Welcome to the fourth and final installment of Yankeeist's 2010 ALDS Series Preview, in which we'll be taking a look at a few specific factors that could influence how the series plays out. In case you missed parts 1, 2 and 3, please click on the following:
Yankeeist's 2010 ALDS Series Preview, Part 1: Head-to-Head Overall Team Numbers
Yankeeist's 2010 ALDS Series Preview, Part 2: 25-Man Roster Comparisons
Yankeeist's 2010 ALDS Series Preview, Part 3: The Pitching Match-Ups
Four advantages for the Twins
1) Home field. The Twins had the best home record in the American League in 2010, though they were only a game better than the Yankees. Still, the Twins are a very potent team at home, hitting .282/.354/.422 compared to .265/.328/.421 on the road. Much has also been made of Target Field's propensity for suppressing home runs, something that plays against one of the Yankees' major strengths. Expect to see a lot of long flyouts in Minnesota.
2) Carl Pavano. We talked about Glass Carl at length this morning, and I expect him to be the key to a potential Twins series win. If the Twins can't win Game 2 with a pitcher like Pavano who can seriously neutralize the Yankees' bats with his array of off-speed, groundball-inducing, no-free-pass-yielding garbage, they're in trouble.
3) Joe Girardi not starting Phil Hughes in Game 2. Prior to the rotation being announced many had pondered whether Phil Hughes might make sense starting Game 2 at Target Field, given his significant home/road splits. Girardi opted to go with the veteran Pettitte, knowing that Andy would then be lined up to pitch a potential deciding Game 5, and while I understand the rationale I have to say I'm a touch disappointed. Not that I don't think Phil can pitch well at home, because we know he can, but between Phil having been so good outside of Yankee Stadium this year (3.52/3.09/3.93 and 0.65 HR/9 on the road vs. 4.66/5.08/4.66 and 1.69 HR/9 at home) along with the uncertainty surrounding just how many innings and what kind of quality Pettitte can give the team, this seemed like a strategy that could've gone a long way toward sending the Yankees home to the Bronx up 2-0.
4) All empires fall. This is admittedly pretty goofy and has no statistical basis, but after losing to the Yankees in the ALDS the previous three teams these two squads have faced each other, it could simply finally be time for the Twins to beat the Yankees in a postseason series. We saw it happen with the Red Sox in the 2004 ALCS; and even the Yankees themselves finally got past their old postseason nemesis in last year's ALCS.
Four advantages for the Yankees
1) No Justin Morneau for a second straight ALDS. I know the Twins lineup didn't seem to miss a beat (somehow) without Morneau, but there's simply no replacing a monster who accrued 5.1 fWAR in literally half a season. The Twins' offense is still capable of doing damage, but not having to navigate through both Joe Mauer and Morneau could end up being the difference, and if the Twins had a healthy Morneau, I'd feel a lot different about the Yankees' prospects in this series.
2) Not only has Minnesota not seen CC Sabathia this year, but the Yankees will be throwing him twice if the series extends to a fourth game. I touched on this in this morning's starting pitching preview, but it merits further discussion. While it may not be quite the same as a team throwing a rookie starter against the Yankees, the Twins haven't seen Sabathia in a year, and that will work significantly to Sabathia's advantage. I'd noted in the last Blue Jays series preview that Toronto had somehow gone all season without seeing Sabathia -- which certainly contributed in part to their success against the Yankees this year -- and when he finally did face them last week he destroyed them to the tune of 8 1/3 innings of three-hit, one-run ball. I know the Twins aren't the Blue Jays, but the Jays' offense was basically as good as Minnesota's this year (.334 wOBA for MIN; .333 for TOR) not to mention the fact that Toronto was the most powerful team in the Majors this season.
3) Alex Rodriguez finally hit like Alex Rodriguez in the final month of the season. A-Rod was awarded the AL September Player of the Month Award on the strength of his AL-leading .600 SLG, not to mention a shiny .411 wOBA. A-Rod is hot at the exact right time, and after an incredible postseason a year ago should be poised to do it all over again.
4) Ron Gardenhire ripping a page from the Charlie Manuel playbook in not starting Liriano on short rest in Game 4. I was a bit surprised that Gardenhire opted to go with Nick Blackburn in Game 4 instead of Francisco Liriano, given Blackburn's tough year and Liriano's all-around awesomeness, but clearly he feels more comfortable holding Francisco back for a potential decisive Game 5. Last year Manuel opted to start Joe Blanton in Game 4 of the World Series instead of Cliff Lee, and that decision ended up backfiring pretty badly. Of course, just because it happened once doesn't mean it'll happen again, but that doesn't mean it isn't open to second-guessing.
So after four exhaustive ALDS Preview posts, you're finally ready for a prediction right? We're all well aware of the fact that this isn't last year's Twins team, not to mention that this isn't last year's Yankee team. The Yankees' uninspiring play down the stretch left a lot of fans dejected about the team's prospects for the postseason, while the Twins' hot streak in the second half of the season has made them a trendy pick. However, as Moshe astutely noted, a large portion of the poor results issued by Yankee pitching during the last two months did not come from the pitching contingent they'll be leaning on most heavily during the postseason, while the Twins were able to get fat on the seedy underbelly of the AL Central.
Make no mistake, this Yankee team is still very much capable of beating anyone. I've said it a couple of times now, but after watching the team all season and running through more numbers than I know what to do with, the Yankees will beat the Twins if they play to their talent level. The Twins are a very good team, but the Yankees are better. Of course, if the Yankees fall into their nasty late-season habit of stranding more baserunners than the population of Asia and/or their starting pitchers put them in huge holes in the first few frames, then they'll lose.
It's really that simple -- if the Yankees play the elite level of baseball they're capable of playing, they'll beat everyone. I think the Yankees win the two Sabathia starts and drop the Pavano game, while Game 3 probably has everyone on the edges of their seats before ending in a walk-off, and so the prediction here is Yankees over Twins in four games.