Let's Get It Started: Yankees-Twins ALDS Preview
This is why they play the games.
The Bronx Bombers are 7-0 against the Twins this season, and since Rod Gardenhire took over as Twins skipper in 2002, the Yankees are 23-3 against him in the regular season.
The only time the two teams squared off in the postseason, 2004, the Yankees took the series in five games, beating Johan Santana, then the Twins ace.
So what should fans expect when Minnesota takes the Red Eye to the Bronx for tomorrow night's game one for what figures to be a very loud, very pumped up Yankee Stadium?
Will the Bronx Bombers dominance throughout the 2009 regular season carry over into post-season play? Or will the Twins, whose payroll, incidentally, is a fraction of the Yankees, walk in and steal the series, breaking the hearts of Yankee fans once again?
We are about to find out, and it should be a good series; in the meantime, it's worthwhile to go inside this match up and find out how the two teams stack up against each other.
FIRST BASE: Michael Cuddyer (MIN) vs. Mark Teixiera (NYY)
With all due respect to Michael Cuddyer, he is not Justin Morneau, who provided the Twins with an important left-handed power bat in the middle of the lineup, and whose 30 home runs will be missed inside the homer-friendly confines of Yankee Stadium.
That said, Cuddyer has done a nice job filling in. He had the year of his life, blasting 32 homers and driving in 94 while batting .276 on the season.
Once Morneau went down with an injury that sidelined him for the year in September, Cuddyer moved from right field to first base and played admirably.
In 33 games at first, Cuddyer made only four errors and was a part of 25 double plays. Offensively, he finished 2009 strong, hitting eight home runs and driving in 29 runners to beef up his statistics.
He is an important right-handed bat to place between the power of Joe Mauer and Jason Kubel.
However, the edge in this matchup goes to the Yankees. Mark Teixeria has been on Planet Homer since the season started.
He hit .292, blasted 39 homers, and drove in 122, while scoring 103 times. He hustles on every play and has provided steady leadership in the Yankee clubhouse.
He will be a huge help in taking pressure off of Captain Choke, Alex Rodriguez, in this series, with his powerful swing from both sides of the plate. EDGE: YANKEES.
SECOND BASE: Nick Punto (MIN) vs. Robinson Cano (NYY):
Punto is a tough little player. He won't drive in a lot of runs and doesn't hit for average well. The Twins have problems at second; Alexi Casilla has been awful this year, hitting .198, and Mark Tolbert is hitting only .228.
Robinson Cano developed the reputation as a lazy player last year, when he hit a disappointing .272 with 14 homers and 72 RBI. This year, however, Cano has revived the Yankees confidence in him. Cano hit .320, hit 25 homers and drove in 85.
It was the kind of year that the Yankees have expected from Cano, who has great power to right field. EDGE: YANKEES.
SHORTSTOP: Orlando Cabrera (MIN) vs. Derek Jeter (NYY)
Against any other shortstop, one could make the argument that Cabrera would have the advantage but not against The Jeter. Derek Jeter passed Lou Gehrig as the Yankees all-time hits leader on Sept. 11. He had a wonderful 2009 campaign, hitting .334, blasting 18 homers and driving in 66 as the Yankees unconventional lead-off hitter.
Jeter didn't have a lot of game-winning hits in the regular season but that should change soon. Jeter loves the spotlight, and he loves the month of October even more.
Cabrera has always been a dependable veteran player and owns a World Series ring earned with the 2004 Red Sox. Since being traded to Minnesota this year, Cabrera is hitting .292 with four homers, 34 RBI, and three triples. EDGE: YANKEES.
THIRD BASE: Brendon Harris/Mark Tolbert (MIN) vs. Alex Rodriguez (NYY)
This is not even worth discussing ... unless ... unless, Mr. Rodriguez wants to make this a topic of discussion.
The Twins are missing Joe Crede, who has missed the last three weeks due to injury, leaving it up to the light-hitting Harris and Tolbert to get the job done at third. Neither player has really distinguished himself.
Harris did a decent job, batting .262 with six homers and 37 RBI, but he didn't play in the Twins final three games of the regular season. Tolbert hit only .228 this year but two of his 18 RBI came in the final weekend of the year.
As for A-Rod ... well let's just say this. Rodriguez is a great offensive player. Even though he missed all of April due to his injured hip and a bruised ego over steroid allegations, the guy still managed to hit 30 home runs and drive in 100 runs.
Nonetheless, here is the interesting part; Alex must forget that it is October. He must forget that when the leaves turn yellow, orange and brown that it is time for him to choke up on his bat.
In Octobers past, A-Rod has been awful, hitting .177, .033 and .262 in his last three playoff appearances. If the Yankees go anywhere this month, A-Rod has to put up some solid numbers. EDGE: YANKEES.
CATCHER: Joe Mauer (MIN) vs. Jorge Posada (NYY)
Great match up, but the edge must go to Mauer. Mauer is a the reigning batting champion from 2008, and he should be heavily favored to be named the AL MVP this year.
Once he got off of the DL on May 1, Mauer went on a tear that lasted to this day. He started to show great power to both sides of the field as he hit a career high, 28 home runs and drove in 96 while hitting .364 this year.
Mauer even drew 74 walks to 62 strikeouts, which is an incredible ratio.
As for Posada, his skills are on the decline. The pitchers don't seem to like the game he calls, amd many of the Yankee starters have preferred Jose Molina.
Examine Joe Girardi's decision to sit Posada for game two as an example. He can still give the Yankees an occasional big hit, but he is not the Posada of old. EDGE: TWINS.
LEFT FIELD: Delmon Young (MIN) vs. Johnny Damon (NYY)
Johnny Damon has defied Father Time this year. The 36-year-old outfielder had a very good regular season, blasting 24 homers, driving in 82 and scoring 102 times.
He provides the Yankees with a lethal slap-hitting/left-handed bat that is perfect for the short porch in right field at the new stadium. Whenever Damon goes to bat, he is a threat to hit a home run in that park with his looping one-handed swing.
Defensively, Damon is no longer the player he used to be; consequently, the Yankees relegated him to left-field duties.
Delmon Young is a nice player for the Twins. He isn't flashy with the numbers, but he gets the job done nonetheless.
He hit .285 this year with 12 homers and 60 RBI. However, what has to scare Twins fans is the fact that Young walked only 11 times this season. SLIGHT EDGE: YANKEES.
CENTER FIELD: Denard Span (MIN) vs. Melky Cabrera and Brett Gardner (NYY)
Cabrera and Gardner have been a nice two-headed monster for the Yankees in center field. Cabrera needed to have a solid 2009, and he did just that blasting 13 homers, including a handful of walk off homers this year.
Gardner is as hard-nosed as they come. He plays with reckless abandon and never takes an out for granted on the basepaths.
Gardner hit .270 and stole 26 bases in just 248 at bats. Expect Gardner to play a pivotal role in this series.
Span came out of nowhere to take the center field job away from Carlos Gomez. In 144 games this year, Span hit .312, hit eight home runs, drove in 68 and stole 23 bases.
He has been a fantastic leadoff hitter for the Twins this year, and, in turn, has been a pest for opponents. If the Yankees struggle to shut down Span, it could be a long series. SLIGHT EDGE: TWINS.
RIGHT FIELD: Carlos Gomez (MIN) vs. Nick Swisher (NYY)
Swisher got off to an incredible start to the 2009 season when he hit .312 with seven homers in April.
Since that time, his average has tailed off a bit, but Swisher still hit 29 homers and drove in 82. He is another leader in this clubhouse, thanks to his loose, fun-loving personality.
Gomez, the former Mets prospect, who was dealt to Minnesota in the Johan Santana trade, really never developed into anything special.
He hit .227 and scored 50 runs, but played sparingly after Denard Span took over permanently in center field. Gomez could see some playing time either in right, or center, or as a pinch-hitter or runner in this series. EDGE: YANKEES.
DESIGNATED HITTER: Jason Kubel (MIN) vs. Hideki Matsui (NYY)
Talk about two great hitters going at it! Both the Twins and Yankees feature excellent DH's. Jason Kubel has been brilliant for the Twins this year, hitting .300 with 28 homers and 103 RBI.
He has been a steady, powerful bat in the Twins order, and even plays a decent right field on occasion.
As for Matsui, even though his legs are not strong enough to keep him in the outfield anymore, Godzilla can still swing the bat. Matsui hit 28 homers with 90 RBI and batted .274 this year.
It would be a shame if this is Matsui's final season with the Yankees because he has been one of the more consistent bats in their lineup year in and year out. EDGE: EVEN; THEY CAN BOTH BRING IT.
The key to any playoff series is pitching, and the Yankees have a plethora of it. Start with 19-game winner C.C. Sabathia and move on down to A.J. Burnett and Andy Pettitte, as well as Joba Chamberlain.
The Yankees should figure to be really tough with this group leading the way for the Bronx Bombers.
However, Sabathia has to overcome his last two October performances, when he didn't pitch very well for the Indians and Brewers, respectively. As for Burnett, he can be a bit of a Jekyll-and-Hyde type of pitcher; sometimes he is dominant, and sometimes he can get bombed.
Andy Pettitte, who is a brillant post-season pitcher, wiill be a huge key to the Yankees success in game three. No one else should have the ball in a big swing game on the road other than Pettitte.
As for the Twins, they have a bunch of unknowns as far as October is concerned. Scott Baker led the team with 15 wins, but he won't pitch until game three. That leaves the Twins with Nick Blackburn, Brian Duensing, and some former Yankee pitcher, who failed to live up to a hefty contract, named Carl Pavano.
Sometimes pitchers who are not used to the pressure of the playoffs will pitch with nothing to lose and pitch very well as a result. But sometimes the bright lights can be a bit much for them. EDGE: YANKEES.
Okay, okay; sure the middle relievers play a pivotal role in every playoff series, but this is all about the closers. Who would you rather have closing out a big playoff game, Mariano Rivera or Joe Nathan? That's a rhetorical question, of course.
Rivera either has ice in his veins or is a cyborg because nobody is better in the ninth inning than he. Rivera recorded 44 saves this year with a 1.76 ERA.
The guy can still bring it at 40 years old. People have wondered for years about when Rivera will run out of gas, but until it happens, Rivera will always get the edge.
As for Nathan, he is a excellent closer who doesn't get a lot of press because he plays in a small market team. Nathan recorded 47 saves this year with a 2.15 ERA. He is great, but Rivera is better in this match up. EDGE: YANKEES.
MANAGERS: Ron Gardenhire (MIN) vs. Joe Girardi (NYY)
There is a lot of pressure on Girardi to win this series. He runs the team with the highest payroll in baseball, and if he should lose, he will begin to know the wrath Hank and Hal Steinbernner put on Joe Torre two years ago.
That said, it is not easy to keep a group of All Stars together playing well. Girardi has struck a chord with this group and has them all playing for each other.
As for Ron Gardenhire, he has been here before. Five division titles, and five quick exits from the postseason, with the exception of 2002 when the Twins fell to the Anaheim Angels in the ALCS. Either way, Gardenhire is due for some post season success; he is too good a manager to keep losing. EDGE: EVEN.
The Twins may be coming into Yankee Stadium a tired team, having played playoff baseball for the past three weeks, but the high that they are on could make them into a very dangerous team.
The Twins have won 17 of their last 21 games and are getting hot at the right time of the year. The Yankees haven't played a truly meaningful game in two weeks, thanks to their gigantic lead over the Red Sox and Rays in the AL East.
Can the Bombers kick it up a notch to match the intensity of the Twins? That will be the question. EDGE: TWINS.
WHO WILL WIN
The Yankees will find a way to win this series in four games. They ought to be able to get to Duensing and Blackburn in the middle innings of games one and two, and they will put the ball in the hands of Mariano Rivera to close the door. However, expect the Twins to be pesky throughout the series.
The Yankees will have to fight it out with Minnesota at several points in the series and could lose a game or two in what could be the final two games at the Metrodome, where the fans will be very pumped up, and very, very loud. YANKEES WIN 3 GAMES TO 1.
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