Thursday, October 7, 2010

ALDS Game 2 Preview: Same Old Story

Pitching Matchup: Pettitte (11-3) vs. Pavano (17-11)

Starting Lineups:

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

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

3 Things To Watch For:

1) Andy's Command

Andy was having the great season he was before his injury because of impeccable command.  He was throwing any pitch to any location at any count and hitters didn't have much for him.  Since coming back from the injury, however, Pettitte's command has been his issue as in just 7.1 innings he has given up 19 hits and 9 earned runs.  The control has been there, evidenced by just 2 walks to 9 Ks, but control and command are 2 different things.  Control is the ability to throw a pitch in the strike zone; command is the ability to throw the pitch where you want it to go in the strike zone.  Andy's last start was a sign that the command was starting to come back to him, as he didn't walk a batter and struck out 8 in 4 innings.  If he can make the mechanical adjustments he's been talking about and get back to where he was earlier in the year, it could be a long night for the Twins.  If he struggles and still can't find the command he needs to be successful, it could be a long one for the Yankes.

2) Joe's Hook

This goes hand-in-hand with Andy's command tonight, as it will be interesting to see how much lead Joe gives Andy if he struggles.  We saw Dusty Baker remove his starter before the end of the 2nd inning yesterday when it was clear he didn't have it, so how long will Joe leave Andy out to battle and eat up innings if he's off his game?  I would imagine Joe will let Andy try to work out of any serious trouble he gets into because that's his style.  But if it gets ugly, just how ugly will depend on how quick Joe decides to take him out.

This point also has importance even if Andy is on his game.  Because his last 2 outings were short, he still isn't all the way stretched out, only throwing 75 and 88 pitches in those 2 starts.  If Andy is cruising, does Joe leave him out there for 90 pitches?  100?  What's the cap on his pitch count, if there even is one?

(**Bonus Thing to Watch For: If Andy is out early, who does Joe turn to in the 'pen out of the trio of long relievers (A.J., Mitre, Moseley)?  My money would be on Mitre.**)

3) Yanks' Approach vs. Pavano

Definitely worth watching because of Pavano's status as one of the most successful guys in baseball at pitching to contact and because of his past success against the Yankees since leaving (2.66 ERA, 0.84 WHIP and 17 Ks in 20.1 IP over 3 outings).

Pavano can certainly be touched up, evidenced by his 227 hits allowed in 221 IP to the tune of a .266 BBA.  But the other 2 numbers in that tripleslash against, the .300 OBP and .417 SLG, show where Pavano's success lies in not walking batters and limiting damage on the hits he gives up.  His line against rises to .292/.325/.453 against lefties this year in 411 ABs so expect to see Lance Berkman and his 3-9 w/ 3 XBH in the lineup tonight, but what will that lineup do?  Liriano tried to pitch against the Yankees' patience by throwing fastballs early to get ahead in the count, but Pavano doesn't have the zip on his heater than Liriano does.  The best pitches the Yankees are going to get are going to be early in the count, so do they jump on Pavano early and take their hacks?  Or take a strike or 2 and wait for him to make a mistake later in the count?  Whatever the approach ends up being, keep an eye on the Twins' outfield defense behind Pavano, where Kubel and Young on the corners are just short of being disasters

Player to Watch: Andy Pettitte

It's all about Andy tonight.  Despite the numbers he looked much better in his last start against Boston than in his first one back, and he's already beaten the Twins twice this year when they had Morneau in the lineup.  It should be pretty easy to tell how Andy's feeling and how good his command is early by what he's throwing.  If he's mixing pitches well and working both sides of the plate, chances are he's got it.  If he's missing spots, falling behind in counts, and reverting to the fastball and the cutter a lot, then most likely he still doesn't have the feel for his stuff.

Take note of the Twins' approach against him at the plate tonight.  My guess is they will be patient, test the waters to see what he has early, then attack the 2nd time through the lineup.  I also wouldn't be surprised if we see Span or Hudson try to lay down a bunt or 2 to test that groin and get Andy moving off the mound.  Because of the win last night the Yankees don't need Pettitte to be lights out tonight, just good enough.  5-6 innings of 2-3-run ball will suffice.  Anything better than that and we're probably looking at a 2-0 Yankee lead coming back to New York.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.  Once again it's the ALDS and the Yankees are up on the Twins after coming back from an early deficit and crushing the hopes and dreams of their fans in the late innings.  It's not quite the clinching game, but just like last year the Yanks have Andy Pettitte on the mound with a chance to shut down the Twins again and all but lock up the series.  It really is the same old song and dance...

Look At Those Pants!!

(Photo courtesy of my shitty cell phone camera)

I mean really!!  LOOK at those pants!!  To call them parachute pants would almost be an underestimate.  Maybe the extra drag created by those what was caused CC to mess up his mechanics in the 6th inning.

Game 1 Thoughts And Afterthoughts

(Photo Courtesy of The AP)

- Nice play by Brett Gardner in the 1stinning to get to the ball in left and hold Denard Span to a single.  That could have changed the complexion of the innings if Span makes it to 2nd with no outs.  THAT'S what Gardner was in the lineup last night against a lefty instead of Kearns.

- Even better play by Cano to end the inning in the 1st, fielding the ball behind the second base bag on the shortstop side and whipping a sidearm through against his body while moving to his right without breaking stride.  I didn't hear John Sterling's call on the radio but I'm sure it didn't do the play justice.

- On the Cuddyer home run in the 2nd, I think the Thome HBP rattled CC.  His first 2 pitches to Cuddyer after the HBP weren't even close and then behind 2-0 he had to throw one right down the middle.  Cuddyer knew it was coming and crushed it.  After that CC was able to reset and bear down, but the HBP definitely shook him.

- Jeter looked slow on the fastball in his first two at-bats last night.  He swung through one for a strikeout in the 1st and was way late in fouling the first 2 pitches off in the 3rd.  After getting down 0-2 in that at-bat, though, it was vintage Jeter as he battled back to a full count and then singled to left on a poorly-placed change.

- Liriano showed the rest of his staff the way to handle A-Rod in the 3rd, fanning him on 3 straight sliders that A-Rod looked awful on.  I wouldn't expect to see too many more fastballs for the rest of the series if I'm The Horse.

- Although he looked solid through 3 innings, Liriano was up around 60 pitches already.  I said in the preview that if the Yankees could work his pitch count they could get him out early and get to the 'pen and despite being down they were setting that up perfectly through patience on the slider and fouling off pitches.

- Just an awful passed ball by Jorge in the 3rd.  I've said it before and I'll say it again: there's no way you can convince me that Jesus Montero is going to be as bad or worse defensively than Jorge.

- Jorge's fuckups aside, CC was not sharp at all through 3 innings.  He actually seemed to get worse from the 1st to the 2nd to the 3rd.  His command was inconsistent, he was getting behind too many batters by not throwing strike 1, and when he did get ahead in the count his putaway pitches were terrible: either nowhere near the strike zone or catching too much of the plate and being put in play or wasted.

- Liriano cruised through the 4th and 5th once he really got his slider going.  He didn't have great command of it in the early innings, but found it in the 4th and 5th and with the faster pace at which he was working, it was obvious he was feeling it.

- The Teix 2B in the 6th was a huge hit for the Yanks because it not only gave them their first scoring opportunity in 3 innings, but it also broke Liriano's momentum and forced him back into the stretch.  Once he got back into that, his command seemed to abandon him.  Once he had to work hard to get out of the inning, the pitch count came back to bite him and the wheels fell off.

- Big hit by C-Grand in a great at-bat in the 6th.  He showed patience against a tiring pitcher, took 2 balls, and sat on the fastball that he absolutely crushed into right field.  No way he does that a couple months ago.  Thank you, Kevin Long!

- I hate to show no faith in CC, and I'm sure plenty of people will disagree with this statement, but that's a terrible job by Joe in the bottom of the 6th not taking CC out after the Kubel walk.  CC started to open his shoulder up and miss with the slider against Thome when he walked him, it got worse against Cuddyer before he grooved another one for a double, and he threw 4 pitches to Kubel that weren't even close.  He was done at that point.  He was clearly tired and that's why his mechanics failed him.  Rookie right-handed hitter or not, CC should have been out of the game to start resting up for Game 4.

I understand he's the ace and that's what you pay him for, but the playoffs aren't about loyalty or reputation or stature, they're about winning.  And getting a clearly tired pitcher out of a one-run game for a fresh reliever with a fastball-curveball combo that could have surely struck out Valencia was the winning move in that situation.  CC was clearly out there with nothing against Kubel and Valencia and they only reason he managed to get J.J. Hardy out was because he went back to the fastball and because it was J.J. Hardy at the plate.

- Excellent at-bat by Teix in the 7th.  He took what Crain gave him, worked some tough fastballs, waited for something off-speed, and made Crain pay for missing way up with a slider.

- The Yankee bullpen was effective, if not a little nerve wracking.  Logan did a good job getting the first 2 outs and then fell victim to Joe Mauer being a great hitter, something that there is no shame in.  D-Rob was a complete pussy against Delmon Young, the guy he was brought in to face, not even looking like he wanted to pitch to him, then promptly attacked Thome with some of his filthiest curveballs and getting him to strike out.  Wood was solid, but experienced some bad luck on the Valencia infield single.  I actually thought Joe should have left him in the finish the 8th.

- But alas, Joe went to Mo for a 4-out save and it was the right call to make.  After getting behind Denard Span 3-0, Mo battled back to saw him off and then looked like vintage Mo in the 9th, throwing strike one, pounding the zone with the cutter, and getting a 1-2-3-4 innings thanks to some shitty umpiring, breaking multiple bats in the process.

- Francisco Liriano was on early and often, pumping his fastball in for strikes early in the count to set up the slider, which he found in the middle innings.  But while it looked like all was well on the surface, the classic Yankee patience worked against him as he reached the dangerous-for-him 100-pitch plateau in the 6th inning.  That inning was all it took to turn a dominant outing into a shaky one, and that's what the Yankees can do to you.

- CC was actually worse than Liriano.  His slider command was nowhere to be found and his fastball wasn't much better.  He had trouble throwing strike one (only 13 of 27 batters faced), and got into trouble by falling behind hitters and then grooving fastballs just for the sake of throwing a strike in obvious fastball counts.  Some credit goes to Minnesota for working him, but CC was definitely not as sharp as we're used to seeing him.  He'll be working with Eiland before his next start on fixing the mechanical shoulder issue that was his undoing in the 6th.

- It was an up-and-down night for Jeter at the plate.  He didn't look great on Liriano's early fastballs, and swung and missed at least once at every type of pitch thrown to him by the Minnesota staff.  He showed more patience early in the game and then was first-pitch swinging in the 9th.  After getting him to flail on some curveballs in the 7th, keep an eye on how the Twins choose to attack him in Game 2 and beyond.

- Not too much to complain about with EJ, Smoltz, and Ron Darling last night.  They did go back and forth a little too much between talking in weird generalities when the situation didn't call for it (i.e.- Darling talking about CC's toughness right after he gave up a home run) and analyzing the action on the field, but overall they were OK.  They didn't talk over the action too much, EJ didn't over-dramatize anything, and Darling and Smoltz actually provided some good insight and analysis that you know you wouldn't get from Tim McCarver.  At the very least, they're watchable.

- Indian Summers?  Artificial dirt in the infield?  CC and Orlando Hudson's wives hanging out?  Can somebody tell me what the fuck Craig Sager was talking about last night?  This ain't "Good Morning America," chief.  It's the fucking playoffs.  Save the puff pieces and human interest stories for another time and get us viewers some info that actually matters or take your ugly suits and go the fuck home.

- Big fan of the TBS pitch track system and the fact that it actually reverts to a different camera that is squared up to homeplate and shows where pitches truly were when they crossed the plate.  Take note, ESPN, since your K-Zone is almost always off.

- Play of The Game- Teix's 2-run HR in the 7th

Granderson's HR had a bit higher WPA value, but the lead he gave the Yankees' was promptly coughed up by CC.  Teix came up right after that and regained the lead for his team, sucking the life and energy back out of the stadium that had just been created by the Twins' comeback.  Getting the Yanks the lead with their bullpen coming in to lock it down was a huge turning point and turned out to be the game-winning hit.

- Player of The Game- Mark Teixeira

2-5 with a 2B, HR, 2 runs scored, 2 RBIs, and a couple of solid plays at first base.  Yep, that's what Cash signed him for.  As bad as he was in the 2009 postseason, this was a great start to get off to for Teix.