Since clinching against Boston on Sunday, the Yankees regular season is just about over. Now they are just playing out the last few meaningless games trying to set up the roster for the playoffs while keeping everyone healthy.
They’ve locked up the AL East, the best record in baseball, and home field advantage throughout the playoffs. Now they just need to know who their first round ALDS opponent is going to be. With the Red Sox taking the wildcard and the Angels owning the next best record the Yankees opponent is going to come out of the AL Central division.
The Detroit Tigers currently lead that division, but with a few head-to-head games against the Minnesota Twins, who are just two games back, left it is still a toss-up. Last time we took an in-depth look at the Tigers, this week we’ll look at those pesky Twins.
Since dealing Johan Santana to the Mets, the Twins haven’t exactly replaced him. Nick Blackburn and Scott Baker are their no. 1 and 2 pitchers, but right now neither have thrown 200 innings this season. Francisco Liriano was expected to be the guy who took the top spot in the rotation, but he continues to disappoint after 2006 elbow surgery. In 129 innings he has a 5-13 record with a 5.93 ERA and 61 walks. Still 25-years-old he could eventually right himself, but it will be too late for the 2009 post season.
Behind those three the Twins have the guy many Yankee fans would like to forget, Carl Pavano. Pavano has pitched well down the stretch going 2-1 with a 3.62 ERA in his past five starts. But it’s been Brian Duensing who has lead the charge in the final weeks going 3-0 with a 1.74 ERA. 5-1 overall, the Twins wouldn’t be anywhere without him.
This has been one of the Twins strengths this season. Behind closer Joe Nathan and setup-men Jose Mijares and Matt Guerrier, 2.14, 2.09, and 2.24 ERA’s respectively, the Twins have had the forth best bullpen in the AL. Jesse Crain has also pitched in lately with no earned runs over the past 30 days and 11.2 innings.
There is no secret here, Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau are in charge, but that’s been a big part of the problem. Mauer missed the first month of the season and Morneau has missed the final month each with back injuries. Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel have certainly had big seasons (Cuddyer: 30 HR, 89 RBI, .858 OPS; Kubel: 24 HR, 90 RBI, .886 OPS), but you have to wonder if they would be better than fifth in the AL 765 total runs scored if they could have kept the M&M Boys healthy.
At -6.0 the Twins are ranked 12th in the AL in UZR/150, but they lead the league with the fewest errors with just 70. That makes sense though when you look closer because their outfielders have really poor range, Cuddyer is -15.0 UZR/150 and Delmon Young is -18.8, but outfielders don’t make many errors. So when you mix a poor outfield with strong infielders that’s what you get. Not everything is going to drop-in in the outfield though thanks to Carlos Gomez’s speed.
The Yankees seem to match-up better with the Twins than the Tigers, but be careful if you are rooting for the Twins. Duensing has pitched very well since being made a full-time starter and the Yankees have a reputation for not hitting well against pitchers they haven’t seen much of.
The Yankees have also been doing a lot of damage late in games this season and that doesn’t bode well against a team with a bullpen like the Twins. Nathan’s career 0-3 record and 4.20 combined with the fact that the Yankees are undefeated against the Twins this year make it hard to root against them.