So the Yankees draw the hottest team in baseball, the Minnesota Twins, in the American League Division Series. On paper, I still think the Yankees will crush this team, especially since they won't have to deal with Justin Morneau, but the Twins have shown that they won't go quietly, and this could end up being a tougher series than we Yankee fans might like to think.
Here's a quick-and-dirty position by position rundown:
Twins: Joe Mauer, .365/.444/.587/1.031
Yankees: Jorge Posada, .285/.363/.522/.885
As great as Posada's been for the Yankees, putting up another excellent offensive year at catcher, Joe Mauer will almost certainly be elected MVP, and rightly so -- the man led the American League in slash stats -- damn impressive in and of itself -- from the most demanding defensive position on the diamond.
Twins: Michael Cuddyer, .276/.342/.520/.862
Yankees: Mark Teixeira, .292/.383/.565/.948
Cuddyer's quietly had a great year, leading the Twins in home runs with 32. Even so, Big Tex had himself a monster campaign in his first year in pinstripes, and I expect him to continue his excellence into the postseason.
Twins: Nick Punto, .228/.337/.284/.621
Yankees: Robinson Cano, .320/.352/.520/.871
I'm not even going to dignify this with analysis.
Twins: Orlando Cabrera, .289/.313/.430/.742
Yankees: Derek Jeter, .334/.406/.465/.871
No matter what uniform he's wearing, Cabrera seems to get a hit every time he's up against the Yankees. Derek Jeter, who many expected would continue to decline on both sides of the ball, significantly improved his defense while completing what may have been the third-best season of a hall-of-fame career.
Twins: Matt Tolbert, .232/.303/.308/.611
Yankees: Alex Rodriguez, .286/.402/.532/.933
Matt Tolbert's numbers almost make Cody Ransom look good. A-Rod, recent postseason struggles aside, is a beast, and a lot of people expect 2009 to be his postseason coming out party. Or at least hope it will be, for if I have to read another "A-Rod chokes in the playoffs" article I may have to become a Mets fan. OK, not really. But you get the idea. Either way, raise your hand if you would prefer having Matt Tolbert man third base over A-Rod. That's what I thought.
Twins: Delmon Young, .284/.308/.425/.733
Yankees: Johnny Damon, .282/.365/.489/.854
Young still hasn't blossomed into the elite talent many once thought he'd become. That OBP is rough, and I wonder how much longer he'll stick around if he can't increase that walk rate. Damon had a monster April through August, and then seemed to forget how to hit in September, but you really can't take anything away from the year he had. Plus, as silly as the idea of "clutch" is, he has a propensity to come through with big blasts in the postseason, and there are few batters I'd want up in a big situation in the playoffs more than Johnny Damon.
Twins: Denard Span, .311/.392/.415/.807
Yankees: Melky Cabrera, .274/.336/.416/.752
Span actually had a pretty nice year for himself, and I dislike Melky almost as much as RAB does, so this is the rare spot that the Twins have the Yankees covered on.
Twins: Jason Kubel, .300/.369/.539/.907
Yankees: Nick Swisher, .249/.371/.498/.869
This is the closest match-up on the diamond between these two teams. After a torrid April, Swisher came back to earth, but still produced a remarkable comeback season that every Yankee fan would've signed up for in a heartbeat. Perhaps even more remarkable was that Brian Cashman managed to get Nick Swisher for the utterly useless Wilson Betemit. Kubel's season is almost identical to Swisher's, and for a second I couldn't figure out why he was outslugging Nick, as Swisher has one more home run, the same amount of doubles and one less triple, but then I noticed that Kubel has 30 more singles. This one's very close to a wash, but given Nick's vital combination of patience and power, I gotta go with Swisher here.
Twins: Brendan Harris, .261/.310/.362/.672
Yankees: Hideki Matsui, .274/.367/.509/.876
Matsui just posted his best season since 2005, and has made some Yankee fans rethink their position on letting him walk after the season. Others, not so much. The Twins should be embarrassed to have a .672 OPS in the DH slot.
So our tally on the offense is Yankees: 7, Twins: 2.
Game 1: CC Sabathia (19-8, 3.37) v. TBA
Ron Darling and Chip Caray made it sound like Brian Duensing (5-2, 3.64) might go for the Twins in Game 1, although I thought it might be Carl Pavano (5-4, 4.64). I admittedly don't know much about Duensing, although he seems to have performed reasonably well for the Twins in limited duty. While I love the idea of facing Pavano in theory, for whatever reason the Yankees had a decent amount of trouble with him this year, as his assortment of slow crap, junk and even slower crap kept them off balance. Either way, neither should be a match for Sabathia who -- despite whatever peeps you may hear about his small sample size of relatively ineffective postseason pitching -- has given me no reason to think he won't continue to pitch like the horse he was this year, especially in the second half. As long as the Yankees can put up a few early runs, I expect CC to go seven strong and give up two runs, tops.
Game 2: A.J. Burnett (13-9, 4.04) v. TBA
Unfortunately no other series previews are up yet, so I'm forced to guess the rotation of a team I don't follow. I imagine Nick Blackburn (11-11, 4.303) gets the nod here as he'll have had five days of rest by Game 2, and has become Minnesota's de facto ace. We touched on Burnett the other day, and as we all know, it basically comes down to which Burnett decides to show up on Friday. If it's good A.J., he'll absolutely dominate the Twins lineup. If it's bad A.J., I don't really want to think about what would happen. It's also incredibly disheartening that Jose Molina will be starting this game, and I sure hope for Girardi's sake that keeping Posada's bat out of the lineup for three turns is worth whatever mental edge Burnett thinks he's getting.
Game 3: Andy Pettitte (14-8, 4.16) v. TBA
Scott Baker (15-9, 4.37) will be on regular rest come Sunday, so I imagine he'll go for the Twins here. We all know Pettitte's "big-game pitcher" reputation, which he occasionally hasn't lived up to, but I love Andy going in game 3 here -- if the Yankees are 2-0 I love Andy going in for the kill; 1-1 I love Andy righting the ship; 0-2 I love Andy staving off elimination. Whatever the situation, I expect Pettitte will be ready to do whatever needs to be done. On the Twins side, Scott Baker doesn't particularly intimidate me.
Games 4 and 5 would be Sabathia and Burnett vs. whoever and whoever -- it really doesn't matter who the Twins toss. Frankly, I'd be surprised to see the series even get to a fourth game, regardless of how hot the Twins might be right now. As long as the starting pitchers do their jobs, Phil Hughes and Mariano Rivera are near-certainties to hold up their end of the bargain and our bats should provide enough firepower for the Yankees to buzzsaw right through Minnesota (as we saw yesterday, this is the third-best Yankee offense in team history) en route to what I can only imagine would be an epic (and heart attack-inducing) ALCS matchup with one of their two most hated rivals.
Not to look too far ahead, as I know there's still the matter of the ALDS and all, but I have no idea if I'd rather the Yankees face the Angels or the Red Sox in the next round. I literally am not sure who to root for in that hypothetical first round battle. If there were a way for both teams to lose, that would be phenomenal. My heart says the Angels, as playing the Red Sox is emotionally draining, but my head says Boston, as I think we have a better chance of beating them in a seven-game series.
ALDS prediction: Yankees, 3-0.
Other playoff previews
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