Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Five things to watch in Game One (and beyond)

1) The Yankees are necessarily worried about their starting pitching behind their ace, CC Sabathia. Andy Pettitte's back issues have limited him to three starts and 13.1 innings since July; his ERA in those starts is 6.75. Phil Hughes went 18-8 but has second half ERA of 4.90; and A.J. Burnett and Javy Vazquez have been so horrid that Joe Girardi doesn't dare start them in this series. Beat Sabathia in Game One, and the Yankees may be in trouble.

Jim Thome limbers up to unleash his
blinding speed.
2) On the other hand ... the Yankees figure to use just one right-handed starter even if the series goes five games, and that's bad news for the Twins, who are essentially forced to keep both Jim Thome and Jason Kubel in the lineup. A sound Pettitte and Sabathia are poison.

Thome's splits: .302/.455/.698 against right-handed pitching, .241/.298/.471 vs. left-handers.

Kubel: .260/.328/.464 vs. righties, .225/311/.344 vs. lefties.

3) Those splits matter when facing the New York bullpen. The Yankees have one LOOGY available, the immortal Boone Logan. It's a quality bullpen, but it's a right-handed pen.

4) The quality of the bench matters more in the regular season, but the Twins' array of backups — Drew Butera, Jason Repko, Matt Tolbert, Alexi Casilla and Nick Punto — lacks a bat.

One can say, justly, Who in the lineup do you want to pinch-hit for? True enough, but go deeper. The Twins need a pinch-runner for Thome, and they have four reasonable options for that role —but if you run for Thome and the game goes longer, who's going to hit in that spot?

A good bench player has one or two specific skills for the manager to deploy (and is a reserve because the other aspects of his game are too weak to be useful); a good bench has a variety of skills available. This bench has too many of the same skills, too many of the same weaknesses.

4) Two Mondays ago the weekly print column suggested that the Twins projected rotation (Francisco Liriano, Carl Pavano, Brian Duensing and Nick Blackburn) matched up well with the Yankees because it avoids the long ball. Since then, that foursome has allowed eight homers in less than 29 innings.

The Twins must keep the ball in the park. This may be the single most important factor in the series – if the Twins can force the Yankees to grind out their runs, I believe the Twins will win.

5) TBS will be carrying this series — it has all four of the divisional series — and while it doesn't matter in terms of the play on the field, I will be curious to see if they take the pains the local broadcasts did during the final homestand to avoid showing the billboard on Target Center.

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