For previous Yankeeist previews, please see the following:
Yankees vs. Tigers in the unbalanced schedule era [May 10, 2010]
Series Preview: Yankees at Red Sox II [May 7, 2010]
Yankees vs. White Sox in the unbalanced schedule era [April 30, 2010]
Yankees vs. Orioles in the unbalanced schedule era [April 27, 2010]
How the Yankees have fared against the Red Sox at home since 2003 [April 2, 2010]
How the Yankees have fared at Fenway Park since 2003 [April 1, 2010]
The Yanks face the Twins -- who appear to be the best team in the AL, non-Yankees and Rays division -- tonight for the first time this season. While the Twins sport a nifty AL Central-leading 22-12 record, it's not entirely clear how they're getting it done.
Obviously the scalding-hot Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer are, as always, fueling the team. Morneau is currently batting an obscene .357/.486/.652, good for the second-best AVG and SLG in the AL, and the top OBP. Mauer of course is no slouch himself, with a .347/.413/.495 line. Clearly, figuring out how to keep these two off the bases will be a problem for Yankee pitchers all weekend.
Fortunately for the Yankees, only two other Minnesota regulars have OPSes above .800, which means the M&M boys may not get all that much to hit. It just goes to show you how incredible Mauer and Morneau are that the Twins have the third-best wOBA in the AL despite almost no supporting cast.
Aside from Francisco Liriano (2.36 ERA, 2.23 FIP, 3.37 xFIP) the rest of the Twins rotation really doesn't look that imposing, and the numbers would seem to bear that out. Though Carl Pavano is having an annoyingly excellent season so far (3.30 ERA, 2.98 FIP, 3.61 xFIP), thankfully the Yankees don't even have to face him this weekend, because they always seem to have trouble hitting him. Scott Baker (4.57 ERA, 3.57 FIP, 3.85 xFIP), Kevin Slowey (4.62 ERA, 4.42 FIP, 4.55 xFIP) and Nick Blackburn (4.76 ERA, 5.91 FIP, 5.20 xFIP) all pitch to varying degrees of suck.
It would appear that the bullpen is what's helping propel the Twins to the best FIP in the AL, as Ron Mahay, Brian Duensing and Jon Rauch are pitching quite well. The Yankees get Liriano on Friday -- which of course is the game that I'm attending -- Baker on Saturday and Blackburn on Sunday.
Here's how the Yanks have fared against the Twins since 2001:
(Edited to add on Tuesday, May 18, that I screwed up the 2004 season series numbers -- the Yanks were 3-0 at home vs. the Twins in '04, not 2-1, making them 24-5 at Yankee Stadium from 2001 through 2009, and 43-18 overall. After this past weekend's series the home record is 26-6 and overall is 45-19).
That's pretty damn dominant. They haven't lost the season series since 2001. Last season the Yankees famously went 10-0 against the Twins, including the ALDS, and swept one of the more memorable four-game sets of the entire season last May at home. Of course, none of this has any bearing on how the series will play out this weekend, but the Yanks have historically been very tough against the Twins at Yankee Stadium.
The Yanks' team numbers have fallen off a bit in the past four games since we last did this, which tends to happen when you get blanked twice in four games. Prior to the Tigers series they were leading the AL in all three slash stats, and they've since lost .010 points of BA, .007 points of OBP and .025 points of SLG.
The Twins look really solid all around -- not that this is much of a surprise -- and it's going to be a challenging weekend for the Bombers. Hopefully a return home is just what the doctor ordered.
For a look at how the opposition views us, be sure to check out Nick's Twins Blog's Series Preview.