Wednesday, October 7, 2009

It's The Twins

Our long wait is over and we finally know whom the Yankees will play in the American League Division Series that begins this evening.

For those who missed it, the Twins beat the Tigers 6-5 in 12 innings Tuesday in Minneapolis. It was a delightful, thoroughly enjoying and gripping game. I'm still wondering why Jim Leyland would send Fernando Rodney back out for a fourth inning of work. Is a tired closer really a better option than a less talented, but fresher arm in the bullpen?

But that and whether Brandon Inge was hit by a pitch are issues for the Tigers fans to debate and analyze.

It's onto the playoffs and the Yankees' quest for Championship No. 27.

Some quick facts about the Yankees and Twins:

The Yankees swept the regular season 7-0, posting a 3.27 ERA, .300 batting average and 10 homers. The Twins hit .232 with 10 homers and had 5.43 ERA, and had the injured Justin Morneau in each of those games.

In the four-game series at Yankee Stadium in May, the Yankees won three games by one run and the other by two runs. In addition, three of the victories were walkoff wins. Joe Girardi, in interviews with Mike Francesca on WFAN, has pointed to those games as having given Yankees the belief that they can always win any home game. The Yanks had 15 walkoff wins this season.

Against the Yankees, MVP-candidate Joe Mauer hit .345 with three homers and five RBI. Michael Cuddyer, however, hit just .148 with two homers and three RBI.

Carl Pavano was the Twins starter who had the best season against the Yankees, posting a 2.70 ERA in 13-1/3 innings in two starts, though both outing came starts came while a member of the Indians. Closer Joe Nathan blew a save opportunity in his only appearance against the Yankees three runs in two-thirds of an inning.

For the Yankees, Alex Rodriguez hit .286 with three homers and six RBI and Mark Teixeira hit .483 with four homers and 11 RBI. CC Sabathia won his only start against the Twins, allowing one run in seven innings and Mariano Rivera picked up two saves in four appearances against the Twins allowing no runs in 5-1/3 innings.

The last time the Yankees played the Twins in the playoffs was the 2004 ALDS, which the Yankees won 3-1. A-Rod hit .421 with a home and three RBI in that series.

Here's the rub, though: None of that matters.

In 2006, the Yankees had a 5-2 regular season against the wild card Tigers, but lost in the ALDS, 3-1. The Mets went 10-1 against the Dodgers in 1988 but lost the NLCS in seven games.

Any team in the playoffs is a good team, capable of beating any other. It all comes down to pitching, defense and executing in key hitting situations -- basically, who gets hot at the right time.

And while the Twins might arriving in New York for tonight's game tired after that 12-inning marathon and possible short in the bullpen after having used eight pitchers, any advantage will likely be short lived.

With a day off Thursday, the Twins will get a chance to rest and get back to full strength. In addition, that team is on a roll, going 17-4 in its last 21.

Nothing is going to be handed to the Yankees.

They are going to have to go out and earn it.

They'll need to get the big, timely hits.

They'll need to make the big plays in the field and avoid the big mistakes.

And most importantly, they need to get big pitching performances.

Ultimately, they will get all of that and take this series, 3-1.

Up Next
American League Division Series
Game 1
Wednesday, 6:07 p.m., TBS
Brian Duensing (5-2, 3.64 ERA; vs. Yankees: 0-0, 13.50 ERA in one relief appearance)
Sabathia (19-8, 3.37; vs. Twins: 1-0, 1.29 ERA in one start)

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