No matter what they say, over the final three-plus weeks of the season, the Yankees played as if they favored taking on the Twins in the first round of the playoffs over securing home-field advantage and having to play Cliff Lee and the Rangers.
New York (95-67) seems to have gotten what it wanted and will open up the best-of-five American League Division Series in Minnesota (94-68) on Wednesday night.
The Bombers have ousted the Twins from the ALDS three times since 2003, including last year's sweep, and they took four out of six from the AL Central champs this year, winning two of three in the Bronx and at the new Target Field.
Minnesota is a highly capable offensive club, finishing second in baseball with a .341 on-base percentage, third with a .273 batting average and sixth in runs scored, but they will be missing the injured Justin Morneau.
The Twins' pitching, however, is not as strong since they sport the 11th-best ERA at 3.95 and seventh-worst batting average against at .266, so this could be a high-scoring series.
Let's take a look at the pitching matchups.
Game 1: Wednesday, Oct. 6 - CC Sabathia (21-7, 3.18) vs. Francisco Liriano (14-10, 3.62)
Cy Young candidate Sabathia gets the ball in Game 1 for the Yankees and that has to make Joe Girardi's bunch feel good. The big lefty led the league in wins and is 13-8 with a 3.05 ERA in 28 career starts against the Twins.
He didn't face them this year, so he has never pitched at Target Field, but he was 9-5 with a 3.48 in 17 outings at the Metrodome.
The Twins' roster hits just .228 off Sabathia, with everyone other than Alexi Casilla and Denard Span sporting averages below .225.
Casilla is a ridiculous 9-for-13 (.692), but Span is only 1-for-3 (.333) and everyone else struggles. Michael Cuddyer is 11-for-52 (.212) with 11 strikeouts, Nick Punto is 6-for-36 (.167) and Joe Mauer is 5-for-23 (.217). Jim Thome is feast or famine against the southpaw, picking up just four hits in 27 at-bats (.148) with 14 strikeouts, but all four hits were home runs.
All five of Sabathia's postseason outings last year were quality starts as he went 3-1 with a 1.98 ERA. He allowed two runs (one earned) on eight hits with no walks and eight strikeouts over 6 2/3 innings to beat the Twins, 7-2, in Game 1 of the ALDS.
Liriano closed the regular season with three straight losses, but he had a 3.46 ERA in two starts against the Yankees and went 7-5 with a 3.11 at home this year.
The left-hander, who finished fifth in the AL with 201 strikeouts, is 0-2 with a 3.12 mark in five career appearances (four starts) vs. New York, but he has never pitched in the playoffs.
Derek Jeter is 5-for-13 (.385) with a homer, Robinson Cano is 4-for-12 (.333) and Nick Swisher is 5-for-16 (.313) off Liriano.
But there is no middle ground against him; everyone on the Yanks either hits over .300 or under .200 off the southpaw. Mark Teixeira is 3-for-16 (.188) with eight strikeouts, Alex Rodriguez is 1-for-9 (.111) and Curtis Granderson is 4-for-22 (.182) with 12 K's, but the way he's been surging lately, I doubt Girardi sits him for Austin Kearns (2-for-5, .400).
Marcus Thames (5-for-14, .357, three homers), however, should definitely start at DH over Lance Berkman (0-for-3).
Game 2: Thursday, Oct. 7 - Andy Pettitte (11-3, 3.28) vs. Carl Pavano (17-11, 3.75)
Pettitte's first start after returning from the disabled list was good, but he struggled in his next two against the Red Sox. Nevertheless, the Yankees had to be encouraged with his eight strikeouts in four innings on Saturday.
The veteran put up stellar numbers on the road (4-0, 2.56 ERA) and against the Twins (2-0, 1.26) this year. He held Minnesota to two runs on eight hits and no walks over eight frames in a 3-2 victory at Target Field on May 26. Pettitte is 11-5 with a 3.46 mark in 21 career starts vs. the Twins, but the current roster hits .290 off him.
Delmon Young is an astounding 11-for-19 (.579) with three doubles and Cuddyer is 7-for-18 (.389), but Thome is 6-for-28 (.214) with 10 strikeouts and J.J. Hardy is 1-for-15 (.067).
Pettitte was 4-0 with a 3.52 ERA during last year's postseason, winning every clinching game, including a 4-1 victory over the Twins in the ALDS, when he yielded just one run on three hits with seven strikeouts over 6 1/3 innings.
Pavano made only seven starts during his last year with the Yankees in 2008. He led baseball with seven complete games this season. But the right-hander can really stick it to the Bombers, who he didn't face this year, by beating them in Game 2.
The New Britain, Conn., native is 0-1 with a 4.76 ERA in four career starts against New York, and the current roster hits .267 off him.
Jeter is 4-for-10 (.400) with two doubles, but Swisher, Brett Gardner, Jorge Posada and Cano are a combined 2-for-19 (.105) with seven strikeouts.
This is a rematch of last year's Game 3, when Pavano surrendered two runs on five hits and no walks with nine strikeouts in seven innings, but was outdueled by Pettitte. Pavano gave up both of the runs on solo shots by A-Rod and Posada.
Game 3: Saturday, Oct. 9 - Phil Hughes (18-8, 4.19) vs. Brian Duensing (10-3, 2.62)
The Yankees opted to go with Hughes in this game due to A.J. Burnett's struggles of late, but this move comes with its own risks. After starting the year 10-1 with a 3.17 ERA, Hughes went 8-7 with a 5.07 over his last 18 appearances (16 starts). However, he did turn in quality starts against Tampa Bay and Boston in late September.
Then again, the right-hander also carried a 4.66 ERA at home this season, where this game will be played, and didn't face the Twins at all this year. In his career against the Twins, Hughes has no record with a 3.68 ERA in three outings (one start).
Jason Kubel, Span and Young are a combined 5-for-10 (.500) off the 24-year-old, but Mauer is 0-for-3.
This will be Hughes' first postseason start, but he is 1-1 with a 5.25 ERA in 11 relief appearances. He pitched two-thirds of an inning in each of the three games in the ALDS against Minnesota last year, turning in scoreless appearances in Games 1 and 3, but giving up two runs on two hits and a walk in Game 2.
Duensing, who has never pitched in the playoffs, made 39 relief appearances before being converted to a starter in late July. He went 7-2 with a 3.05 ERA in that role, but struggled in his final two starts.
The left-hander allowed two runs over four innings in three appearances out of the bullpen against the Yankees this year. In two outings at Yankee Stadium, he's yielded one run in one inning.
Thames should get the start again because he is 3-for-6 (.500) with a double and a walk vs. Duensing. A-Rod, Swisher, Gardner, and Francisco Cervelli are a combined 0-for-8.
Game 4*: Sunday, Oct. 10 - Sabathia vs. Nick Blackburn (10-12, 5.42)
The Yankees made the smart choice by going with Sabathia on short rest in Game 4. He is 3-1 with a 1.01 ERA in four career regular-season starts on short rest and allowed just four runs over 14 2/3 innings (2.45 ERA) in two Yankees victories last postseason, working on short rest.
Burnett went 1-0 with a 1.54 ERA in two starts against the Twins this year, but both of those came in May when he was pitching well. The right-hander is 1-7 with a 6.61 over the past two months.
The Twins have Blackburn lined up to pitch Game 4 in what would be his first postseason appearance. Despite a rough season, he won both of his starts against the Yankees, pitching to a 3.21 ERA. He is 2-1 with a 4.73 in six career starts vs. New York, including a 1-0 record and 4.30 mark in two starts at the new Yankee Stadium.
Teixeira is an obscene 10-for-13 (.769) with two doubles, a homer and six RBIs off the right-hander, while Jeter is 6-for-15 (.400) with four walks.
Rodriguez, however, is 3-for-15 (.200) with five strikeouts and Cano is 2-for-14 (.143).
Game 5*: Tuesday, Oct. 12 - Pettitte vs. Liriano
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Jordan Schwartz is one of Bleacher Report's New York Yankees and College Basketball Featured Columnists. His book Memoirs of the Unaccomplished Man is available at amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com, and authorhouse.com.
Jordan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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