The Scarlet & Black

The Independent Student News Site of Grinnell College

The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

ALDS: Yankees’ bats too explosive for Twins to handle

As I watched Game 1 of the American League Divisional Series between the Minnesota Twins and the New York Yankees, I was overcome by a strong sense of déjà vu. An unnamed S&B staff member, who chose Cleveland lounge as her venue of choice to watch the game, could hardly hide her delight as Minnesota jumped out to an early three run lead. However, even as Francisco Liriano retired the side in the top of the fifth to maintain the Twins’ lead, I turned to the solo Twins fan and said, “Three runs is nothing for this [the Yankees’] lineup, all they need is one good inning.”

Not to toot my own horn, but I couldn’t have been more right. It just wouldn’t be a Yankees-Twins playoff game if the Yankees didn’t fall behind early, only to demolish the Twins late in the game and come out with the W. After all, this is the Yanks’ seventh consecutive playoff victory against Minnesota. Forget the recent history between these two teams, though, the Yankees do this to everybody. The Yankees are, and have been for some time now, a team that relies on offensive bursts and a strong bullpen, rather than solid starting pitching and defense, to win ball games.

These are not your older siblings’ Yankees of the late 90s and early 00s. Those teams could throw three or even four all-star caliber starting pitchers at you, which made beating them in a seven-game series near impossible. While those teams still had fairly potent lineups, there were definitely some holes, such as Chuck Knoblauch batting third on the ’99 and ’00 championship teams and Robin Ventura batting fifth in ’03. Fast-forward to the present and one can sense a role reversal. Gone are the rotations that boasted Roger Clemens, Mike Mussina, David Wells and Andy Pettitte, and in is the rotation featuring CC, A.J., Phil Hughes and, well … Andy Pettitte.

Many of you will scoff at the idea that a rotation including CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Andy Pettite is ‘pitching poor.’ No, with the kind of talent on that staff, of course the Yankees aren’t ‘pitching poor,’ but the statistics suggest that the pitching has been poor. While CC Sabathia posted great numbers this season and established himself as the clear-cut ace of the staff, the rest of the Yankees starters posted a 4.72 ERA during the regular season. A.J. Burnett, whom the Yankees gave a five-year, $82.5 million contract a couple of seasons ago, has been absolutely shelled this season, posting a 10-15 record with a 5.26 ERA. Javier Vazquez, who was purchased this offseason in an attempt to bolster the bottom of the Yankees’ rotation, has also been horrendous, posting a 10-10 record with a 5.32 ERA. These stats are really bad, and the Yankees probably made the right move by leaving these two guys off the roster for the ALDS. However, that doesn’t mean the Yankees don’t have pitching concerns for the playoffs. Number two starter Andy Pettitte, the ageless wonder, pitched well this season when he was healthy. However, he suffered a hamstring injury in the second half of the season, and hasn’t quite returned to form. Furthermore, the injury makes it harder for him to field his position, which is a concern against the small ball-loving Twins.

The Yankees’ final starter, Phil Hughes, put up OK numbers this season, but he has a 4.90 ERA since the All-Star Break. His strikeout rate has diminished greatly, while his walks and home runs given up have increased. Even with all the Yankees pitching woes, their starters still managed to post a 72-49 record during the regular season. That is the third-most wins and the fewest losses by any AL rotation. That points out two major strengths of the Yankees — the bullpen and the offense.

Let’s start with the offense. The Yankees scored a major league-leading 859 runs this past season, 41 ahead of the second-place Red Sox. The Yankees have led the majors in runs scored four out of the past five years, quite different than the Yankees teams at the turn of the century, which usually finished outside the top-three in the American League in runs scored. The Yankees also led the American League in on base percentage, and were second in on base-plus-slugging, a statistic that many experts consider the most indicative of a team’s offensive success. How well balanced was the Yankees’ lineup this year? Stars Mark Teixeira, Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Curtis Granderson all had down years (by their standards), and yet the Bronx Bombers still led the league in scoring. Robinson Cano’s team-leading .914 OBP was the lowest OBP to lead the Yankees since 1995 … and yet this was still the best hitting team in the world. As a starting pitcher, you have quite a bit of room for error when your offense can score 5+ runs in a heartbeat, just like the Yankees can. The Yankees may not be able to outpitch teams, especially when CC isn’t on the mound, but they can almost always ‘outbludgeon’ them in a slugfest. This has been the Yankees’ formula all season—take the lead late in the game and ride the bullpen to victory.

The Yankees’ bullpen has a staff ERA of 3.47, third in the AL and seventh in the majors. However, this statistic doesn’t tell the whole story; this is a staff that has become tremendously better in the second half of the season with the acquisition of Kerry Wood. Wood, previously one-half of the Cubs’ “Broke-Arm Mountain,” has been rejuvenated by his arrival in New York, posting a 2-0 record with a 0.69 ERA. Joba Chamberlain, in turn, has taken advantage of the extra rest, and has an ERA under 2.20 since the arrival of Wood. Of course, the real star of the Yankees’ bullpen is Mariano Rivera, perhaps the best closer ever. The man has a 0.74 ERA in 134.2 postseason inning pitches, enough said. While some may claim he is more vulnerable than ever this year, I have to see it before I believe it.

From the tone of this column, it might seem like I’m not even giving the Twins a chance in this series. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Twins have better starting pitching, a lineup that might not be as potent as the Yankees, but is still very good in its own right, and a bullpen that converts a better percentage of its save opportunities than the Yanks’ (without injured All-Star Joe Nathan). I could easily see the Twins taking a game, possibly even two, from New York, especially at Target Field where the Twins are dominant (53-28, best in the AL). However, I just think that the Yankees will be able to take at least two more games in this series (best-of-five) in a fashion similar to the way they won Wednesday night’s game. I guess the $200+ million payroll works in such a way that it makes certain areas of a team so good that they can hide obvious deficiencies. Make no mistake about it; the Twins are a better-rounded team than the Yankees. At the end of the day, though, it’s about the number of times you cross the plate, and nobody does that as well as the Yankees.

Prediction: Yankees in 4

Leave a Comment
More to Discover
Donate to The Scarlet & Black
Our Goal

Comments (0)

All The Scarlet & Black Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *