The Philadelphia Phillies may be the favorite in the National League, but the four teams representing the American League aren’t separated by much. The Texas Rangers, Tampa Bay Rays, Minnesota Twins, nor New York Yankees really stand out, which adds to the excitement.
However, it does please me to say the Yankees aren’t the cream of this postseason’s AL crop. They aren’t a surefire ALCS representative, as the Twins stand in their way.
NY Yankees vs. Minnesota Twins
New York squares off against the Minnesota Twins starting Wednesday, a pitching matchup between 21-game winner C.C. Sabathia and Francisco Liriano. Sabathia has been the Yankees unquestionable ace, and may win the Cy Young award this year, while Liriano has regained his 2006 form, winning 14 games as their top dog.
The game will be played in Minnesota, as the Twins have home-field advantage during the first round, which is bad news for Sabathia, who has been far more successful at the billion dollar, albeit magnificently luxurious piece of concrete that is the new Yankees Stadium.
Forced to start Sabathia on the road isn’t the lone problem for New York entering this series. Over their final 26 games the Yankees went just 9-17. And, that 26-game stretch only illustrated how horrid their pitching staff is behind Sabathia. Andy Pettitte is their No. 2 starter and will pitch in Game 2.
He has been a terrific postseason pitcher throughout his career, but he recently returned from a long stay on the disabled list and hasn’t found his groove. A.J. Burnett has been awful, and he won’t throw a pitch in the series if the Yankees have any sense.
But Phil Hughes will pitch, and though he finished the season with 17 wins he has been Jekyll and Hyde. And who knows which one would show up under the pressure-filled lights of postseason play.
Their lineup can more than pick up for the question marks in their playoff rotation, but the Twins have some good arms behind Liriano to silence them. Carl Pavano, who will start Game 2, has come up big for Minnesota this season and will certainly be motivated in facing his former team.
Especially in his case, it should certainly help to pitch at home, considering he would be treated like Pedro Martinez was during his days in Boston, with boos, rattling chants, and obscenities reigning down from the 50-plus thousand in the Bronx.
Twenty-seven-year-old Brian Duensing—who went 10-2 this year with a 2.62 ERA—will pitch Game 3, and the Twins hope it’s the last game of the potential five-game series.
If New York’s pitchers pitch well the pressure is off the offense. But since there is so much uncertainty behind Sabathia, the offense will surely have to deliver early and often for the Yankees to get past the Twins. Their lineup is stacked from top to bottom, but the Twins also have some solid bats, which is definitely not good news for New York.
Joe Mauer is without a doubt their most efficient hitter, but the likes of Jim Thome, Jason Kubel, Michael Cuddyer, rookie Danny Valencia, and free-swinging Delmon Young can make similar impacts. That’s as solid a sextet as any in the league.
New York sets the table well with Derek Jeter and Nick Swisher, but so does Minnesota, with Denard Span and Orlando Hudson slapping base hits all year long in front of the big hitters.
It will be a good series, and I really think the Twins will win and do so in five games. New York has the offense to win in three games, but Minnesota has the bats to match them run for run. Mariano Rivera is better than Twins closer Matt Capps, and what makes this series so evenly matched is the similarities in middle relief.
Jon Rauch, Matt Guerrier, and Jesse Crain have done the job done in front of Capps, all posting ERA’s just over three with few hiccups to their names. On the other side, Boone Logan and Kerry Wood have been excellent, allowing a total of 15 earned runs in 66 innings.
Yet, the Yankees have been far from solid down the stretch, and, even though the postseason is a whole new ballgame and will get their blood pumping, it’s hard to turn it around just like that. My guess is that they won’t.