Wednesday, October 6, 2010

ALDS Game 1 Preview: Aces High

Pitching Matchup: Sabathia (21-7) vs. Liriano (14-10)

Starting Lineups:

NY: Jeter- SS, Swish- RF, Teix- 1B, A-Rod- 3B, Cano- 2B, Thames- DH, Posada- C, G-Grand- CF, Gardner- RF 

Min: Denard Span- CF, Orlando Hudson- 2B, Joe Mauer- C, Delmon Young- LF, Jim Thome- DH, Michael Cuddyer- 1B, Jason Kubel- RF, Danny Valencia- 3B, J.J. Hardy- SS

3 Things to Watch For:

1) Liriano's Pitch Count

Liriano is the best pitcher on the Twins staff, no doubt about it.  But he's not the workhorse CC is.  He averaged fewer than 100 pitches per start, and down the stretch he threw 100 or more  pitches in only 2 of his final 6 starts and 80 or fewer pitches in 2 of them as well.  Per this fantastically-done scouting report by Stephen R. at TYU, Liriano is also very methodical when it comes to his pitch selection and what he throws based on what the count is.  If the Yankees are patient and can lay off early sliders out of the zone, they can not only get themselves into favorable hitters' counts where they can look for fastballs, but they can also drive up Liriano's pitch count.  Having not thrown into the 110-120 range since his last outing against the Yankees in May, Ron Gardenhire would be more likely to go to his 'pen if Liriano gets up around 90-100 pitches in the 5th or 6th inning rather than risk letting a tiring pitcher get shelled. 

2) Twins' Aggressiveness on the Basepaths

The Red Sox brought what was already a glaring defensive weakness of the Yankees even more to the forefront with their 4-stolen base extravaganza off of Mo and Jorge Posada.  It will be interesting to see how the Twins try to attack Posada if they get their speed guys on.  With extra days off to rest him and no A.J. in the rotation, there is no need for Cervelli to be starting behind the plate, especially since he isn't much better at throwing baserunners out than Jorge, but if the Twins are aggressive and turn the basepaths into a merry-go-round, it could force Joe to change his strategy and his lineup moving forward. 

3) The Bullpen Matchup Game

In a perfect world we would get to see 8 innings of CC and 1 inning of Mo tonight and we could all go to bed happy.  But with the plan to bring CC back for Game 4 on short rest, I can't imagine Joe letting him out there for 120 pitches tonight, so chances are it will come down to a battle of the bullpens in the late innings.  Joe and Ron Gardenhire love to mix and match and play the situations, and Joe was certainly the winner of that chess match in last year's division series, so who can push the right buttons and make the right calls this year?  Who the 2 skippers go to tonight, when they choose to use a particular pitcher, and who they choose to use him against will be a big predictor of what the pecking order is in both 'pens and what we can expect to see in the later innings for the rest of the series.

Player to Watch: Derek Jeter

It's been tough watching Jeter's decline this season, even more so when you consider just how long he has been so great and how spoiled we've all been watching that greatness.  But facts are facts, and Jeter has finally started to decline and play like the 37-year-old he is.

That being said, Jeter did experience a bit of a renaissance at the end of the regular season after swallowing his pride and working with Kevin Long.  Over his final 20 games he hit .342 (27 for 79) with 15 runs scored, 7 RBIs, and 12 BB.  He was more patient at the plate and his swing was much more balanced, not the reaching hacks that led to the countless groundouts to short we've seen this year.

What Jeter does at the plate tonight could shine some light on the Yankees' gameplan against Liriano.  Will he be patient and wait for a fastball in a hitter's count or will he jump on those first few sliders if they're close?  If Jeter can take some pitches and show the rest of the lineup how Liriano is going to work, it will go a long way in setting the Yankees up for success the 2nd and 3rd time in the lineup.  And if he can get on base, he could help the guys behind him get a few more pitches to hit as the Twins might not want to risk leaning on Liriano's slider for risk of it being thrown for a wild pitch.

It's the two aces on the hill tonight to kick things off as it should be.  In keeping up with a great tradition started by the boys at the currently dormant Fack Youk, AB4AR will have a little musical accompaniment for tonight's matchup and every game from here on out this postseason.  With the previously mentioned aces involved tonight, you know it has to be Motorhead.

ALDS Preview: The Prediction

We've broken down both teams rosters, we've pointed out the major keys to the series, now all that's left is to put some money down and make a prediction.

I know everyone's down on the Yankees this year.  I know everybody in the mainstream media thinks their pitching is nothing but CC and that Mo is done and this is the year that the Twins finally get over the hump.  I know everybody thinks Jeter is washed up and Jorge is too old and Teix is too hurt and Cano has never gotten it done in the postseason.  I know all that and I still just don't see Minnesota beating the Yanks in this series, even with the homefield advantage.

The Yankee lineup is far deeper and more dangerous that Minnesota's and much better equipped to handle left-handed pitching.  The Yankee rotation, despite being short, still has the potential to be more of a shutdown rotation than Minnesota's due to their combined stuff, experience, and their ability to miss bats.  And even though the bullpens both look stacked on paper, Minnesota might be without Jon Rauch because of his knee injury, and their relievers, like their starters, pitch to a lot of contact, something that gets teams in trouble against the Yankee lineup.

Anyway you try to cut it, the Yankees are just a little bit better than the Twins in every category and that's what will propel them past the Twins once again.  I see a split in the first 2 games in Minnesota and then the Yanks wrapping it up at home with 2 straight wins.

Prediction:  Yankees in 4.

** Check back later this afternoon for AB4AR's new Game-by-Game Playoff Preview Format **