Break out the brooms, the Swiffer Wet Jets, the dust pans, the mops…whatever cleaning device you prefer. Tonight, the Yankees beat the Minnesota Twins by a score of 6-1, completing a three-game sweep in the American League Division Series.
The Yanks will now vie for the A.L. pennant against either The Texas Rangers or Tampa Bay Rays.
The story of the night offensively was the work of Marcus Thames and Nick Swisher. Already up 2-0 in the bottom of the fourth, Thames blasted an opposite-field home run, a shot that landed in the right field stands. It marked Thames’s first career postseason home run and it put the Yanks up 4-0.
Swisher followed suit in the bottom of the seventh with a solo home run, his second career postseason round-tripper, striking the proverbial nail in the Twins’ coffin.
Jorge Posada started the Yankee scoring in the bottom of the second with an RBI single, knocking in Robinson Cano. Mark Teixeira followed with an RBI single of his own in the bottom of the third to score Swisher, giving the Yankees their early 2-0 lead.
After Thames’s home run in the fourth, Curtis Granderson scored on a sacrifice fly by Brett Gardner, after stealing second and reaching third on an error by catcher Joe Mauer.
Phil Hughes made his first postseason start for the Yankees and he looked as sharp as a brilliantly crafted katana. Hughes tossed seven strong innings of work and gave up no runs on four hits. The 24 year-old right-hander only issued one walk and struck out six batters on his way to a win.
The only blemish on the Yankee pitching was an RBI single off the bat of Orlando Hudson, which plated Danny Valencia in the top of the eighth off reliever Kerry Wood. With one out and the bases loaded, Yankee skipper Joe Girardi summoned Boone Logan and David Robertson to record the last two outs.
Logan and Robertson delivered, escaping the frame without another run allowed.
Mariano Rivera closed it down in a non-save situation, tossing a perfect ninth inning to secure an ALDS victory.
It should comes as no surprise to me that the Yankees won this series. I’ll admit, I was somewhat skeptical coming into this year’s ALDS, simply because of what the Twins had going for them.
I stated in the preview that they had a tremendous record at home (53-28 at home, which I believe was the best in the A.L.). With home field advantage, I never would have guessed that the Yankees could take two from the Twins at Target Field.
In addition to home field advantage, I thought the Twins may have been able to handle Andy Pettitte, being that he had not won a game since July 8. However, Pettitte came up huge in Game Two and was arguably more effective than CC Sabathia in Game One.
I also made mention of Alexi Casilla, Denard Span, and Michael Cuddyer, all of whom I imagined would come up with timely hits in big spots.
Not even close.
Aside from Cuddyer’s Game One, two-run homer, they were ghosts.
I just do not have an answer. The Twins must be perplexed and probably frustrated. I guess they just weren’t meant to beat the Yankees. It’s not as though they have a bad team, either; I think that’s why manager Ron Gardenhire is so confused.
This season, Minnesota was able to beat out a competitive Chicago White Sox team and a fairly resilient team in the Detroit Tigers (at least up until late July-early August). They captured the A.L. Central for the second consecutive year and just could not maintain their bearings when the calendar reached October.
I thought that maybe the Twins could quell their postseason demons, meaning the Yankees. In my head I drew a comparison between the Twins this year and the Yankees last year. The Bombers just could not beat the Angels in the past, as they had been eliminated by them twice (2002, ’05).
Could the Twins, with a number of things finally working in their favor, beat the Yankees in the playoffs, the way the Yankees finally beat the Angels in the playoffs last year? Could the Twins, who just opened their new Stadium, win it all in their first season in their new Stadium the way the Yanks had last year?
No. It could not be done. The Twins fell victim to the almighty Yankees for the fourth time.
A clean sweep.
Inside the Series
· The Twins were .111 in the ALDS with runners in scoring position. The Yankees hit .360 with men on second and third.
· Curtis Granderson hit .455 in the ALDS, his first postseason series in pinstripes.
· The Twins have now lost 12 consecutive postseason games. Nine of those 12 losses have come at the hands of the Bronx Bombers.
· With his RBI single in the second inning tonight, Jorge Posada passed Mickey Mantle for ninth place on the postseason RBIs list.
· Capturing the win in Game Two, Andy Pettitte now has 19 career postseason wins. No other pitcher in baseball history has as many.
· Before Game Two of the ALDS, Twins’ manager Ron Gardenhire burned his uniform from Game One. Well. That didn’t work.
· Heading into Game Two, lefties were hitting .292 off Carl Pavano. Lance Berkman hit a home run and a double off Pavano…from the left side of the plate.
· Mariano Rivera now has 41 postseason saves and 600 all-time in his career (including the playoffs). Brad Lidge is second on baseball’s all-time postseason saves list with 16.
· Rivera now also owns an all-time postseason ERA of 0.72.
· The Yankees outscored the Twins 17-7 in the ALDS.
· Phil Hughes picked up his first postseason win as a starter. He previously won a playoff game against the Cleveland Indians in 2007, coming on in relief of an injured Roger Clemens.
· All-Star catcher and 2009 A.L. MVP Joe Mauer registered no RBIs in the ALDS.
· Mark Teixeira led the Yankees in RBIs with five for the ALDS. Granderson knocked in four runs and Posada drove in three.
· The Yankees became the seventh MLB franchise to win a World Series and then open the next postseason series with a sweep. The last time the Yankees accomplished the feat was 1998-1999, when they beat the Texas Rangers in the ALDS.
Once again, the ALCS will start on Friday Oct. 15 in either Tampa Bay or Texas, pending the outcome of the Rays vs. Rangers series. According to reports, Girardi will meet with his coaching staff to discuss the pitching rotation for the ALCS, needing to decide whether or not to utilize a three or four man rotation.
It all depends on A.J. Burnett’s focus and confidence level.
But that’s another story for later on in the week. Right now, the Yankees can rest knowing they will once again compete for a chance at their 40th American League pennant; they have another chance to once again represent the A.L. in the World Series.
Rays? Rangers? We’ll soon find out. As for tonight…
I cannot say anything to the Twins. Residents of St. Paul and Minneapolis are probably shaking their heads right now, wondering what they need to do to beat the Yankees; what can they do to finally get over the postseason hump.
And maybe, just maybe…Twins fans are wondering if there’s even an answer.
I certainly do not have one.
They say retaining is tougher than obtaining.
Last year, the New York Yankees obtained their 27th World Series Championship. Here we are, almost a year after they won number 27, and the Bronx Bombers are looking to repeat as World Champs.
And much like last year, the Yanks will begin their quest to the title against the Minnesota Twins in the American League Division Series. Tomorrow night 21-game winner CC Sabathia will take the hill, opposed by 14-game winner and the 2010 American League Comeback Player of the Year, Francisco Liriano.
Game One could very well be a legitimate pitcher’s duel.
The same could be said about Game Two, which will feature postseason ace Andy Pettitte facing former Yankee and 17-game winner Carl Pavano. Game Three will take the series back to Yankee Stadium where Phil Hughes (18-8, 4.19 ERA) will square off against Brian Duensing (10-3, 2.62 ERA).
It seems to me that there are many things working in the Yankees’ favor in this series, but just as many things working against them. Everything is up in the October air right now, and it is the Yanks’ series to win…or lose.
In the Yankees’ Favor
· History vs. Twins
This one almost goes without saying.
The Yankees have eliminated Minnesota three times in the first round of the playoffs (2003, ’04, and ’09). In ’03 and ’04 the Yankees won three games to one. Last year it was a clean sweep, as the Yankees took care of the Twins in three.
· The Yankees vs. Liriano
Brett Gardner, Marcus Thames, Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, and Nick Swisher all have stellar career numbers against the Twins’ Game One starter. Combined, they own a .435 batting average against Liriano, coupled with four home runs and seven RBIs.
Winning the first game of the series is always important and can genuinely set the tone of a playoff series. While it looks to be a pitcher’s duel, the good numbers are probably in the back of Yankee manager Joe Girardi’s head–something he will most likely consider when putting together the lineup card.
· The Twins Aren’t Clutch?
Since the Twins took Game One of the 2004 ALDS from the Yankees, they have lost nine consecutive postseason games. In those nine games, they have been outscored 52-28 by the opposition.
When the calendar turns to October, the Twins’ offense seems to be switched off.
· No Morneau
Before Justin Morneau was injured with a concussion on July 7, he was in the discussion for the A.L. Most Valuable Player Award. In the 81 games he played this season, he hit .345 with 18 homer runs and 56 RBIs. In fact, he led the Twins with Wins Above Replacement (WAR) at 5.6.
Morneau has been ruled out for the entire postseason. The absence of a rather dangerous hitter in the Twins’ lineup might somewhat ease the pressure on the New York pitchers.
· Ron Gardenhire’s Attitude
In the press conference after team workouts today, the Twins’ skipper referred to this series as a classic “David vs. Goliath” match. Ron Gardenhire sees his team as David, trying to take out the almighty Goliath-like Bronx Bombers.
He made a great analogy.
Under Gardenhire, the Twins are 18-54 in 72 games against the Yankees, and they only average 3.6 runs per game against the Bombers. The Twins are also 2-9 vs. the Yanks in October, contributing to the skipper’s underdog attitude.
· Alex Rodriguez Carryover?
Up until last year, the Yankees’ slugging third baseman was revered as a goat in the postseason. From his infamous “slap of the ball” out of Bronson Arroyo’s glove in 2004 to his deer-in-the-headlights strikeout with the bases loaded against Joel Zumaya in 2006, Alex Rodriguez struggled when it came to the playoffs.
But all that changed last October.
Rodriguez erased his troubled postseason past with a .378 batting average in last year’s playoffs, along with hitting six homers and knocking in 18 runs. In last year’s ALDS vs. the Twins, Rodriguez hit .455 and slugged 1.000.
He went from “Alexander the Goat” to “Alexander the Great.”
And Rodriguez has really turned it on this past month. In September, he hit .309 with nine homers, 26 RBIs, and maintained a .667 slugging percentage.
The Yankees certainly have plenty of things working for them. However, there are certainly a number of factors working against them as the playoffs begin…
Working Against The Yankees
· Home Field Disadvantage
I know many people say “home field advantage means nothing.” The fact is that home field advantage can mean something, especially because the Yankees do not have it at all this postseason.
Joe Torre said it best: “It’s hard to win extra-inning games on the road.”
He couldn’t be more correct. The Yankees lost five one-run games on the road in the month of September, along with dropping an extra-inning game against Boston this past weekend. In terms of the postseason…well…2004 at Fenway Park is evidence of that “hard-to-win extra-inning-games-on-the-road” mentality.
The Twins were also 53-28 this season at Target Field, which doesn’t help the Yankees’ cause.
· The REAL Andy Pettitte?
The Yankees’ Game Two starter has tremendous numbers in the playoffs. As the winningest pitcher in postseason baseball history, Andy Pettitte owns an 18-9 playoff record with an ERA of 3.90. Lifetime in the ALDS, Pettitte is 5-3 with a 3.73 ERA.
There’s no denying that Pettitte has been championship-tested. But what will we see this year?
Since coming back from his groin injury (suffered in July) Pettitte is 0-1 with a 6.75 ERA.
In his final start of 2010 on Saturday, Pettitte was roughed up by third-place Boston, getting chased from the game after four innings of work. He surrendered three earned runs and scattered nine hits, as he walked two batters and struck out eight.
Pettitte remains a little bit of a question mark right now. He hasn’t made it out of the fourth inning in each of his last two starts and has not won a game since July 8.
If the Yanks want to win it, Pettitte has to be in his regular, dominant form.
· Phil Hughes at Yankee Stadium
Although Phil Hughes has 11 wins at home this season, he is far from perfect. The Yankees’ Game Three starter has a 4.66 ERA when playing in the Bronx, opposed to a 3.47 ERA on the road.
Simply put, Hughes gives up more runs at home.
This season, Hughes has failed to keep the ball inside the Yankee Stadium Park. Of the 25 homers he surrendered, 20 of them were given up at Yankee Stadium.
Furthermore, of the 82 earned runs Hughes has allowed this year, 55 of them have been given up at home. He also issued 39 of his 58 walks at Yankee Stadium, subjecting his stats to worse numbers at home than on the road.
If you ask me, Hughes should be the Game Two starter, that way he does not have to pitch at home, where, as his numbers indicate, he tends to struggle.
· Alexi Casilla, Denard Span, and Michael Cuddyer
There are not many Twins hitters who have a great deal of success against CC Sabathia. Come to think of it, there aren’t many hitters in the entire American League who have a great deal of success against Sabathia.
However, Alexi Casilla owns a .692 batting average against Sabathia with one career RBI. Denard Span is .333 lifetime vs. Sabathia, and is a serious threat to run when he gets on base.
Michael Cuddyer only has a .222 batting average vs. Sabathia, but he has taken the Yankee ace deep once in his life for one RBI.
· Curtis Granderson vs. Left-Handed Pitching
Before the Yankees acquired him from Detroit, there was a lot of chatter about Curtis Granderson’s struggles against left-handed pitching. He finished the 2010 season with 24 homers and 67 RBIs on top of a .247 batting average.
However, against lefties this year, Granderson only hit .234.
This would not be such a problem if two of the first three Twins starters this postseason were not left-handed pitchers (Liriano and Duensing).
Granderson has a little bit of experience in the playoffs; in 2006 he made it all the way to the World Series as a member of the Tigers only to lose to the St. Louis Cardinals. Lifetime in the postseason he has a .226 average with three homers and seven RBIs.
How he performs in his first postseason as a Yankee remains to be seen, but he may need to spend some extra time in the batting cage if he continues to struggle against left-handers.
· Wild Card Losers
The Yankees were favorites to win the AL East, but it was swiped from under them on the last day of the season by the Tampa Bay Rays. The Bronx Bombers enter as the AL Wild Card winners, something that, historically, has not paid dividends.
The Yanks have never won the World Series when entering the postseason as the Wild Card.
In 1995, the Yankees won the AL Wild Card and were booted from playoff contention at the hands of the Seattle Mariners in the ALDS. In 2007, the Yanks once again captured the elusive Wild Card spot, only to fall to the Cleveland Indians in round one.
As much as the postseason history plays in the Yankees’ favor (their past vs. the Twins) it works against them (they have never won a World Series as a Wild Card team).
It’s anybody’s pennant to win. The road to 28 starts now…