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.

Bellinger lifts Dodgers over Brewers 2-1 in 13

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LOS ANGELES (AP) Cody Bellinger singled home the winning run in the 13th inning, lifting the Los Angeles Dodgers over the Milwaukee Brewers 2-1 on Tuesday night and tying the NL Championship Series at two games apiece.

Bellinger grounded a 3-2 pitch from Junior Guerra into right field, scoring Manny Machado, who slid home and touched the plate with his left hand to beat the tag and end a thriller that took 5 hours, 15 minutes.

The Dodgers struck out 17 times; the Brewers 15.

Game 5 in the best-of-seven series is Wednesday afternoon at Dodger Stadium, with Wade Miley going for the Brewers against fellow lefty Clayton Kershaw. The teams return to Milwaukee for Game 6 on Friday.

With one out in the 13th, Machado had a broken-bat single to left field and went to second on Guerra’s wild pitch. With first base open and slumping Yasmani Grandal on deck, the Brewers chose to pitch to Bellinger – and it cost them.

Bellinger, who entered as a pinch hitter in the sixth, also had the defensive play of the game. He made a diving catch on his belly of a ball hit by Lorenzo Cain leading off the 10th, spreading his arms out and sliding like a snow angel in right field.

Both teams used all their position players and wasted numerous chances.

Dodgers starter Rich Hill allowed one run and three hits in five innings. The left-hander struck out six and walked three.

The Brewers tied the game 1-all in the fifth on pinch-hitter Domingo Santana‘s RBI double that took one hop against the right-field wall with Yasiel Puig scrambling in pursuit.

The Dodgers led 1-0 on Brian Dozier‘s RBI single in the first off Gio Gonzalez, who left after twisting his ankle while fielding an infield single by Puig in the second.

The sellout crowd of 53,764 was considerably noisier than on Monday, when Enrique Hernandez criticized Dodgers fans for being too quiet. Joc Pederson and Bellinger waved blue rally towels in the dugout.

But the Dodgers again struggled offensively after going 0 for 10 with runners in scoring position in a 4-0 loss in Game 3.

The Brewers had the potential go-ahead run at third in the seventh. Manny Pina doubled against Kenta Maeda leading off, thrusting his hips and waving his arms in a display that drew boos. Orlando Arcia flied out to left, with Chris Taylor and Bellinger nearly colliding before Taylor made a sliding catch.

Pina took third on pinch-hitter Curtis Granderson‘s flyout to center before Cain grounded out to second against Dylan Floro to end the inning.

The Dodgers had runners on the corners in the bottom of the eighth against hard-throwing Josh Hader, who pitched for the second consecutive day.

Pinch-hitter Matt Kemp struck out to end the threat.

The Brewers had a chance in the ninth. Pina drew a one-out walk from Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen. With fans on their feet, Arcia grounded out, moving pinch-runner Hernan Perez to third. Pinch-hitter Travis Shaw struck out swinging on four pitches.

Corey Knebel allowed a two-out walk to Taylor in the bottom of the ninth but Justin Turner flied out to center.

In the 10th, Ryan Braun singled with two outs and stole second against Jansen, who struck out Jesus Aguilar to end the inning.

MANNY’S MOVE

Machado allowed his left leg to clip the lower right leg of Aguilar at first base while getting thrown out on a routine play in the 10th. Aguilar appeared upset and the two exchanged words. Both benches and bullpens emptied, but no punches were thrown.

MANNY’S CUP OF TEA

Machado says there’s “no excuse” for his lack of effort while running the bases.

It was especially notable in Game 2 when he failed to run out a grounder hit to Brewers shortstop Orlando Arcia with no score.

“There’s no excuse for it, honestly,” Machado said in an interview aired on Fox Sports 1 before Game 4.

However, Machado says he has no plan to change his style.

“I’m not the type of player that’s going to be `Johnny Hustle,’ and run down the line and slide to first base,” he said. “That’s just not my personality, that’s not my cup of tea, that’s not who I am.”

Machado can become a free agent after the season.

TICKETS ANYBODY?

The Dodgers say tickets are still available for Game 5, which begins at 2:05 p.m. PDT.

UP NEXT

Brewers: Miley makes his third postseason start in Game 5 on Wednesday. He pitched 5 2/3 scoreless innings in Game 2 of the NLCS, allowing two hits while striking out three and walking none. His other start came in Game 3 of the NLDS at Colorado. He didn’t factor in the decision either time.

Dodgers: Kershaw took the loss in Game 1 against the Brewers. Kershaw had the best postseason outing of his career in Game 2 of the NLDS against the Braves, allowing two hits over eight shutout innings.

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