2011 Series Preview: Twins vs. Yankees (4/4-4/7)

Things didn’t go so well in the opening series in Toronto, but Minnesota held on yesterday to eek out their first win of the season. Now the team is just a few hours from taking on the Evil Empire – and playoff nemesis – in a 4-game series.

It’s a case of hopping out of the frying pan and into the fire for the Twins.

As far as the series in Toronto goes, I’m not terribly bothered by the Twins performance over the weekend. Sure, the team didn’t look very good, but the Blue Jays, in my book, could legitimately win any division in MLB except the AL East. Unfortunately for them they are, in fact, in the East, and will probably be struggling to finish 3rd. With a much improved Orioles squad the AL East is without question the best division – at the top and the bottom – in all of baseball.

The Yankees don’t quite have the prolific power hitting lineup that the Blue Jays do – and I’d rather take the Jays rotation – but the Bronx Bombers are obviously stacked in their own right and present a very stiff challenge.

New York Yankees:

2011 Regular Season Record: 2-1, t-2nd in AL East (1.0 GB)
23 Runs Scored (3rd in AL) / 19 Runs Allowed (8th in AL)

Minnesota Twins:

2011 Regular Season Record: 1-2, t-3rd in AL Central (1.5 GB)
8 Runs Scored (13th in AL) / 22 Runs Allowed (11th in AL)

Pitching Matchups

April 4th: RHP Scott Baker vs RHP Ivan Nova

The perception is that Baker is coming off a down season and I’m not going to claim anything to the contrary. However, the drop off was not nearly as steep as many would like to believe. His 92 ERA+ in 2010 is not all that far off his career ERA+ of 100. His BB/9, SO/9, HR/9 and SO/BB were all relatively close to his career marks and his 3.96 FIP was actually a shade better than his career FIP of 4.04. The only real change in Baker between his 2008-2009 seasons and his 2010 season was a jump in his H/9. That mark bumped up to 9.8 last season after being 8.4 and 8.6 in ’08 and ’09. Shortly after the Yankees knocked the Twins out of the playoffs (yet again) Baker had elbow surgery to remove bone chips. Heading into the season he appears to be 100% healthy and as a result is a good bet to return to the slightly above average major league pitcher he’s been for most of his career. As far as this series is concerned, Baker has faced the Yankees 5 times in his career and is 2-2 with a 4.15 ERA, 1.35 WHIP and 2.88 SO/BB in 26.0 IP.

24-year old Ivan Nova had a reasonably successful rookie campaign in 2010 but he is at best, a stop gap #5 starter on a decent team. Perhaps I’m underselling him but a guy with a 1.45 WHIP, 3.6 BB/9, 5.6 SO/9 and 1.53 SO/BB does not and should not give Yankees fans a lot of confidence. Considering his minor league numbers are not far off of his 2010 performance in the majors, his presence in the Yankees rotation speaks volumes about their lack of depth. Nova has pitched just 1 scoreless inning against the Twins, though he did give up 2 hits.

April 5th: LHP Brian Duensing vs LHP CC Sabathia (0-0, 3.00 ERA)

In 2009 Brian Duensing finished his rookie season with an ERA+ of 121. I have no idea how he did it. In 2010 he finished the season with an ERA+ of 159. I’m not sure how he pulled that off either. Some pitchers can perform better than their stuff suggests they should because they understand the art of pitching. After two seasons, and 214.1 innings of work, it appears that Duensing may be one of those guys. The big question facing the Twins is whether his value lies more in the rotation or in the bullpen. Long term I think it may be the latter, but the organization is doing the right thing by giving him a regular turn in the rotation to prove otherwise. This will be Duensing’s first start against the Yankees though he has faced them in 4 games as a reliever in his brief career. He’s 0-1 against them with an 8.10 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, 6 BB and 3 SO in 6.2 IP.

Thanks in large part to his time with the Cleveland Indians, CC Sabathia has started 28 games against the Twins. In those starts he’s 13-8 wtih a 3.05 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 62 BB and 143 SO in 191.2 IP. He might not be in the same class as the game’s truly elite and dominant starters, but he’s awfully close. It’s hard to argue with 3.57 ERA, 123 ERA+ and 2.69 SO/BB in 2,133.0 innings over 11 major league seasons.

April 6th: RHP Carl Pavano (0-1, 15.75 ERA) vs RHP Freddy Garcia

The battle of old timers in this series pits 35-year old Pavano against 35-year old Freddy Garcia, but that’s just biological age. When you’re talking about the age of their pitching arms, it’s probably safe to add another 3-5 years to each. They have combined to throw 3,437.2 innings of major league baseball so no matter the outcome we can be confident that they know what they’re doing out on the mound.

Pavano has started 4 games against the Yankees in his career and is 0-1 with a 4.76 ERA and 1.10 WHIP in 22.2 innings pitched. He has walked 3 and struck out 15 in those games.

Garcia is a 10-7  with a 4.04 ERA and 1.25 WHIP over 22 starts against the Twins. In those 144.2 innings of work he has walked 38 and fanned 80.

April 7th: LHP Francisco Liriano (0-1, 8.31 ERA) vs RHP A.J. Burnett (1-0, 5.40 ERA)

If you love strikeouts, then this is probably the best matchup of the series to get your fill. Both pitchers in this matchup possess the best pure stuff of their respective staffs, but Liri is streaky and A.J. takes the term “inconsistent” to an entirely different level compared to most of his peers. This could be a 1-0 pitching gem or a 12-11 offensive explosion just as easily.

Liriano vs the Yankees: 4 GS, 26.0 IP, 3.12 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, 26 SO and 11 BB

Burnett vs the Twins: 8 GS, 50.1 IP, 3.22 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, 50 SO and 25 BB

Who’s Hot

New York Yankees:

Mark Teixeira feasted on Tigers pitching over the weekend hitting 0.333/.429/1.083 with 3 HR and 7 RBI in 12 at bats. New Yankee Russell Martin also made a statment by hitting 0.455/0.455/.818 in 11 at bats.

Mariano Rivera was his usual “best closer in the game” self picking up 2 saves via 1.1 hitless, shutout innings.

Minnesota Twins:

Only two Twins escaped the opening series in Toronto hitting above 0.250. Denard Span enters tonight’s series hitting 0.455/.538/.727 with 1 HR, 2 BB and 2 SO. Jason Kubel carried his torrid spring into the regular season, hitting 0.375/0.444/0.375 in his first 8 at bats.

On the pitching side, LHP Glen Perkins allowed just 1 hit and 0 walks in his 2 scoreless innings of work against the Blue Jays.

Who’s Cold

New York Yankees:

Brett Gardner and Curtis Granderson have stumbled out of the gate. They went a combined 4-23 with 0 BB and 8 SO against the Tigers.

Minnesota Twins:

Every hitter not named Kubel or Span. In fact, outside Denard and Jason’s 8-19 start to the season, the rest of the team went 11-77 with 1 HR

Injury Update

New York Yankees:

15-Day DL: C Francisco Cervelli (fractured left-foot), LHP Pedro Feliciano (left shoulder discomfort)

60-Day DL: 2B Reegie Corona (fractured right-elbow), LF Colin Curtis (dislocated right shoulder), LHP Damaso Marte (rotator cuff surgery)

Minnesota Twins:

The Twins open the series against the Yankees with no players on the 15-day or 60-day disabled lists.

Closing Thoughts

Since I didn’t have time to collaborate on this preview with Yanks Go Yard Lead Writer Andrew Corselli, there won’t be a 3 on 3 section to this preview. In it’s place are some closing thoughts.

If the Twins play like they did over the weekend, they’re most likely going to head home to Target Field 1-3 against the Yankees and 2-5 overall. Even if that happens, there is no need to panic. While the team hasn’t had much success against New York recently, the team will almost assuredly hit better than the 0.198/.260/.271 they put up against Toronto. The Twins also get to take their shots against the back end of the Yankees rotation which should allow them to leave New York with a split.

After this series, Minnesota won’t see the Yankees again until they meet up for a 4-game series at Target Field in August (18th-21st).

Tags: Brian Duensing Carl Pavano Denard Span Francisco Liriano Glen Perkins Jason Kubel Minnesota Twins New York Yankees Scott Baker

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