Saturday, October 9, 2010

ALDS Game 3 Preview: Empire State Of Mind

Pitching Matchup: Hughes (18-8) vs. Duensing (10-3)

Starting Lineups:

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

Min: Span- CF, Hudson- 2B, Mauer- C, Kubel- RF, Young- LF, Thome- DH, Cuddyer- 1B, Valencia- 3B, Hardy- SS

3 Things To Watch For:

1) Hughes' Fastball Command

He might throw it too often sometimes instead of trusting his secondary pitches, but there's no denying that Phil Hughes' fastball is his most important pitch.  Where he throws it early on and whether or not he's hitting his spots with it will be a good indicator of just how geeked up he is in his first postseason start.  If he can stay calm and collected (which I think he can) and throw the fastball for strikes early, it will allow him to setup the rest of his pitches and work the Minnesota hitters.  If he can't find the command on the fastball and falls behind in too many counts, it makes the curve and the changeup (which will be a huge weapon against Minnesota's lefty hitters) less likely to be used and therefore less effective.  As always, it will be important for Hughes to mix up his pitches and pitch patterns, but everything has to work off of the fastball.

2) The Twins' Lefties

Through the first 2 games the Twins big 4 lefties (Span, Mauer, Thome, Kubel) are a combined 4-21 (.190) against the Yankee left-handed pitching, most of that against CC and Andy, .174 if you factor in the 2 left-handed at-bats by Orlando Hudson that ended in outs.  Well CC and Andy aren't throwing tonight and these guys will finally get to face a righty starter so how will they approach him and how successful will they be?  Those 4 are a combined 4-12 lifetime against Hughes with 4 walks, although they also have 0 XBH and 0 RBIs in those at-bats.  But those at-bats don't include anything from this season as the Twins did not face Hughes at all, and he is a different and better pitcher than what they have seen in the past.  For the sake of comparison, Hughes had a .235/.311/.417 tripleslash against this year facing left-handed hitters in 345 at-bats.  For the Twins to have any chance to win tonight, their big 4 have to wake up and do something against Hughes.

3) The Stadium

Normally I don't like to play up the intangibles and "homefield advantage" aspect of a game.  I mean, we can all see how far playing at home got Minnesota in the first 2 games.  But Yankee Stadium is a little different, especially in the postseason.  For some of these Twins it will be their first time playing in Yankee Stadium in the playoffs, and with their backs against the wall tonight, how they can handle that situation is worth noting.  How will Brian Duensing handle the pressure of 46,000+ fans screaming at him if he puts a few runners on base?  How will Danny Valencia handle that pressure if he hits with 2 on and 2 out late in the game?  Can the Twins' bullpen shake the memories of last October's failures in The Stadium?  Also, never count the Yankees out of a close game when they've got last ups at home.

Player To Watch: Phil Hughes

I hate to take the obvious choice here, but Hughes is the key tonight.  I have all the faith in the world that the Yankees will get hits and score runs off Duensing and his sore shoulder.  How effective Hughes is at holding leads given to him and not allowing the Twins to creep back into the game will decide who wins.  All the pressure if off of him after the Yankees won the first 2, so it's not like he has to go out and throw 7 or 8 shutout innings.  5-6 of 3-run ball should be more than enough to get the job done, especially with the stacked and rested bullpen behind him.  If Hughes can go out, throw strikes, not fall in love with the fastball late in count, and put hitters away, it should be a good night for him and the Yankees.

Take note of how many changeups Hughes throws tonight.  It was something he worked on in Spring Training and then we only saw it sparingly in the regular season.  It can be devestating against lefties and Hughes can't be afraid to throw it.

It's Game 3.  It's a chance for the Yankees to sweep and advance to the ALCS for the second year in a row.  And it's happening back in New York, the city of champions and the concrete jungle where dreams are made of.  It's incredibly cliche, but I don't give a shit.  Hit me with some Hova...