Monday, October 4, 2010

Playoff Preview: Yankees-Twins

The New York Yankees and the Minnesota Twins will face off in one of the two AL divisional series, and they’re first on our schedule of playoff previews. This series should be incredibly interesting, and not just because of the Yankees storied history (Yes, you pay a lot and win a lot. We get it.) and the absence of Twins’ star first baseman Justin Morneau

First of all, a quick look at the teams’ scoring reveals some interesting tactical decisions by the teams’ management. For the Twins, balance is everything. Minnesota ranks 6th in the league in runs scored and 9th in runs allowed. This team could be incredibly dangerous in the playoffs, largely because they’re just as likely to win a pitchers’ duel as they are a slugfest. Their defense has also been good, with a UZR of 32.6 ranking them 6th in baseball. As has been widely noted, this is largely due to one of the best defensive infields in the game, allowing them to make up for Delmon Young (-9.6 UZR in LF), Jason Kubel (-9.5 in RF), and Michael Cuddyer (-8.6 in RF) manning the corner outfield spots on a regular basis.

The Yankees, on the other hand, hope their big bats can carry them to a 28th championship. The Yankees’ 859 runs scored leads all of baseball by quite a ways, with the Red Sox finishing a distant second at 818. The Yankees .347 wOBA also leads the league, and they’re in the top three in essentially everything else. However, their run prevention has been relatively pedestrian, with their 693 runs allowed ranking them 13th in the league. The defense has actually been a little above average, with their UZR of 19.7 ranking them 9th in the league. Most of this ranking can be attributed to some great defense in the outfield from Brett Gardner and Curtis Granderson (8.2 UZR) returning to form after two consecutive years of negative UZRs.

This series will start on Wednesday in Minnesota, with the Yankees’ Carsten Charles (better known as CC) Sabathia opposing the Twins’ Francisco Liriano. In a battle of two true aces, Liriano has actually been better than his sparkling 3.62 ERA, posting a 2.66 FIP (second only to Cliff Lee in the AL). He’s got a striking out more than a batter per inning and when batters do manage to put the ball in play, his groundball rate is 3rd in the AL, at 53.6%. This plays to the Twins’ strengths, as these ground balls are gobbled up by Minnesota’s stellar defensive infield. He’s as good a pitcher as you’ll find in the AL. CC’s been fantastic as well, putting up a 3.54 FIP and a 3.18 ERA. He’s one of three 20-game winners in baseball and the only one in the AL, which says more about his team than CC himself but will still be quite impressive to Cy Young voters. 

They’ll play again in Minnesota on Thursday, and then move to Yankee Stadium for Saturday and Sunday games. If necessary, a deciding game 5 will take the series back to Target Field in Minnesota. 

I’m picking the Yanks in five in this series. Minnesota will make it extremely interesting, but in the end, the Yankees’ playoff experience and big bats will prevail. I think the loss of Justin Morneau will hurt the Twins, although not necessarily fatally, and though they’ll have a good shot to win both of Liriano’s starts, it’ll be tough for them to take any of the rest of the games, as the Yankees’ rotation is much deeper than the Twins’. Twins fans will put their hope in Carl Pavano and Brian Duensing, but I’d rather not count on a 34-year-old journeyman and a guy who was a reliever until late July to shut down the Yanks’ murderer’s row.

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