Yankees vs. Twins
HOW THEY GOT HERE: The AL East race went to the final day of the season with the Yankees finishing as the wild card with a 95-67 record, one game behind Tampa Bay. The Twins were 94-68, winning the Central Division by six games over the White Sox.
MANAGERS: Joe Girardi has a record of 287-199 (.591) in three seasons with the Yankees, leading the team to its 27th World Series championship last season. In nine seasons with the Twins, Ron Gardenhire is 803-656 (.550), winning six division titles. But only his 2002 team advanced beyond the Division Series, losing to the Angels in the ALCS.
REGULAR-SEASON SERIES: The Yankees and Twins played six games, this season, with the Yankees winning four times. The Twins won only one of the three games at Target Field.
Keys to the series
1. NEUTRALIZE THE LEFT. The Twins will likely start four lefty hitters (Jason Kubel, Joe Mauer, Denard Span and Jim Thome) even when the Yankees start lefties CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte. The Yankees must capitalize, and also with relievers Boone Logan and (possibly) Royce Ring.
2. CAPITALIZE ON MISTAKES. Remember the Twins’ awful baserunning in last year’s ALDS? The Yankees, particularly Derek Jeter, pounced. More of that.
3. AGGRESSIVE AT-BATS. The Twins pitchers throw hittable strikes, so there might not be as much merit to working the counts as the Yankees normally do. An extra-base hit trumps a walk.
About the Yankees
BIG PICTURE: The Yankees completed the season on a 9-17 slide. Their fan base is on edge, and at times, their manager Joe Girardi seems the same, as they attempt to become baseball’s first repeat World Series champs since the 1998-2000 Yankees. Starting pitching is undoubtedly the key.
STRENGTHS: With Alex Rodriguez leading the way, the Yankees’ lineup looks ready to do some damage. The bullpen appears sufficiently healthy and rested, and Joe Girardi has a good feel for when and how much to use his core of relievers to set up for Mariano Rivera’s closing act.
WEAKNESSES: The rotation after Game 1 starter CC Sabathia. Will Andy Pettitte, less than a month off the disabled list, command his pitches? Can Phil Hughes use his changeup to put away the Twins’ lefties? Can the Yankees actually trust the human train wreck that is A.J. Burnett?
INTANGIBLES: October is the Yankees’ Hamptons home. They’re not there often, but they’re always thinking about it, and they love it there. They rarely slip up here. And don’t forget also that the Yankees aren’t terribly saddened that they’re missing out (for now) on Texas and Cliff Lee.
About the Twins
BIG PICTURE: They expanded their payroll as they opened Target Field, and then they faced immediate adversity when All-Star closer Joe Nathan, the SUNY-Stony Brook product, went down with Tommy John surgery. Having overcome that, they want to advance to the second round for the first time since 2002.
STRENGTHS: Even with Justin Morneau (concussion) out, this club can hit. Veteran Jim Thome has filled in brilliantly, with DH Jason Kubel sliding into rightfield. The outfield defense of Delmon Young, Denard Span and Kubel covers ground sufficiently at spacious Target Field — where the Twins have a 53-28 record.
WEAKNESSES: They just really don’t have much of a pitching staff, especially going against the Yankees’ fearsome lineup. Ace Francisco Liriano can miss some bats, but if he can’t top CC Sabathia, then his re-enforcements (Carl Pavano and Brian Duensing) are lacking. And without Nathan, the Twins’ bullpen is diminished, too.
INTANGIBLES: The Yankees grew to feel very comfortable at the Metrodome, but they barely know this new place. Could the Twins capitalize? They’re motivated to follow the 2009 Yankees’ footsteps and open their ballpark with a title. But like the Yankees, Minnesota had a rough wrap-up, finishing the season on a 2-8 run.