Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Twins Got A Loss Before They Started

Pitching is the key to winning in the playoffs - just look at the 2009 New York Yankees for a surefire example - but in this year's Yankees-Minnesota Twins division series it is the loss of an offensive player that could sway the series heavily in the Yankees' favor.

Twins 1st baseman Justin Morneau is one of the best hitters in baseball; a perennial 30-HR, 100-RBI guy who hits .300 to boot.

But there will be no Morneau in the ALDS or beyond. Morneau missed the remainder of the season after suffering a concussion July 7. At the time he was hitting .345 with 18 HR and 56 RBI in 80 games. The Twins hoped Morneau could be back at some point in the post-season, but that was ruled out as well after concussion symptoms returned this past Saturday.

The loss is devastating to a lineup which scratches out runs and is not laden with big boppers. Though they finished sixth in the major leagues in runs scored, the Twins rely heavily on the M duo of Morneau and Joe Mauer (I refuse to call them the M&M boys, there was only one set of them). The latter has also been banged up and returned to his pre-2009 power (when he banged out 28 dingers) of just 9 home runs.

Morneau's absence for the second straight post-season, he missed last year with a bad back, will certainly put more pressure on a Twins starting rotation that was not a model of consistency this year. Other than Francisco Liriano, who re-established his ace stuff, most of the remainder of the staff did not perform up to their usual ability and fell short of expectations.

The Twins will most certainly rely on small ball and their running ability to score runs against the Yankees. Teams have stolen with ease this year against the Yankees rotation and catching duo of Jorge Posada and Francisco Cervelli and the Twins should continue that trend. Delmon Young (.826 OPS 21 HR 112 RBI) could be an 'X' factor in the series after finally living up to the hype surrounding him while in Tampa Bay and Minnesota.

The Twins lost Joe Nathan to Tommy John surgery during spring training, but 6'11" Jon Rauch filled those big shoes as a steady closer. When he faltered, GM Bill Smith went out and got closer Matt Capps from the Washington Nationals to deepen the pen.

Finally, reading is fundamental and so are the Twins. The organization is the best at teaching the basics and no one has utilized those lessons in the majors better than old manager Tom Kelly and current skipper Ron Gardenhire.

Position Comparison

1B Mark Teixeira > Michael Cuddyer
Cuddyer was in RF until Morneau's injury; his production dropped off substantially from last year (32 HR - 14 HR .862 - .753 OPS). Teixeira struggled all season until Kevin Long straightened him out and he went on a second half tear. Though he slowed in September due to thumb and foot injuries, he still finished with an .846 OPS and 33 HR, 102 RBI.

2B Robinson Cano > Orlando Hudson
Cano should either win the AL MVP award or finish second to Texas' Josh Hamilton. He had 200 hits for the second straight season and posted career highs in HR (29), RBI (104) and OPS (.914). He also played gold glove 2nd base. Orlando Hudson is a solid defender, but doesn't have much of a stick.

SS Derek Jeter > J.J. Hardy
Jeter had the worst offensive seasons of his career, but still managed to score 111 runs and was solid defensively, with a career low six errors. He started to come on in September after working with Long, finishing with 25 hits in his last 72 at-bats (.347). Hardy has been a disappointment after breaking out in 2007-2008 while with Milwaukee. He was limited to 101 games by injury and posted just a .714 OPS.

3B Alex Rodriguez > Danny Valencia
A-Rod put up another 30-HR 100-RBI year despite playing in just 125 games (123 RBI). He was also solid defensively. Valencia is developing into a nice player- his rookie campaign consisted of a .799 OPS, .311 AVG, 7 HR, 40 RBI in 85 games.

LF Delmon Young > Brett Gardner
The two are on par defensively, but Young's offense had a much greater impact on his team's lineup, especially when Morneau went down. Young posted career highs in virtually every offensive category. Gardner's speed can be a difference maker, but he must be more aggressive on the bases.

CF Curtis Granderson > Denard Span
Granderson was having a miserable season until Long once again worked his magic in mid-August. The result was a much more productive and powerful Granderson. Span had a horribly disappointing season after hitting .311 in 2009. This year he posted a sub-.700 OPS.

RF Nick Swisher > Jason Kubel
It's not by a lot, but Swisher wins out. He was a secondary MVP to Cano on the Yankees for much of the season. Kubel has good power, is a clutch hitter, but is better at DH.

C Joe Mauer > Jorge Posada + Francisco Cervelli
Mauer's power may be down, but the hits keep on coming. The health of his left knee could play a factor, but just like Jeter, he'll downplay it. Posada and Cervelli have had mediocre years on both sides of the ball.

DH Marcus Thames/Lance Berkman - Jim Thome
It's a toss up. Thames has been hammering righties and lefties. Berkman has hit better from the left side since a DL stint in September. Thome is still mashing the long ball, though Gardenhire might use someone else against lefties Sabathia and Pettitte.

Yankees Starting Rotation > Twins Starting Rotation
CC Sabathia should win the Cy Young. Andy Pettitte is a rock if healthy and Phil Hughes had a breakout year with 18 wins. Liriano has ace stuff and has backed it up. Carl Pavano has been a revelation. But the Twins have to be worried about a game 4 match up of Sabathia vs. Nick Blackburn.

Yankees Bench > Twins Bench
Yankees have more pop potential when called upon.

Yankees Bullpen - Mariano Rivera, Kerry Wood & Company a little > Twins Bullpen Matt Capps, Jon Rauch & Company
Rivera's post-season work speaks for itself and Wood has put up amazing numbers since joining the Yankees.

Twins Manager Ron Gardenhire > Yankees Manager Joe Girardi
Girardi has the World Series ring, but Gardenhire is the better in game manager. But he still hasn't figured out how to beat the Yankees, especially in New York.

Prediction: Yankees in Five.

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