October 6, 2010

Twins Notes: Before the storm

I'll be in attendance at Target Field tonight--in the stands with a Twins hat and a beer rather than in the press box with a laptop--so while anxiously counting down the seconds until 7:37 p.m. here are some notes before Game 1 of the ALDS ...

A.J. Burnett is in the second season of a five-year, $82.5 million contract, but he's been so bad while going 1-7 with a 6.61 ERA in 12 starts since August 1 that the Yankees have decided to bump him from the playoff rotation. Instead of using Burnett in Game 4 at Yankee Stadium they'll bring back CC Sabathia to start on short rest, followed by Andy Pettitte on full rest in Game 5. Here are the new game-by-game matchups:

Game 1: CC Sabathia (238 IP, 3.78 xFIP) vs. Francisco Liriano (192 IP, 3.06 xFIP)

Game 2: Andy Pettitte (129 IP, 4.05 xFIP) vs. Carl Pavano (221 IP, 4.01 xFIP)

Game 3: Phil Hughes (176 IP, 4.33 xFIP) vs. Brian Duensing (131 IP, 4.11 xFIP)

Game 4: CC Sabathia (238 IP, 3.78 xFIP) vs. Nick Blackburn (161 IP, 4.68 xFIP)

Game 5: Andy Pettitte (129 IP, 4.05 xFIP) vs. Francisco Liriano (192 IP, 3.06 xFIP)

Sabathia was scheduled for two starts either way, so the rotation shift mostly just alters his matchups, but by giving Pettitte a second start in place of Burnett the Yankees dramatically increase his role in the series. Pettitte is MLB's all-time leader in playoff wins and innings, but he's also 38 years old and has allowed 11 runs on 22 hits in 13.1 innings since spending two months on the disabled list with a groin injury.

So far New York and Philadelphia are the only playoff teams committed to using a three-man rotation in the first round, although thanks to an extra off day in the NLDS schedule the Phillies can do so without starting anyone on short rest. Since the current playoff format was adopted in 1995, pitchers starting games on short rest are 21-31 with a 4.65 ERA. Sabathia has made just six career short-rest starts, but he's 4-1 with a 1.52 ERA.

• Burnett getting bumped from the Yankees' rotation means the Twins will face a left-handed starter in four of five games, which is a definite advantage for New York. In the regular season the Twins had a .776 OPS versus right-handers compared to a .736 OPS versus left-handers, in large part because Jim Thome and Jason Kubel both struggle against lefties and the Twins don't have a good right-handed bat to sub for them.

Sabathia and Pettitte starting four times lessens Thome's likely impact, because for as great as he's been this season his OPS is 400 points lower versus lefties than righties. Thome just isn't JIM THOME against southpaws, and that's been true for his entire career. Delmon Young, Michael Cuddyer, and Danny Valencia need to step up as the lineup's top right-handed bats with Thome, Kubel, and Joe Mauer all at a big disadvantage in four of five games.

• On the other hand, the Yankees' lack of southpaw relievers plays into the Twins' strengths in the late innings. New York's bullpen has the potential to be extremely good, but Boone Logan is the lone left-handed option. He's held lefties to a .190 batting average and .501 OPS this season, but also has a 5.10 career ERA. Even if Joe Girardi trusts him in key spots the Twins' lefty heavy lineup will eventually get opportunities to face righties late in games.

• As expected, the Twins are going with 14 position players and 11 pitchers on the first-round roster. They don't have to submit an official list until this afternoon, but Scott Baker reportedly will be the odd man out in favor of Kevin Slowey unless Jon Rauch is deemed unavailable due to his knee injury and they both make the cut.

Matt Tolbert, Jose Morales, and Ben Revere were the candidates to fill the final bench spot and Tolbert is expected to get the nod. I think that's a mistake, because he's redundant with Nick Punto and Alexi Casilla on the roster and Revere offers far more playoff uses as a pinch-runner and defensive replacement for Young in left field. With that said, because the Twins are unlikely to pinch-hit for anyone in the lineup the bench's impact figures to be minimal.

• Last week Justin Morneau expressed a bit of optimism about potentially being available for the ALCS or World Series, but after some of his post-concussion symptoms returned following vigorous workouts the Twins have officially shut him down until 2011.

Francisco Liriano was named the Comeback Player of the Year for the American League, as voted by MLB.com's beat writers. Tim Hudson won the NL version over R.A. Dickey.

• Twins fans will be happy to see that Phil Cuzzi is not umpiring the ALDS and in fact is absent from MLB's first-round assignments along with Joe West and Bob Davidson. Jerry Crawford, Hunter Wendelstedt, Greg Gibson, Brian O'Nora, Gary Darling, and Chris Guccione are the crew for the Twins-Yankees series. Ron Gardenhire has a history of run-ins with Wendelstedt.

• I received a lot of e-mails, comments, and tweets from Twins fans upset about the New York Daily News' front page Monday, but the whole thing seems pretty silly to me. Don't confuse the people who write headlines for newspapers with the people who play for the Yankees.

• Released by the Indians in July after hitting .206 in 22 games, Mike Redmond announced his retirement. He's long been touted as a potential future manager and surely has a job waiting for him with the Twins if he wants it.

Terry Ryan is said to be on the Mets' initial list of targets to replace general manager Omar Minaya, although given his stated reasons for stepping down as the Twins' general manager in September of 2007 it seems unlikely that Ryan would want the same gig in New York.

• My primary regret about choosing to attend Game 1 sans press pass? Not getting a copy of the Twins' postseason media guide and its awesome cover photo.

• I'll have some Game 1 thoughts posted here by tomorrow morning, but if you're interested in reading my real-time babbling live from the Target Field stands tonight follow me on Twitter.

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