Monday, October 4, 2010

The Horse Wins AL Player Of The Month For September

I guess that's what a .309/.385/.667 tripleslash with 9 homers and a league high 26 RBIs while also playing flawless defense at the hot corner gets you these days.

I'd like to say I'm surprised at this after how much time A-Rod missed with his injury, but then I remembered that this is his time of year.  When the money is on the table, The Horse can get it done like nobody's business and he was just warming himself up to run roughshod over every pitcher this postseason like he did last year.  So it all makes sense really, and I really don't need to get excited about him winning Player of The Month or anything like that.

I'm saving my excitement for the World Series MVP Award that someone's going to be handing him in about a month.

ALDS Breakdown In A Nutshell: Benches & Bullpens

Yankee Bench:

Plenty of solid options for the Yankees off the bench, both as situational or late-game substitutions or guys who can step into the starting lineup and produce.  Cervelli has caught the majority of the innings this year thanks to Posada's injuries.  He's never going to hit a lot or hit for power, but he works the count, puts the ball in play, and hits well in the clutch.  He's also been swinging a hotter bat of late after a dreadful summer.  Marcus Thames is the righty DH option who should see plenty of ABs against Liriano and Duensing.  With the way he mashed this season, the argument can be made that he was Cash's best off-season move.  Austin Kearns has some power and can play an adequate outfield, but he shouldn't get too much run in the playoffs unless one of the regulars gets hurt.  The utility infield spot is "6 one, half dozen the other" with Ramiro Pena and Eduardo Nunez, and I still think Pena gets the nod because of he's defense and experience.  Greg Golson will be the late-game baserunning threat for Joe in close games and could spell Swish in RF if the knee is still bothering him.

Twins Bench:

Not a lot to speak about here on paper, with the Nick Puntos, Drew Buteras, and Jason Repkos of the world likely making the roster.  Basically the Twins bench is a collection of guys who can fill in for 100-200 ABs a year as needed, but there's a reason they are on the bench.  J.J. Hardy and Alexi Casilla are basically interchangeable on the left side of the infield.  Matt Tolbert could be used as the Twins' version of a late-game pace changer on the basepaths, but overall the Twins bench is not nearly as deep or dangerous as that of the Yankees, especially considering one of those roster spots would have belonged to Justin Morneau.  Most of these guys can speak more about their defensive value than prowess at the plate, but in the playoffs even a guy like Jason Repko can become a hero. 

Yankee Bullpen:

Stacked to the brim with quality setup guys: Kerry Wood, D-Rob, Boone Logan, and Joba, all of whom Joe has mixed and matched with over the last 4-6 weeks to build the bridge to Mo.  Wood has emerged as the primary 8th-inning option and my bet is Joe uses him for that role because of his experience.  D-Rob will probably be the first candidate to be the fireman in the 5th, 6th, or 7th inning should a starter get in trouble, and Logan will be used almost exclusively as the lefty specialist.  Mo has had his problems lately, but after working with Dave Eiland he seems to have his issues figured out, which is good timing for the Yanks.  The smart money would be on Sergio Mitre and Ivan Nova being brought on as the long men, but don't rule out Chad Gaudin, who Joe used a lot down the stretch.

Twins Bullpen:

Like the Yankees, the Twins are stacked with quality setup men: Jon Rauch, Matt Guerrier, Jesse Crain, and Brian Fuentes.  Unlike the Yankees, however, the Twins' 'pen was a major contributor to their downfall last year in the ALDS.  Joe Nathan won't be here to choke away any saves this time around, and Matt Capps has been solid since the Twins acquired him at the deadline, but he's never had to face the heart of the Yankee order in the bottom of the 9th in front of a packed house full of crazed Yankee fans at The Stadium before.  Joe Nathan buckled under that pressure last year, who knows if Capps has the hair on his peaches to not repeat that meltdown.  Hopefully the Twins are gracious enough to include lefty Jose Mijares again this year.  Knowing he's in the bullpen in extra innings if the Yanks need to score a run is a good feeling.

ALDS Breakdown In A Nutshell: The Rotations


Right now we know that CC is getting the ball in Game 1 on Wednesday, but not much after that.  Andy Pettitte and Phil Hughes will definitely get the next 2 starts, with Joe more likely to use Andy in Game 2 and Phil in Game 3 to set up Andy and his big game experience for a Game 5 start on the road if necessary.  The big question mark is A.J. Burnett, who looms over this 3-man rotation like a pigeon over a just-washed car.  He has done nothing to earn a start in this series, and given the scheduled off-days he should not get one, but Joe has yet to come out and say one way or another what A.J.'s role is going to be.  In all likelihood the Yankees will go with the 3-man rotation, the setup that gives them the best chance to win, and go CC, Andy, Phil, CC (short rest), Andy (regular rest) if the series goes 5 games.  Andy has already beaten the Twins twice this season, putting up 14.1 innings of 10-hit, 3-walk, 2-run, 6-K ball.  While neither Hughes nor CC faced Minnesota this season, CC has a track record of success against them throughout his career to go with his track record of success in big games as a Yankee, and Phil's limited exposure against the Twins could work to his advantage in his start, as he saw success early in the year against teams who had not seen him.


Minnesota has already announced that they will use a 4-man rotation of Francisco Liriano, Carl Pavano, Brian Duensing, and Nick Blackburn, giving them a lefty-righty-lefty-righty split and setting them up for Liriano getting the Game 5 start if necessary.  Liriano has traditionally been a Yankee whipping boy, and did give up 17 hits in just 13 IP in his 2 starts against them this season, but he also only allowed 5 runs in those 2 starts and had an impressive 7/1 K/BB ratio.  Pavano was arguably the ace of the Twins' staff this year, with 7 complete games, and the decision to start him in Game 2 is smart by Ron Gardenhire as it will help him avoid the unrelenting verbal abuse (and possibly a D-battery or 2) that would have been hurled Pavano's way at The Stadium.  Duensing has seen the Yankees 3 times this year, giving up 2 hits, 2 runs, 2 walks, and 2 Ks over 4 combined innings out of the bullpen.  He has been solid since entering the rotation, but his last few starts were not as strong.  Blackburn, while his numbers don't suggest he should have a start over Scott Baker, has beaten the Yankees twice this season, going 7+ innings in each start and never allowing more than 3 ER in either outing.  This matchup play is a roll of the dice by Gardenhire, but one that could work out for him if the series makes it to Game 4.  At the very least, the Twins won't have to worry about anybody's fatigue factor thanks to the extra man.

ALDS Breakdown In A Nutshell: The Lineups


Simple put, the Yankees have the deepest and best lineup in baseball.  Their balance of righties, lefties, and switch hitters makes them very difficult to match up with.  They have 3 guys with 100+ runs scored (Teix, Jeter, Cano), 3 guys with 100+ RBIs (A-Rod, Cano, Teix), they were just 2 HR short of having 4 guys with 30+ (Teix, A-Rod, Cano, Swish), and their starting lineup for the series will feature nobody with an OPS below .700 and 5 regulars with an OPS above .800.  On top of that is the fact that the lineup is finally back to full strength after having people spend significant portions of time in August on the DL.  Now Fat Elvis, Jorge, and The Horse are healthy, and the Yanks' lineup will have one of their hottest hitters (C-Grand) in the 8-spot.  Jeter seems to have gotten his shit together at the top of the lineup as well and Brett Gardner is leadoff hitter hitting in the 9-hole, so in theory the Yanks are coming in loaded with a lineup that has no holes.


With Justin Morneau, this is also one of the deepest lineups in baseball.  Luckily, he and his 1.017 OPS versus the Yankees won't be in the lineup, but even without him the Twins are nothing to sneeze at.  Denard Span and Orlando Hudson are scrappy professional hitters at the top who can cause havoc on the bases with their speed.  Joe Mauer is one of the best hitters in the game, Delmon Young finally stepped up to the next level this year with 112 RBIs in Morneau's absence, and Jim Thome can still mash the fuck out of any bad pitch you make.  The bottom of the Twins lineup isn't as dangerous on paper as that of the Bombers, but Jason Kubel and rookie Danny Valencia can still make you pay.  The Twins don't get on base as much as the Yankees but were still 2nd in the AL in team OBP (.342).  With an abundance of lefties in the lineup, the Twins can be succeptible to left-handed pitching, something the Yankees have plenty of, but anyway you look at it, this is one of the 5 best offensive teams in the AL.