Friday, October 09, 2009

ALDS Game 2 Preview: Twins @ Yankees

Physically worn down and emotionally exhausted after having arrived in New York at 4 a.m. the previous night in the wake of their spectacular regular-season finale against the Tigers, the Twins went into Yankee Stadium on Wednesday evening and were predictably served a beat-down in Game 1 of this ALDS Series. Despite the momentum they've gained over the past few weeks, it was tough to imagine the Twins finding a way to hang with the Yankees in that game considering all the factors playing against them, from the aforementioned fatigue to the lopsided pitching match-up to the hostile environment.

The Twins will enter Game 2 tonight facing slightly less disadvantageous circumstances. They've had a full day to rest and recuperate. Rather than sending out Brian Duensing, owner of nine career major-league starts entering this postseason, the Twins will bring Nick Blackburn, who has established a reputation as a big-game pitcher. The Twins will also be facing the erratic A.J. Burnett rather than dominating lefty C.C. Sabathia.

Of course, the Yankees still hold a considerable edge entering tonight's game. It's still being played in their home park. They still have a far superior lineup and a far superior bullpen. The pitching match-up still favors them, because despite the fact that he leads the league in walks and wild pitches, Burnett has notched 195 strikeouts in 207 innings this season while holding opponents to a .247 average. The Twins' starter, meanwhile, could have some problems on his hands.

Blackburn was lights-out for the Twins down the final stretch, posting a 1.65 ERA and 18-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio over his final four starts, all Twins victories. With his outstanding performances in must-win contests against the Tigers and Royals during the final week of the season, he's a huge part of the reason the Twins find themselves playing right now. But Blackburn remains a contact pitcher with a middling ground ball rate, and over the course of his career he has been a much worse pitcher on the road than under the Metrodome roof. He held his own in a start at Yankee Stadium earlier this year, allowing four runs over 7 2/3 innings, but this is a lineup that could give him some real problems. He gave up more hits this year than any other AL pitcher and these Yankees hitters tend to punish guys that pitch to contact, as evidenced by their .307/.361/.521 hitting line against finesse pitchers (defined as pitchers who strike out or walk less than 24 percent of batters faced, which is certainly a category that Blackburn falls into).

Blackburn is already gaining legendary status in Minnesota as a guy who steps up and delivers on the big stage, but the deck is really stacked against him tonight. He'll need to be on top of his game and commanding his cutter with expert precision in order to suppress this powerful New York lineup, and in a packed Yankee Stadium that will be a tall task indeed.

Burnett is a fireballer with filthy stuff but he is beatable. The Twins will likely need to push several runs across to defeat this offense in their home park, so we can only hope they're up to the challenge. Obviously, this is a game they'd really like to win because coming home down 2-0 and on the brink of elimination would be a dreadfully dire situation.

8 comments:

Topper said...

I'm going to wearing my Twins jersey over a rain jacket tonight at the park. Forecast is for WET WET WET weather all night. Hopefully this helps the Twins by hurting the Yankees already suspect defense...?

Anonymous said...

We need some homers

thrillho said...

"far superior bullpen"

I disagree with that. In fact didn't THT just post something saying the Twins had the strongest bullpen? Either way, it's close.

Visual Baseball said...

This series is truly a David and Goliath match-up from a revenue perspective. Check out this cool graphic from a baseball blog called Visual Baseball to see the massive revenue disparity between the teams.

http://visualbaseball.wordpress.com/2009/10/08/post-2

Schruender said...

As I said back on October 1st when you had pretty much stuck one foot off the ledge...don't give up just yet!

Nick N. said...

I disagree with that. In fact didn't THT just post something saying the Twins had the strongest bullpen? Either way, it's close.

At this point I would trust Hughes/Joba/Coke/Rivera quite a bit more than I'd trust Guerrier/Crain/Mijares/Nathan. The Twins bullpen has talent but seems very worn-down to me right now.

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