Thursday, October 03, 2019

Yankees Look In Mirror At Twins

The Tampa Bay Rays already blew up my playoff bracket before it had much of a start. No longer needing to worry about my picks, I can concentrate on this ALDS between the Yankees and the Twins. With a five-game series, all conventional wisdom is blown away and the outcome is nearly impossible to predict. What can easily be said is that the Yankees and the Twins are so similar in structure that they could be the same image in a mirror.

Both teams have tremendous power as the Twins broke the season home run record this year and the Yankees finished one behind. The loss of the record (which really doesn't matter except for bragging rights) is another example of how the Yankees' last week of the season was atrocious. The Twins, on the other hand, finished super strong and barely ran out of time to catch up to the Yankees' win-loss record.

Both teams have very good managers. All Aaron Boone has done is win a hundred games in both of his seasons. Rocco Baldelli took the Twins to a hundred wins in his first season. One of them, probably Baldelli, will get Manager Of The Year. There is no advantage to be had here. The Yankees had a better record against teams over .500 and won the season series against the Twins and have historically beat the Twins in post season play. But all of those facts are meaningless heading into this series.

The pitching seems about as even as the offense. The Twins have had some bright spots in their rotation but no "stopper." The same can be said for the Yankees unless either James Paxton or Luis Severino are really on their games.

Boone recently announced that the rotation for the Yankees will start with Paxton, then Masahiro Tanaka at home in Game 2, and then Severino in Game 3 in Minneapolis. I am happy with that rotation and also happy (though sad) that CC Sabathia will not make the playoff roster (at least in this round). Tanaka is much better at home and Severino will give the Twins a new wrinkle they haven't seen in their home ballpark. In a short series, will the Yankees want to mess around with an "Opener" or a JA Happ in Game 4? Perhaps there will be enough days off for Paxton to pitch the second time.

One would immediately think that the Yankees have a big edge in the bullpen. I do not see it that way when it comes to the Twins. Their top four guys had great seasons with high strikeout rates and they walk less batters than their Yankee counterparts. For the Yankees to win, they need to win early.

Again, the offenses for both teams are a wash. The Yankees look like they will have the most bashable lineup of the season ready for the Twins with Edwin Encarnacion ready to play. They need him as he can be a game changer. The Twins' only question is whether Max Kepler is healthy and it looks like he will be.

I believe that one edge the Yankees have is defense. The Twins made the second most errors in the American League and all of their infield guys are in negative runs statistics. They lose a lot on defense with Byron Buxton out as it leaves the Twins without a true center fielder. The Twins do not throw out stolen base attempts on par with league average. The Yankees do.

The Twins were a much better team on the road this season than they were at home. That somewhat negates the home field advantage the Yankees hold. So really, there is no clear cut favorite in this series. Both teams are so similar and so close that it will come down to the bounce of the ball and which team makes the best plays and can do the best job pitching in the series.

What would you do with the Yankees' lineup? I have played a few scenarios in my head and like Sanchez as the DH with Romine behind the plate. But Romine would be a weaker play in the lineup.
I guess I would go something like this:

  1. D.J. LeMaheau 1B, 
  2. Aaron Judge - RF
  3. Edwin Encarnacion - DH
  4. Gleyber Torres - 2B
  5. Giancarlo Stanton - LF
  6. Gary Sanchez - C
  7. Brett Gardner - CF
  8. Gio Urshela - 3B
  9. Didi Gregorius - SS

I do think that the Twins were the best possible outcome for a first series match-up for the Yankees. The Astros are going to be tough no matter what. I was really afraid the Yankees facing Oakland and am less so of Tampa Bay. All that said, playing the Twins is no walk in the park. If the Yankees do not pitch well, this series will end up poorly.