ended up giving up the one hit and walking three while striking out five on 102 pitches over eight scoreless innings.

Astros 3, Indians 1: Lance McCullers had his best stuff working, bringing a bid for a no-hitter into the sixth inning. He ended up going seven frames, giving up just a hit and two walks with eight strikeouts. Brian McCann broke a scoreless tie in the bottom of the seventh with a two-run home run off of Carlos Carrasco.