Last night’s thrilling four and a half hour game capped a magical run for the Twins to clinch the AL Central title. In so doing they earned the right to fly to New York and play the Yankees less than 24 hours after finishing off the Tigers and burning through seven relief pitchers and their best starter.
As Dave touched on earlier since the Yankees had the best record they could choose to force the Twins to play the longer series that starts today. The Twins have been playing meaningful games up to just hours ago, so they had no chance to set their rotation up going into the playoffs. Scott Baker, obviously, cannot go, Carl Pavano pitched Sunday, Nick Blackburn pitched Saturday and would be going on three days rest, so the Game One start–opposite CC Sabathia, the first playoff game in the HR-haven New Yankee Stadium, facing a lineup with eights hitters who have wOBAs above 0.370–falls to Brian Duensing.
Duensing is 26 and got his first taste of the bigs in mid-August and has been in the rotation ever since. He had underwhelming strikeout numbers in the minors and his success so far in the majors seems to be dependent on a LOB% much higher than in any stop in the minors. Against CC Sabathia this is a serious mismatch.
After that the Twins will go Blackburn in game two, Pavano in game three, Baker in game four and back to Blackburn in game five if necessary. Unfortunately this means they might not get to their best pitcher, Baker, at all and Blackburn rather than Pavano or Baker gets two starts. All three of these guys limit walks really well, so they will make an OBP-heavy Yankee’s team do some hitting (not that the they have any problem in that department). Pavano turned out to be a major pickup for the unusually pitching-starved Twins and it will be interesting to watch him pitch to his old friends, some of whom have less than stellar memories of his time with them.
With Justin Morneau the Twins had a solidly above average offense. And even without him they have five great to above average hitters: Joe Mauer, Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kubel, Denard Span and Jose Morales. Thought Kubel has trouble with lefties, who they will face in two of three, three of four or three of five games. The main problem for the Twins is the huge drop off after those five guys. The other four spots in the lineup feature guys with wOBAs ranging from 0.318 to 0.278, too many easy outs.
People say that baseball playoff series are crapshoots and five games is a small sample, but I think the crapshootness is overstated. This series features the best team in MLB by a significant margin versus a good, but far from great, team. You have to think the Yankees will be favored in every game, even Pavano versus Andy Pettitte and Baker versus Sabathia in games three and four at the Metrodome. Still all of the intangibles-momentumy kind of stuff points in the Twins direction, if you believe in that kind of stuff.