Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Yankees-Twins Preview

Yankees-Twins ALDS Preview

Written for Baseball Digest Online

It took 12 innings Tuesday, but the Minnesota Twins finally emerged as the New York Yankees’ opponent in the first round. The “real season” begins today at 6 p.m. ET at the big ballyard in the Bronx. The first playoff series held in the new Yankee Stadium has already been dubbed by Minnesota natives as “David vs. Goliath”. But don’t be fooled by that. While the the Twins may not have the payroll the Yankees do, they have the scouting and player development to compete with the big boys on an annual basis.

Time to take a look at the two teams.

Positional Breakdown

The Managers

Joe Girardi is seeing his first playoff action. He’s leading a team with high regular season win totals and even higher post-season expectations. Under Joe Torre, the Yankees made three straight first round exits followed by not even making the playoffs in 2008. The pressure will be on Girardi to win the Yankees’ 27th championship

Ron Gardenhire has been to the post-season four previous times, losing three times in the first round. This is the Twins’ first trip back to the post-season since 2006. Gardenhire is a great in-game manager and likes to play little ball. He’ll have to find a way to stop the Yankees, who beat the Twins in all seven meetings this season.
Edge: Twins (Slight nod to Gardenhire)

1st Base

Mark Teixeira had a tremendous season in his first year in the Bronx. After signing an 8-yr, $180 million contract in the off-season, Teixeira had his usual early struggles, but than played MVP caliber baseball the rest of the year. He tied for the AL lead in HR, won the RBI crown, and is in contention for a gold glove for his defense.

Michael Cuddyer is one of the main reasons the Twins made the playoffs. Cuddyer stepped up his game when regular 1st baseman Justin Morneau went down with a season-ending injury. He hit 8 home runs and drove in 24 runs in the last month of the season.
Edge: Yankees

2nd Base

Robinson Cano enjoyed his best offensive season in 2009. He banged out a career-high 204 hits and 25 home runs, and drove in 85 runs. Though Cano still struggled with runners in scoring position, he was dynamite at setting the table. Cano’s defense has gotten better every year and this season he was a true gold glove contender.

Nick Punto’s scrappy play is loved by his manager. Punto can do all the little things that help the Twins win ball games – bunt, defense, base running. The thing he can’t do is hit much, and that could hurt the Twins in the long run. Alexi Casilla is another option for Gardenhire.
Edge: Yankees


Derek Jeter enjoyed one of the best seasons of his career (at age 35, no less). Not only did Jeter excel on offense, but he was lauded for his defensive prowess as well. He committed just 8 errors while showing improved range. Jeter put together an MVP contender season at the plate. He surpassed 200 hits for the 7th time, topped the century mark in runs scored (17), hit 18 home runs, drove in 66 runs, and swiped 30 bases in 35 attempts. His .871 OPS was the 4th best of his career and his highest total in three seasons.
Orlando Cabrera brought 13 seasons of major league experience to the Twins when he was acquired from the A’s at the trade deadline. He gives the Twins a steady bat and glove and 31 games of post-season experience.
Edge: Yankees

3rd Base

Alex Rodriguez missed the first month of the season, but put up tremendous numbers in spite of it. His big bang theory in this past Sunday’s game put him at the 30-HR/ 100-RBI mark for the 12th straight year. His return to the lineup also helped kick start Teixeira and the entire team. He has always played stellar defense and showed more range as the season went on and his surgically repaired hip improved.
Matt Tolbert is a .228 lifetime hitter with some speed. That’s about all you can say.
Edge: Yankees

Left Field

Johnny Damon put together a solid season in a contract year (24 HR, .854 OPS, 107 Runs, 36 doubles). He’s not the defensive player he once was, and could be replaced in games Melky Cabrera who would slide over from center field and be replaced by Brett Gardner.
Delmon Young hasn’t put together the season that both his former (Rays) and current teams have expected. But he did drive in 10 runs in the last three Twins games to help the team reach this point.
Edge: Yankees

Center Field

Melky Cabrera was riding the pines when the season started, having lost the center field job to Brett Gardner. But the Melkman persevered and eventually took over the spot. He was one of the Yankees’ most clutch players in late inning situations.
Denard Span became the table setter the Twins were expecting Carlos Gomez to be.
Edge: Even

Right Field

Nick Swisher was another Yankee without a job. Swishilicious took over right field full-time when Xavier Nady when down with an elbow injury and took advantage. Though he didn’t hit for average, the Yankees’ rock ‘n roll right fielder hit 29 home runs, 35 doubles, drove in 82 and scored 84. He also drew 92 walks to help put up an .869 OPS. Just as importantly, he helped loosen up the stodgy Yankees clubhouse.
Jason Kubel had the word “potential” attached to him for a long time. Knee injuries slowed down his progress, but Kubel has emerged as a bona fide major league hitter. His two 3-run home runs on Sunday helped assure the Twins of playing another day. He hit .300 and posted careers high in HR and RBI (27, 100) and posted a .905 OPS. He’s better suited for DH, but will see time in RF.
Edge: Twins


Jorge Posada came back with a bang from last season’s shoulder surgery. Hip Hip Jorge belted 22 home runs and drove in 81 runs in just 111 games. He’ll sit in favor of Jose Molina, however, when A.J. Burnett is pitching.
Joe Mauer has done it all this season- a season in which he will earn the AL MVP award. His gaudy offensive numbers: .364/.442/.586 (28 HR, 96 RBI) shouldn’t overlshadow what a superb game caller/defender he is.
Edge: Twins


Hideki Matsui may be in his last season in Pinstripes, but despite a bad knee, he was solid. Godzilla had a huge second half to finish with 28 HR and 90 RBI.
Kubel may start some games at DH depending on how Gardenhire wants to set up the outfield. Anyone other than Kubel will have a huge drop off in production.
Edge: Yankees


Yankees have much more depth/versatility on the bench. They can go power (Hinske), speed (Gardner) or utility (Hairston).
Twins have a big time speed threat in Carlos Gomez, but not much else.
Edge: Yankees

Starting Rotation

Yankees – CC Sabathia will get game 1 and 4 assignments. A.J. Burnett handles 2 and 5, with Andy Pettitte getting game 3.
Twins – Minnesota goes with rookie Brian Duensing in game 1, Nick Blackburn in 2, and Carl Pavano in game 3. Scott Baker will most likely get game 4, with Blackburn brought back for game 5.
Edge: Yankees


Yankees – The Yankees’ one-two punch of Mariano Rivera and Phil Hughes is among the best in baseball right now. Rivera is Rivera. Hughes has developed into one of the nastiest set-up men. Now he’ll have to continue it in the post-season. Joe Girardi will mix and match and has the “luxury”(?) of using Joba Chamberlain for an inning here and there.
Twins - Joe Nathan is one of the best closers in the game, but the Yankees have had success against him in the past. Matt Guerrier and Jose Mijares will be counted on in key situations.
Edge: Yankees

PREDICTION – Yankees in 4

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