Saturday, October 09, 2010

ALDS Game 3 Preview: Twins @ Yankees

The Twins battled their way to 94 wins this season, ensuring themselves home field advantage in the first round of the playoffs. That figured to factor heavily for a club that finished with a historically strong home record this season.

Unfortunately, the Twins have dropped both of the first two games of this ALDS at Target Field, so they now must climb a very steep hill in order to avoid another first-round exit from the postseason.

It begins tonight at Yankee Stadium. A series victory seems like a real long shot at this point, but fans could at least take solace in one Twins win to snap the team's long postseason drought and provide a single success for a franchise that has experienced nothing but heartbreak in the playoffs over the past eight years.

The pitching match-up, as you'll see below, is not all that daunting. It would also seem as though the Twins almost have to break through offensively -- they went 0-for-10 with runners in scoring position over the first two games; how long can that last? We can talk all we want about how the Twins shrivel in the playoffs and cower to the Yankees, but at the end of the day this is a baseball team with a lot of talent and these guys can't just keep failing forever.

Something's gotta give. Maybe that starts to happen tonight. It's the only thing that can save the Twins now.

On to pitching match-ups (skipping key players today because I'm lazy and dejected)...

Brian Duensing | 130.2 IP, 10-3, 1.62 ERA, 78/35 K/BB, 1.20 WHIP

Duensing has done everything this organization has asked of him. For years he toiled away in the Twins' farm system, consistently posting solid results while blocked by more advanced pitching prospects. He got his chance to debut as a major-leaguer last year, at age 25, but it was initially in a relief role rather than the starting role he'd filled throughout his professional career. Duensing adapted well, got his chance to join the rotation in August and ran with it, going 5-1 with a 2.64 ERA in eight starts down the stretch to help propel the Twins to an unlikely postseason berth. There, Duensing drew about the toughest assignment a rookie pitcher could get -- starting Game 1 of a playoff series in Yankee Stadium -- but the lefty held his own and gave the Twins a chance to win.

This spring, Duensing was once again nudged to the bullpen by an overly crowded rotation. He once again adapted well, becoming the team's best left-handed reliever, and when Nick Blackburn earned his way out of the Twins rotaiton Duensing got another chance to join it. Once again, he ran with the opportunity. In 13 starts since joining the rotation in late July, Duensing has gone 7-2 with a 3.05 ERA.

The Twins will have to hope that success can carry forward, as tonight they make their most desperate plea to Duensing yet: save our season. Will the left-hander be up to the task?

Phil Hughes | 176.1 IP, 18-8, 4.19 ERA, 146/58 K/BB, 1.24 WHIP

Opposing Duensing will be a pitcher with one of the most misleading win/loss records in baseball. Hughes' 18-8 mark would have you believe he was one of the best pitchers in the league but the truth is that the Yankees' No. 3 starter finished with merely decent numbers across the board, and by the end of the season he wasn't viewed by any team as a particularly tough draw.

When we last saw Hughes in October, he was serving as a setup man out of the Yankees bullpen. It was a role that suited the young right-hander well; he stepped up his velocity in shortened outings and managed a 3.03 ERA and 1.11 WHIP while pitching mostly as a reliever last year, averaging 10 strikeouts per nine innings. This year, New York has transitioned Hughes into a full-time starting role and as a result his performance has declined.

That wasn't the case right off the bat. In April and May, Hughes jumped out to a 6-1 start while posting a 2.70 ERA and averaging over a strikeout per inning. In June, he managed to go 4-1 despite a 5.17 ERA. He went on to run up a 4.67 ERA over the final three months of the season, surrendering 17 home runs over 88 innings while notching only 65 strikeouts.

The drop-off in dominance suggests that either Hughes has not responded well to the rigors of a full season in a major-league rotation or the league has adapted to him with increased exposure. Either way, it leaves him vulnerable and beatable. He's not a bad pitcher by any means, but he's not the dominant force he was throughout the minors or in the Yankees bullpen last year.


Anonymous said...

I (and probably most other twins fans) love how espn featured a 30 for 30 special about how the red sox came back from a 3-0 defecit in the alds in 2004 to beat the Yankees.

Also I think the twins should be favored tonight at least, the other two series with the yanks we beat them the third game and duece realy looks like the better pitcher on the mound this evening. And with a right hander going maybe some of our left handed hitters will start getting hits.

Anonymous said...

Why should the Twins be favored tonight? They haven't won a game in the postseason in ages and have struggled mightily against the Yankees ever since Gardy has taken over. The guys setting the lines in Vegas know what they are doing. They know the general public will be all over NY in this game and aren't going to potentially lose a bunch of money by setting the line in favor of the Twins.

Justin C. said...

"They know the general public will be all over NY in this game." The public almost always favors the Yankees no matter who they are playing. And maybe favored isn't the best term to use, but I think they have a good chance of winning this game provided Mauer, thome, and kubel hit like they should.

Anonymous said...

Turn off the lights the party's over!

Anonymous said...

Gardy blew it by resting all the starters when they won the divison title. They were all hot and swinging the bat well and playing with confidence. After he tried to play them again they all had cooled off.! Look at the batting averages before and after they were rested. He should have went balls out and tried to have the best record and home field advantage- but thats the way he manages. And don't tell me he's the best in baseball! If we played in a tough division like with the yankees- we would probably finish in 3rd or 4th place!!

Anonymous said...

"duece realy looks like the better pitcher on the mound this evening"

yeah right...

Dave said...

Good thing I invested in my local HGH dealer, it isn't going out of style any time soon!

Ed Bast said...

Nick, if you don't think Gardy is part of the problem, man, I don't know what to say. How is 12 straight playoff losses even possible? The players have changed, the stadiums have changed, the regular season finishes have changed, the home field has changed, the front office has changed - everything except Gardy and his staff. It can't be just a coincidence.

Do you think that team believed they could beat the Yankees? Or should have beat the Yankees? Was the goal really the World Series for this team? They absolutely rolled over after Game 1. They showed no passion whatsoever (except for Jon Rauch). They looked like it was no problem for them to lose the series because it was the Yankees and what can you do. This general attitude has to come from somewhere. And obviously it's tolerated by Gardy because nothing has changed in five playoff trips.

And today I read that the Pohlads are going to reward Gardy's latest embarrassment with a contract extension. What better way to say as an organization that the goal is not, in fact, to win a World Series, but to do well enough that fans come through the gates and spend a ton of money.

This series was truly pathetic - the most embarrassing display of ineptitude and nonchalance I've ever seen out of a MN sports team. Gardy gets paid to lead this team. When the team fails so completely, Gardy deserves part of the blame.

We are the laughingstock of the league right now. What does it say to give Gardy an extension? Nobody will take us seriously whatsoever.

Anonymous said...

No team wants to be the answer to the question: "what team would you rather face in the playoffs?"

The Twins, sadly, have become the answer to that perennial pre-playoff query.

It's time for Gardenhire to go. Sure, this season was fine - 94 wins and the division title. But, at some point the organization has to try to make the step beyond being just another playoff team.