"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

The Minnesota Twins

The 1995 season was shortened to 144 games because of the previous year’s strike. After 73 games, one game past the season’s half-way point, the Yankees were seven games under .500 (33-40), in fourth place in the AL East 7.5 games behind the division-leading Red Sox and ten games out of the Wild Card behind eight other teams.

At the end of this week’s four-game series against the Twins the Yankees will have played 82 games, one game more than half of the season. They are currently four games under .500 (37-41), in third place in the AL East 11 games behind the division-leading Red Sox and nine games out of the Wild Card behind five other teams.

In 1995 the Yankees won the Wild Card after signing Darryl Strawberry in late-June, swapping Danny Tartabull out for Ruben Sierra, and acquiring David Cone for a trio of minor leaguers at the trading deadline. Sierra represented only a modest improvement over Tartabull, but Strawberry, who joined the major league team in early August, represented a significant improvement over Luis Polonia, whom the Yankees promptly dumped on the Braves. Meanwhile Cone and Scott Kamieniecki completed a rotation that had been only three deep since Jimmy Key and Melido Perez went down to injury in May and June respectively.

Still, it took a nearly miraculous 25-6 stretch run combined with a similarly staggering collapse by the AL West-leading Angels (who lost 28 of 37 before rallying to force a one-game playoff with Seattle) and an otherwise weak league (just one other non-division winner finished with a winning record) for the Yankees to sneak into the postseason in 1995. This year will not be 1995 all over again. There’s only one spot to fill in the rotation and the Yankees won’t fill it with the defending Cy Young Award winner. There are no superstar reclamation projects toiling in the independent leagues (the closest the Yankees could come would be Clemens, who is already here). Meanwhile, the teams they’re trying to chase are not only good, but should get better.

Take the Twins, for example. Everyone and their mother knew that Sidney Ponson and Ramon Ortiz would be replaced in the rotation two of the organization’s four strong triple-A starters by now and indeed they have. Meanwhile, Johan Santana is a notoriously dominant second-half pitcher. Meanwhile, last year’s batting champ, Joe Mauer, is back after missing most of May due to injury and hitting .267/.380/.517 since June 16, and there’s still room for improvement at third base, designated hitter, and in Ron Gardenhire’s lineup construction.

The improvements in the rotation are the most dangerous however, as the Big Three in the Minnesota bullpen, Joe Nathan, Sideshow Pat Neshek, and Matt Guerrier, have been flat out dominant, combining for a 1.82 ERA, 8.9 K/9 and a 0.93 WHIP in 123 1/3 innings. That means opponents have six innings get a lead, which is a tougher trick without Ponson and Ortiz to kick around.

Tonight the Yankees try to get ahead against Boof Bonser, who hasn’t turned in a quality start in his last five tries, posting a 6.91 ERA over that span as opposing batters have hit .328/.362/.529 against him. The Yanks gave Boof his worst going over of the season back on April 10 when they plated seven runs off him, knocking him out in the fifth. Ah, remember that series? The Yankees had opened with a disappointing 2-3 showing on their opening home stand, but we all blamed it on the cold and were convinced we were right when they beat the Twins 18-3 in their first two games indoors in Minnesota behind strong outings by Andy Pettitte and . . . Carl Pavano? Seems like a lifetime ago now.

Rocket Clemens takes the hill for the Yanks looking to rebound from the 7.15 ERA he’s posted in his last three outings (two starts, one relief inning). The Yankees, who trail the Twins by four games in the Wild Card hunt, could really use a sweep this week, as unlikely as that may be. If nothing else they need to win the three games not started by Johan Santana, who was a 16-year-old free agent signee by the Houston Astros in 1995. Times have changed folks.

Minnesota Twins

2007 Record: 42-38 (.525)
2007 Pythagorean Record: 43-37 (.544)

Manager: Ron Gardenhire
General Manager: Terry Ryan

Home Ballpark (2007 Park Factors): Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome (98/98)

Who’s Replacing Whom?

Lew Ford (DL) replaces Josh Rabe (DL)
Jeff Cirillo (DL) replaces Alexi Casilla (minors)
Scott Baker (minors) replaces Sidney Ponson
Kevin Slowey (minors) replaces Ramon Ortiz in the rotation, who replaces Jesse Crain (DL) in the bullpen
Matt Garza (minors) replaces Chris Heintz (minors)

25-man Roster

1B – Justin Morneau (L)
2B – Luis Castillo (S)
SS – Jason Bartlett (S)
3B – Nick Punto (S)
C – Joe Mauer (L)
RF – Michael Cuddyer (R)
CF – Torii Hunter (R)
LF – Jason Kubel (L)
DH – (bench)*


R – Jeff Cirillo (IF)
R – Lew Ford (OF)
L – Jason Tyner (OF)
R – Mike Redmond (C)
S – Luis Rodriguez (IF)


L – Johan Santana
R – Kevin Slowey
R – Scott Baker
R – Boof Bonser
R – Carlos Silva


R – Joe Nathan
R – Pat Neshek
R – Matt Guerrier
R – Juan Rincon
L – Dennys Reyes
R – Ramon Ortiz
R – Matt Garza

15-day DL: R – Rondell White (LF), R – Josh Rabe (OF), L – Glen Perkins
60-day DL: L – Francisco Liriano, R – Jesse Crain, S – Alejandro Machado (IF)


S – Luis Castillo (2B)
S – Jason Bartlett (SS)
L – Joe Mauer (C)
R – Michael Cuddyer (RF)
L – Justin Morneau (1B)
R – Torii Hunter (CF)
L – Jason Kubel (LF)
* Designated Hitter
S – Nick Punto (3B)

*The Twins use the DH slot as a rotating position to rest Mauer, Kubel, and Morneau, but also to distribute playing time to Redmond, Tyner, and Cirillo. Luis Rodriguez is the only member of the Twins bench who doesn’t start semi-regularly as a result of this rotation.

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver