Minnesota Twins-New York Yankees Series Preview

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Twins-Yankees playoffs

The history in the Minnesota Twins-New York Yankees matchup may not be long, but it is storied.

Most of those stories have come in the last seven years, and the two could be called rivals, but in order for there to be a rivalry, both teams have to have success against the other.

That certainly hasn’t been the case heading into this matchup of two of the AL’s best teams, as the Yankees are 44-16 since 2003 against the Twins, including three series wins and a 9-2 overall record against the Twins in the playoffs.

So is it a new year for the Twins or is it the same old story in this clash of the AL titans?  Perhaps this series breakdown will provide some answers.

OFFENSIVE ADVANTAGE:  New York Yankees. It certainly isn’t by much, as the Twins, despite Justin Morneau’s second half absence, have been prolific on offense all year long.

But if the Twins have been prolific, the Yankees have been spectacular, leading the majors in runs and on base percentage, while also ranking in the top five in home runs and slugging percentage.

New York has relied on big years from their veterans (Robinson Cano, Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez), but have also gotten contributions from sources that had not stepped up in the past, aka the reborn and offensively complete Nick Swisher, and the fast rising, fast running Brett Gardner.

Gardner and Swisher have helped to soften the blow of Derek Jeter’s downturn in statistical production as well as Curtis Granderson’s lack of impact since he came over from Detroit.

derek jeter

Still, Jeter has always been money in the postseason and Granderson underachieved in the regular season, but turned it on and started to prove he could play in New York in the second half.  Both have to be considered threats in the postseason.

The Twins have been extremely dangerous on the offensive side of the ball as well this year, but are lacking the power to compete with the Yankees on that side of the ball.

The Twins ranked third in batting average and sixth in runs while also coming in seventh in slugging percentage in the majors.

Those are comparable stats to New York, but get to the home runs, and the Twins rank 19th in the majors with 142.

The acquisitions of Orlando Hudson and Jim Thome have been a massive success, with Hudson filling the gap at second base and Thome stepping in to play an everyday role in the absence of Justin Morneau, who is out the entire postseason.

The Twins version of Swisher and Gardner for the Yankees is Delmon Young and Danny Valencia.

Young has had a breakout year in which he has to be considered the MVP of the team, hitting .298 with 21 homers and 112 RBI.

Valencia stepped into the third base role midseason and has been on fire since he got to the big leagues.

In 85 games, Valencia has hit .311 with seven home runs, and has filled the biggest black hole the team has had over the last ten years at third base.  His solid defense and contact hitting have been a welcome sight for Twins fans sick of seeing Nick Punto and Brendan Harris platoon anywhere on the field.

The Twins other main contributors outside of the always consistent Joe Mauer; Denard Span, Jason Kubel, J.J. Hardy, and Michael Cuddyer, haven’t had great years, and each of their production with the exception of Hardy has gone down from last year.

joe mauer

Still, knowing what, specifically Span, Cuddyer, and Kubel, are capable of, the Twins offense should not be the concern this series.

PITCHING ADVANTAGE: MINNESOTA TWINS. This goes the way of the Twins specifically because of the unknown that is the Yankees staff outside of CC Sabathia.

Most likely, with the type of season Andy Pettitte was having before his groin injury, he will be the game two starter for the Yankees.

In his three starts back, he has allowed 10 runs in 13 1/3 innings, not nearly the Cy Young form he was in before the injury.  But his veteran experience and first half dominance is enough to warrant a game two start.

After Pettitte the common sense choice for game three is Phil Hughes, who’s phenomenal first two months led to a rough last four (11-7, nearly five ERA) and a deceptive 18-8 record.

Still, to have an 18 game winner as your third starter can’t be considered such a bad thing, but the Yankees seem uncertain as to their plans since they still haven’t announced their game two and three starters.

Their bullpen obviously has the most dominant closer in history, but getting there has been an adventure with Joba Chamberlain as the setup man.

joba chamberlain

As much as Chamberlain has struggled (3-4, 4.4 ERA), the trade for Kerry Wood at the deadline was one of sheer genius for the Yankees.

Since coming to New York, Wood has pitched in 24 games while posting a 2-0 record with 10 holds and a 0.69 ERA.  That certainly has to be comforting to manager Joe Girardi after Chamberlain’s struggles.

For the Twins we can at least say this; they know who their starters are going to be for games one, two, and three.

Game one will feature Francisco Liriano, the talented but disaster-prone lefty, with Carl Pavano taking the rubber for game two, while midseason rotation-insert Brian Duensing will take game three.

Liriano has allowed five or more runs seven times this year while posting a 14-10 record with a 3.62 ERA.  He has shown flashes of brilliance that made Minnesota fans fall in love with him in 2006, but has not had a month since April that would warrant him being a game one starter in the playoffs.

Pavano seemed to be the likely choice for game one before manager Ron Gardenhire chose Liriano, as his consistency has been the rock of the rotation the Twins have needed since the Johan Santana trade.

Pavano, who posted a 17-11 record with a 3.75 ERA, has had a rough last two months and perhaps that contributed to Gardenhire’s decision.

Midway through the year, however, Pavano could’ve been considered a Cy Young candidate, showing signs of being the Carl Pavano of the Florida Marlins so many years ago.

Pavano-Pettitte would be a great pitching matchup should the Yankees choose to plug Pettitte into game two, and the series would most likely hinge on either of their shoulders to keep their team out of a 2-0 hole and practical extinction from the postseason.

Brian Duensing taking the mound in game three should be exciting to all Twins fans since he has been spectacular since his promotion to the starting rotation.

Over Duensing’s two years with the Twins as a starter, both of which were only second half stints, Duensing is now 12-3 with a sub-three ERA.  He has quite simply been the Twins best starter over the last two years, even warranting a game one start against the Yankees last year.

That start did not go well for Duensing, but the pressure should not be as high this year, having more starting experience and some playoff experience under his belt and being the game three rather than game one starter.

The Twins have an absurd amount of options out of the bullpen this year with the midseason acquisitions of Matt Capps and Brian Fuentes.

matt capps

Fuentes will most likely be called upon late in games to face the Canos and Grandersons of the world, with the left side of the plate hitting .128 against him this year.

Capps, after a shaky first few appearances with the Twins has turned things around and has settled into the closers role nicely with a 2-0 record, 16 saves and a 2.00 ERA in 27 appearances with the club.  He will likely handle the save situations for the Twins this postseason.

That’s not even including former closer Jon Rauch, and other former setup men Matt Guerrier, Jose Mijares, and surprisingly useable Jesse Crain.

The Twins can literally pitch matchup by matchup out of the bullpen, and their starting three give them a much better chance to win than in 2009.

INTANGIBLES (COACHING, HISTORY, HOME FIELD) ADVANTAGE:  NEW YORK YANKEES.

Yes, the Twins have home field, but the history of this series clearly outweighs any intangible advantage the Twins could possibly have.

It is the belief of myself and others around the team that the only thing holding the Twins back in this series is the mental and historic advantage the Yankees must have on the Twins.

That being said, on the Twins quest to get to the World Series for the first time in 19 years, it is also believed that it’s better to get the Yankees when the Twins have them, the first round, than to have to wait and play them in the ALCS.

If Minnesota can overcome the dominations they’ve received in the past and focus on the here and now, it’s definitely possible that they could pull what would undoubtedly be viewed as an upset regardless of playoff seeding, and gain a massive amount of momentum going forward, and obviously not have to worry about facing the Yankees in round two.

But some are of the mindset that the Twins are to the Yankees what the White Sox are to the Twins.

Many Chicago media members including Phil Rogers and Fred Mitchell of the Chicago Tribune believe that the Twins are in the White Sox heads and they have a mental block about beating them.

The same thing could be said of Ron Gardenhire and the Twins about the Yankees.  With only 16 wins in 60 attempts, it seems like the Yankees can do no wrong against Minnesota regardless of personnel, location, or time.

ron gardenhire

Should Ron Gardenhire be able to motivate his club and make them believe, perhaps he could make up the clear coaching edge that Joe Girardi holds in this series.

PREDICTION:  YANKEES IN 4. New stadium, new veterans to lead the Twins, gaudy offensive statistics and a solid first three.  Recipe for success?

It will all come down to the first game.  If the Yankees beat the Twins thoughts will be creeping in the minds of players that it’s the same old story and ‘here we go again.’

Should the Twins be able to take down game one, it’s anyone’s series and you’d have to give the advantage to the Twins.

But in the end, with so many veterans on the Yankees throughout their rotation to their bullpen and all the way down to their bench which includes Lance Berkman, Randy Winn, and Austin Kearns, it just looks like the Yankees are too much on the field, and in the history books.

The series will be a mental one more than anything, but with all the bats the Yankees have and the dominant lefty at the front of their rotation that is almost sure to give you two wins, it seems like Minnesota is fighting an uphill battle.

Perhaps the only thing the Twins are missing is the true number one in their rotation, although having number 33 for this series wouldn’t hurt either.

Any way you look at it, it should be more competitive than recent Twins-Yankees series, because this is by far the most talented team the Twins have had over their playoff appearances of the last nine years.

Should Minnesota manage to beat the Yankees, the whole playoffs are turned on their head and Minnesota will be going into Tampa with loads of confidence and could easily dispatch of the Rays to get to the World Series.

But to do that, they’ll have to take care of what will easily beY the hardest series they will face, win or defeat, all postseason.

-Mike Gallagher

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Comments

  1. you’re being a little conservative, mike, which is not surprising given the twins’ history (no expectations, no disappointments)…
    i, for one, will ride the roller coaster, declaring twins’ victory now & facing the consequences later…
    i’ll be @ game 2, cheering wildly, happy again just to be nominated…

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