Thursday, October 07, 2010

ALDS Game 2 Preview: Yankees @ Twins

Well, ain't that a punch in the gut?

The Twins spent over $100 million on payroll this year. They played well enough over the regular season to earn home field advantage in the first round. They got to CC Sabathia early for three runs and Francisco Liriano was locked in over the first five innings.

The Twins still couldn't get it done. They dropped Game 1 by a score of 6-4, putting them in a position where they will need to win three of the final four games in this series to move on. With two of those games to be played in New York and one of them to be pitched by Sabathia, it's a tall order. But my initial prediction for this series was Twins in five, with Liriano losing in Game 1 and winning in Game 5, so I'll have to try and optimistically cling to it.

On the bright side, the Twins now move into the more questionable portion of the Yankees rotation. Tonight they will get Andy Pettitte (profiled below) and on Saturday in Yankee Stadium it will be Phil Hughes, who's been no world-beater since the All-Star break and will finally give the Twins a break from their steady diet of left-handed pitching in this series.

Rest assured, this series is still winnable. But it starts with tonight's game -- one that the Twins simply cannot allow to get away from them. They've already surrendered home field advantage by dropping last night's contest, but with a victory tonight and a split in New York they can force the series back to Minnesota for Game 5. Realistically, that should be their goal at this point.

The term "must-win game" tends to get overused. It only truly applies in elimination games, and in those cases the necessity of a victory is obvious and needs not be stated. The Twins could conceivably lose tonight, win the final three games of the series and move on. But I don't think anyone believes that's going to happen.

The Twins have got to find a way to hold onto a lead tonight and leave Minneapolis with a split. If not, they'll be heading to Yankee Stadium staring down the barrel of yet another first-round sweep.

A look at tonight's starting pitchers and key players...

Andy Pettitte | 129 IP, 11-3, 3.28 ERA, 101/41 K/BB, 1.27 WHIP

When Pettitte made his first postseason start for the Yankees, Joe Mauer was 12. The southpaw represents one of the last remaining links to the dynastic New York teams of the late '90s, and at the age of 38 he's still going strong, as demonstrated by the strong numbers posted above.

It might be difficult for Twins fans to view Pettitte as a weakness for the Yanks. After all, he's gone 11-5 with a 3.46 ERA in 21 career regular-season match-ups against the hometown nine, including a dominant eight-inning victory at Target Field back in May. His numbers this year were outstanding, with an ERA and WHIP that stand as his best since 2005.

Yet, what you don't see from one glance at those shiny numbers is that they were all accumulated during the first half of the season. Since the All-Star break, Pettitte has made only four starts, and he's pitched into the sixth inning in only one of them. He hasn't thrown more than 88 pitches in a game since July 8th. That fact makes it rather unlikely that Pettitte pitches particularly deep into tonight's game, so even if the left-hander is effective there's a good chance that the Twins will get a more extended look at the New York bullpen. While we saw last night that New York boasts some dominant arms in the back end between Mariano Rivera and Kerry Wood, it is in the lower levels of the relief corps that their weaknesses lie.

It's probably not fair to expect a hit parade against Pettitte tonight. The guy's postseason track record is daunting -- he's made 40 starts and gone 18-9 with a 3.90 ERA, numbers that are extremely impressive when you consider that he's routinely been facing the best teams in the league in the most pressure-packed environments. Pettitte also proved over the first half this year that, despite his age, he's not lost much when he's healthy. But he hasn't really been healthy for three months, and that is where the Twins' advantage lies.

Get after Pettitte early, make him uncomfortable, force a lot of pitches, and make the Yankees rely on their bullpen to chip in several innings. This will be the Twins' recipe for success this evening.

Carl Pavano | 229 IP, 17-11, 3.75 ERA, 117/37 K/BB, 1.19 WHIP

Pavano's history with the Yankees is well documented. After an 18-win season with the Marlins in 2004, the right-hander signed a four-year, $40 million deal with the Yankees and -- due to perpetual injury problems -- ended up pitching only 145 innings (with a 5.00 ERA) over the life of the contract. His name became a running joke in the Bronx and he is now so reviled by New York fans that he'd probably need to wear a bullet-proof vest if he was pitching in Yankee Stadium tonight.

Given this history, Pavano undoubtedly would have taken some extra satisfaction out of defeating the Yankees in last year's ALDS. Certainly, he pitched well enough to do so, allowing only two solo home runs over seven innings at the Metrodome, but unfortunately the Twins offense came up short against Pettitte and Pavano's strong outing was wasted as the Yankees completed their sweep.

Tonight, Pavano will get another chance to beat the Yankees, and he'll do it with a much stronger lineup backing him against a much more vulnerable version of Pettitte. Pavano differs from Liriano in that he's not by any means a strikeout pitcher -- in fact, he finished the season with a paltry 4.8 K/9IP rate and fanned only 10 of the 143 batters he faced in September. Allowing that type of contact against the Yankees' powerful lineup can be dangerous, and if that lineup starts putting baserunners on they're liable to terrorize Pavano, who was one of the easiest pitchers in baseball to run against this year.

The way Pavano pitched against the Yankees last October sparks hope that he can step up and shut down their powerful lineup again this year. If his command is sharp and he's able to keep hitters off-balance by changing speeds and working the edges of the strike zone, he can find success.

KEY PLAYER -- YANKEES: Brett Gardner, LF

Gardner is very tough to keep off the base paths; he's a patient hitter who drew 79 walks this season and he's not easy to strike out. He was especially pesky against right-handed starters, against whom he hit .307 with a .402 on-base percentage. Gardner was the Yankees' leading base-stealer this season, swiping 47 bags on 55 attempts. If he gets on base, there's little doubt he'll be running, and that's where things can start to spin out of control for Pavano and the Twins.


Pavano's ineffectiveness at holding runners will put additional pressure on Mauer defensively. The catcher will need to deliver perfect throws in order to gun down base-stealers. In addition, Mauer has got to step up offensively. He's the Twins' No. 3 hitter and best player -- a guy they absolutely need to produce in order to get past the Yankees. Last night's pedestrian 1-for-5 effort with two strikeouts simply isn't going to cut it. Sabathia was a tough match-up for Mauer, but so is Pettitte tonight. Great players step up in situations like this, regardless of who they're facing.


Ed Bast said...

What to say.

Well, though it didn't lose the game for us, but I hated the 1st inning bunt. That says, we are so meek and inferior to this club that we need to play for one run and hope the Yanks don't score at all. Dumb.

However I in no way blame Gardy's in-game management for the loss. It came down to the Yankees getting the clutch pitches and hits, and the Twins failing in the same. However, this is the obituary for practically every single Twins playoff loss under Gardy. The players change, the locations change, the situations change. The results don't.

But hey, in no way is this series over. The Twins need to go out there and tee off on Pettite and Hughes. Quit bunting and play for the big innings. Play mad. Do not ever trust our pitchers. Nick is right, a Joe Mauer appearance would help.

ShrikeTheAvatar said...

Twins can't let this loss get them down - we can't get into the 'poor us' mindset.

You have to treat this just like any other series. If you lose the first game, it's very, very far from over.

I'm encouraged by the fact that they hit Sabathia. You just need to keep playing and try to keep that swagger. Stop looking up to this Yankees club.

Anonymous said...

Twins thinking “poor us”? Good God! The Twins should be embarrassed, pissed off and really to rip the Yankees a new one tonight. Anything less than that is unacceptable. Cuddyer, Hudson, Thome, they were scrappy but most of the rest looked like they were going to pee in their pants last night. Liriano was excellent…for 5 innings. Either he has to figure out how to last a few more innings or Gardy has to pull him out after 5 no matter what. And enough with the molly-coddling. Liriano is a big boy with a ton of talent. Does he really need Anderson whispering in his ear and rubbing his back? When my kids were playing little league ball they were flintier than this bunch. I am sick to death of the Twins, Yankees, postseason story line and I would think the Twins would be 100 times more sick of it. So do something about it.

Matt said...

There's a lot to be said.

Mauer stank last night, in the field too.

Cuddyer missed that key grounder and swung at a pitch above his eye level to strike out late; but he did hit a nice homer early in the game so can't blame him, he showed up with the bat.

Valencia was overmatched, so was Kubel, and Thome didn't scare anyone, either.

Jesse Crain trusted in a big situation again? No. That 7th was probably the most important inning in the game with the heart of the order up for NY. We'll need to trust a different guy in the next key spot, Crain should not take the mound again in this series unless it's stricktly mop up work.

I think we're seeing, once again, a rattled team. But this time it's at home! What's it going to take for these guys to shake the damn bombers? It's no longer on Gardy, it's up to the so-called clubhouse leaders like Cuddyer to get these guys fired up and erase the intimidation these Yankees feel they have. Did you read the cocky quotes from Swisher and A-Rod?

Ed's right, no pitcher should be trusted. The hitters must go out and produce tonight, and at least three more times, or poor Nick's going to have to write about a sweep again.

Ed Bast said...

Well anon when your 2 best players, Mauer and Liriano, are the furthest thing from team leaders, the molly-coddling trickles down. Liriano looked like he was going to cry, and Mauer was so emotionless and had so little impact on the game I forgot he was even playing.

Seriously look at recent WS winners in the last 10 yrs. All had real leaders. Yanks (name all of them), Red Sox twice (again), White Sox (Ozzie + others), Cards (duh), etc.

Who's going to "carry the team on their shoulders"? Mikey Cuddyer? Good luck.

Anonymous said...

It's completely embarrassing.
If ever there was a year that my dear twinkies should beat the pin stripes it's this year.
We hit CC and Gardy was so worried about Liriano's psyche that he let his heart manage and not his head.
One run in and two on? I don't care, pull him!!
His head would be just fine for his next start if we get that win. He's a professional and our pen should be able to hold a 3-run lead.

Ed Bast said...

My last comment was too negative. I retract it. The club will band together and crush Pettitte tonight. They will be merciless. Killer Carl will go 7 strong. Joe Mauer will go TWO for five. They will exercise about 12 playoff demons in a 10-5 laugher. Cuddy will have 3 hits, including a homer. He will, indeed, step up and jump start the team. Yes. That's better. GO TWINS!!

Dave said...

Crain induced a ground ball that went up the middle; it happens

Crain then put a ball at Texiera's eyes and he hit it out of the park. That was unlucky. That ball was WAY up, and in no way should have been taken deep. I have faith in him still.

steven said...

Yes Matt. Don't put our best reliever this season out there in an important spot again because of one bad outing.

Even Rivera gives up homeruns, and gives away leads. Hopefully Gardenhire is smart enough to continue to put our best players out there.

steven said...

Also, Valencia was overmatched?

Do you remember him laying off of pitches in order to walk in a run in the biggest at bat of his life?

That, to me, is as clutch as it gets. Not going up there hacking, trying to be a hero, instead, doing what the team needs, and taking what was given to him.

Guy Bannister said...

What's Mauer going to do? Slap some singles to left? The Atbat against Logan was perfect example of how Mauer's approach and abilities dont equate to his ridiculous salary. He got two strait hanging sliders he should have hit out of the park if not very hard and he fouls one of
Posadas mask and dribbled the other foul. He was definitely trying to shoot the first ball into left. Tex on the other hand gets a hanging breaking ball and kills it and the
Twins in doing so. It's always what they yanks do and the Twins dont and it will be for two more nights and if you're dreaming otherwise your having cool aid flashbacks. This series is already a formality and if your not sure of anything else you can be sure the Twins will find a way to lose.

Anonymous said...

Ed I think your first post was right on the money and your second post showed that you are a true fan. I would give anything to see the Twins wipe the smirk off Cheater, A-Rod, Tex et al tonight. The Yank's swagger was funny last night except it was hard to laugh when most of the Twins looked like they wanted to puke. I am too much of a fan to give up on the boys but last night's outing was tuff to watch.

ShrikeTheAvatar said...

Agreed on Valencia and Crain.

You can't just criticize every moment of a game just because they lost. This is the team that got us where we are - you can't just abandon your key players because you lose one game.

Matt said...

Ok, I'm calm now.

Still, Crain had a 2-2 count to Tex, misses in the dirt by a mile with a slider, then hangs one. Eye level, luck be damned, the thing hung up there. To a hitter of Tex's calibur, that's a grapefruit, not a lucky swing. Try someone else in a tough spot tonight. We'll have to back to Jesse in this series, and certainly the next one if we get that far, but it will be so hard to watch that.
Danny V. walked because the CC was wild, especially at that point. When he did get pitches to hit, his timing was off and he looked overmatched. I love Danny, but he has to cheat on fastballs which makes him suseptible to guys who change speeds well like CC.

But hey, it's an opportunity. An opportunity for Mauer to shine, and Cuddy to step up and hit like his .365 post season average suggests. Sooner or later, Kubel needs a big hit, and Delmon has to be effective against these lefty starters.

Go Twins!!!

Anonymous said...

the stuff we have heard about mauer not getting good pitches to hit this year is crap. he takes more strikes right down the middle when he doesn't have a strike on him. sure he is still great, but he could be even better if he was swinging at those fat fastballs. last night he took first pitches right down the middle in 2 at bats and then ended up swinging at garbage and getting out.

Anonymous said...

Whatever its all fodder we aren't selling cars here we have lost 11 straight is that the resting gardy wanted for the "postseason" its a joke and tom kelly wouldn't have tolerated the deer in the headlight look

Anonymous said...

Sweep, sweep, sweep, sweep

Anonymous said...

good thing we rested (or rusted) our players for the last couple weeks of the season.

Anonymous said...

At least with the twins ending we can now focus on gopher football. Matchup with the badgers this weekend is huge if they want to get back in the rosebowl picture

Anonymous said...

At what point can Twins fans start questioning Gardy's job?

12 straight playoff losses and counting.

Anonymous said...

another heartless performance. never fight back. span doesn't take out jeter in the 1st inning. no yankees get beaned after thome gets hit in the first game. how about some fire? i want to see aroid and tex get plunked tomorrow. sick of seeing the twins get pushed around and do nothing about it. at least go down fighting.

Ed Bast said...

Now that we're down 2-0, I'm starting to hear more and more of the "payroll excuse". Classic.

Yes, they have a huge payroll. They are paying $17 mil/year to AJ Burnett, who is not even on the roster. They are paying a boatload of money to Jeter, Posada, Pettitte, etc - career Yanks (except for a couple Pettitte seasons) who are overpaid by a team who can afford to do so as a reward for years of great work. Sabbathia makes a ton - but hey, according to bloggers, doesn't Liriano have better advanced stats than CC? We're paying Thome $1.5m; does this make him a worse player than Thames or Berkman?

Sorry, the team payrolls have absolutely no impact on how this series has played out. The Twins have not performed up to their abilities. Plain and simple. The Yankees are not "vastly superior". The Twins have absolutely no excuse for their performance to date. Not the payroll, not the superiority of the opponent, not injuries, not umpiring, nothing. People need to stop making excuses for this team and focus on the fact that for about 20 playoff games IN A ROW the Twins have not played up to their ability.

Anonymous said...

Hey Ed, they will crush Petite? Come on, they don't call the Minnesota Twins "TWINKIES" for nothing.

This aint a man's team, its a kids team thats afraid of the bully in the playground. Just look at Morneau, I mean, to be concussed because you get hit in the head with a knee & to be out that long, letting your team down. What a buch of pussies!!!

& Gardenhire, ya, easy to manage in a weak division. Hell, the BlueJays took 2/3 at the end of the season. If the BlueJays were in that division, lets say those "Twinkies" wouldn't get off so easy.


Anonymous said...

Glad to see capps was terrible last night. Would have been a disappointment to not get one more reminder of how bad a trade that was.

Matt said...

Calling out Morneau's concussion is pretty weak, anon.