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Tag: Minnesota Twins

Flying J, the Score Truck, and a Live Arm

For the past two years, in mid-August the Minnesota Twins have been competitive enough to defuse the inevitable Brett Favre melodrama. Favre is out — supposedly — Donovan McNabb is in, and Republican presidential hopefuls who win straw polls in neighboring Iowa and confuse celebrity birthdays and deathdays are providing the melodrama. The Twins, they entered tonight’s game 15 games under .500, 11 games behind the division-leading Detroit Tigers, almost irrelevant in the AL Central.

But for the Yankees, the Minnesota Twins are relevant. They’re on the list of “teams we should beat whenever, wherever” en route to the postseason. Thursday night, with C.C. Sabathia on the mound, mission accomplished. Friday night, with Phil Hughes going, the team performance was even more impressive.

First let’s take the offense. The first time through the batting order, Derek Jeter, Robinson Canó, Nick Swisher and J Martin were the only Yankees to swing at the first pitch against Kevin Slowey, who was making his first start of the season for the Twins (his previous six appearances had been in relief). None of the four first-pitch swingers put the ball in play. Martin was the only one to keep his in fair territory, however. He crushed a hanging curveball into the leftfield seats not unlike someone named Trevor Plouffe did in the first inning for the Twins.

Russell Martin

Russell Martin had three hits, scored twice and drove in three runs. (Photo Credit / Getty Images)

Martin’s solo home run tied the game and allowed the offense to collectively exhale and get into the rhythm. They scored a run in the fourth and in the fifth, which Martin led off with a single, the top of the order wore out Slowey. With Gardner on first base (he reached on a fielder’s choice), Jeter squibbed a single up the middle on an 0-2 pitch. The at-bat may have been the turning point in the game. It set up first-and third with one out, and Curtis Granderson followed with a double that tightroped the first base line and skidded off the bag before barreling into the rightfield corner. Gardner scored, Jeter to third. Mark Teixeira followed with a sac fly to make it 4-1 and the Score Truck had a head of steam. The coup de grace came in the sixth, as J Martin unloaded again. This time, it was a two-run shot to left that broke the game open. With Scott Brosius doing a guest spot in the YES booth in that same half-inning, it seemed fitting that the best No. 9 hitter in recent Yankee memory observed the current No. 9 hitter have arguably his best offensive night as a Yankee. The Yankees posted another two-spot in the ninth inning to complete the rout at 8-1.

Now, let’s take the pitching, specifically Phil Hughes’s outing. Despite Freddy Garcia’s placement on the disabled list and what that means for the temporary settlement of a five-man rotation, Hughes still has pressure on him. Every start is an audition to present his case to remain in the rotation through September and into October. Given what happened in Boston when he appeared in relief, perhaps Hughes has readjusted his brain chemistry to be a starting pitcher.

Hughes cruised much the way he did in Chicago on August 2. He pounded the strike zone with his fastball, changed speeds effectively, and maintained his aggressiveness with two strikes. That aggressiveness didn’t manifest itself in strikeouts as it had in Hughes’s previous two starts against Chicago and Tampa Bay, but it did lead to weak contact and routine outs. Between the home run he allowed to Plouffe in the first inning and the walk he issued to Plouffe to lead off the seventh, Hughes only allowed one Twin to reach base.

Joe Girardi allowed Hughes to start the eighth, and pitcher rewarded manager by retiring the first batter. The next two at-bats didn’t go quite as well. Luke Hughes (no relation) singled to left on a 1-2 curveball and Tsuyoshi Nishioka followed with a screaming liner that caught Gardner in left more than Gardner caught the ball. That was it for Hughes.

Credit Girardi for relieving Hughes when he did — not because of the pitch count, but because in the last eight batters he faced, Hughes issued two walks, a hit, and a loud out. Overall, Hughes was as dominant as he was in the rain-shortened effort against the White Sox. He is 3-0 in his last three decisions as a starter and his fourth straight quality start. Since returning from the DL on July 6, he’s lowered his ERA from Chien-Ming Wang (13.94) to Sergio Mitre (5.75).

All signs point to Hughes being on the right track.

J Martin said of Hughes, “He’s progressing late in the season. You’d rather have somebody peaking late than peaking too early.”

Curtis Granderson figured prominently in the Yankees victory, yet again. Midway through the game, Jack Curry joined Michael Kay and John Flaherty in the YES broadcast booth and Curry asked Kay if he had an MVP vote, who he would vote for. Kay believed that Adrian Gonzalez would win, because his batting average entering Friday’s action was more than 60 points higher than Granderson. Curry said he’d vote for Granderson.

Curtis Granderson

Curtis Granderson reached base four times and scored another run Friday. (AP Photo)

Traditionally, the Triple Crown categories have swayed the writers’ vote for Most Valuable Player. If that were to hold true this year, Granderson holds the edge over Gonzalez in both home runs and RBIs. He also has scored more runs than Gonzalez (113 to 81), and has a higher slugging percentage (.596 to .543), and OPS (.973 to .950). Granderson also leads the American League in triples and has 23 stolen bases. His 113 runs scored lead all of baseball, as do his 12 home runs against left-handed pitchers. The only thing Granderson hasn’t done is hit for average. With that in mind, I’ve thought that if Granderson finishes the season within 10 points of .300 on either side, he has a chance to win the MVP.

But there’s a catch.

Six years ago, I wrote a column arguing that Baseball Prospectus’s VORP statistic should be the primary determinant in MVP voting. If that were to hold true this season, Jose Bautista would win, as his VORP total is 69.2 to Granderson’s 57.6. Bautista’s batting average is .314 to Granderson’s .284, he leads the American League in home runs (35), on-base percentage (.455), slugging percentage (.638) and OPS (1.093). The Sabermetricians would put Bautista as the MVP. In terms of VORP, Gonzalez ranks fourth on his team.

So where’s the line? Granderson, compared to Gonzalez and Bautista, is a different offensive player. Not better, but different. Speed adds that other dimension. Perhaps the speed makes Granderson a more complete offensive threat. That completeness is what swayed Jack Curry.

The bottom line: the decision will be subjective, and bias will be involved. If Granderson isn’t the league MVP this season he’s definitely been the MVY (Most Valuable Yankee).

Don’t Boogie on My Face

Playoff baseball returns to the Bronx tonight as Phil Hughes takes the hill for the Yanks. Yanks win, they advance; lose, and CC goes tomorrow night.

‘Nuff said:

Let’s Go Yan-Kees!

[Picture by Bags]

Of All the Gin Joints In All the World…

…Why’d it have to be the Twins?

First of all, I’m going to be very careful not to get too jinxy here – ahem, Mayor Bloomberg, what the hell?!  – because of course it’s entirely possible that the Twins will come back; they’re plenty good enough to win three games in a row. (Not that I actually believe in jinxes, of course. I would never walk all the way down five flights and two blocks over to find a tree so I could knock on wood because there was none in my platic-metal-glass office, for example. Nope, never done anything like that, certainly not during the 2005 postseason, not that it worked anyway).

That said, it’s not looking good for the Twinkies right now, and although of course I want to see the Yanks move on, I wish it could be any other team. Minnesota’s been my second-favorite AL club for a long time now: I like how they’ve managed to succeed with a small market and a relatively small payroll; I loved reading about them on Bat-Girl back in the day; I have issues with some of his strategic movies but I find Ron Gardenhire to be a likeable and twinkly little baseball gnome; I am in awe of Joe Mauer even though there’s no way he’s actually that wholesome and one day I’m sure they’ll find a bunch of heads in his freezer or something. I liked Joe Nathan, I like Orlando Hudson, because I am a red-blooded American I of course adore Jim Thome, and then I always root for my guy Denard Span, the only other Span I’ve ever come across outside of immediate family.

The presence of useless wretch Carl Pavano helps, of course, but even he can’t make the Twins unlikeable all by his lonesome.

Back in August, I went to Minnesota for a college friend’s wedding on a bison farm outside of Rochester (not a typo). My traveling companion and I figured, how the hell often are we gonna be in Minnesota? So we flew in a day early, got standing-room tickets, and drove our rental car the 90 miles up to the Twin Cities. The park itself is lovely (only complaint: they need to get something better than a few dull-looking trees out there in center field), but I was more impressed by how psyched the fans were – for outdoor baseball, for their first-place club, for Jim Thome.

Also, the cheese curds. Mmmm… cheese curds.

Their fans were enthusiastic and engaged without being quite so rabid as I’m used to here in New York – which has both advantages and drawbacks, I suppose (I grew up surrounded by rabid fanbases, and a game watched without surrounding spittle and bile doesn’t quite seem like a game to me). Almost everyone at the ballpark seemed to have some kind of Twins gear, and even though Carl Pavano got crushed by the White Sox, the crowd never turned sour or hostile. (They did boo A.J. Pierzynski every time he came up, but that’s both understandable and praiseworthy). It was just a nice atmosphere, and while I’m generally used to shrugging it off and enjoying myself when the Yankees crush small-market competitors, I feel no bloodlust for the Twins. I hope they lose tomorrow, but I want the best for them.

If they do come back and beat the Yanks somehow, then as soon as I get past a brief mourning period, they’ll have my support all the way. And if they don’t… well, I hope they run into somebody else next year.

[Photo via 1) http://www.gephartelectric.com and 2) stolen from my traveling companion without even asking]

Game 2: Idle Threat?

Alyssa Milano might be the only other entity that regrets a four-year relationship with Carl Pavano more than the Yankees. Granted, the beloved Middle School crush of my age group wasn’t with the man George King of the Post dubbed the “American Idle” as long as the Yankees, but neither relationship was successful for the parties on Pavano’s arm. For Yankee haters, the thought of Pavano dominating the Yankees after he stole $39.99 million from the team from 2005-2008, spreading 26 starts, pitching 145 2/3 innings and amassing a 9-8 record and more ridiculous excuses for landing on the DL, is sublime. For the rest of us, well, the nausea hasn’t subsided.

Somewhere down South, a grinning Pat Jordan is polishing off a gun for Alex.

The Yankees’ saving grace, as it has been in seemingly every Game 2 of every playoff series in which he’s appeared as a Yankee since 2003, is Andy Pettitte. Pettitte won Game 2 of every series in ’03. He won the clinching game in every series of last year’s World Series run. He represents the championships, reliability, leadership, and stability in the rotation.

But he also represents the age of this Yankee team. At 38, Pettitte has not shown the ageless superhuman qualities of his bullpen colleague Mariano Rivera. Thursday night will mark only Pettitte’s fourth start since coming off the disabled list. Pettitte admitted his success in Baltimore in his return was based on adrenaline. His next two starts — both against Boston — didn’t feature the command he displayed in that first outing. Will the adrenaline of the postseason, the knowledge of what it takes to win in these circumstances, especially now that he’s been bolstered to a 1-0 lead, be enough to get by?

With all due respect to Banter colleague Hank Waddles, Pavano’s presence on the mound for the Twins has nothing to do with audacity. In fact, there’s precedent for the possibility of him dominating the Yankees Thursday night. Pavano allowed four runs and held the Yankees to a .224 BAA in his two starts against them during the ’09 regular season. In four career postseason appearances (three against the Yankees), Pavano has an 8-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio, a 0.95 WHIP, and has allowed just 22 hits in 26 1/3 IP. Pavano started Game 4 of the ’03 World Series — the infamous “Jeff Weaver Game” — and held the Yankees to one run in eight innings of the pivotal contest. Last year, Pavano and Pettitte engaged in a great duel last year in Game 3 of the ALDS; what proved to be the final game ever played at the Metrodome. Pavano made two bad pitches in his seven innings of work. They resulted in solo home runs by Alex Rodriguez and Jorge Posada in the seventh inning. Pettitte, meanwhile, also pitched into the seventh, holding the Twins to just three hits in 6 1/3 innings, and he struck out seven. Pavano was a hard-luck loser. A step up from the first-class loser he was as a Yankee.

Spin forward to Thursday’s Game 2, given the current state of affairs with the two starting pitchers, the edge goes to Minnesota (Pavano’s 4.85 ERA since August 1 notwithstanding). Groin injuries can get reaggravated very easily. If there’s a Burnett or Meat Tray sighting within the first four innings, you can almost guarantee a loss for the Yankees.

A quality start from Pettitte will go a long way toward answering not only the questions posed above, but the broader questions regarding the viability of the Yankees’ playoff rotation behind CC Sabathia. I have to see it to believe it, though.

Prediction: Twins 5, Yankees 2

And Now, For My Next Trick

How do you follow-up a no-hitter?

The Yanks and Twins begin their series in the shadow of Roy Halladay’s great feat. So be it.

We’ll be rooting! (Enjoy the comments section and be mindful of our house rules–feel free to curse, just don’t curse at each other.)

This is what we’ve been waiting for. Never mind the fancy introductions…

Let’s Go Yan-Kees!

[Picture by Bags]

Minnesota Twins II: First Time Ever I Saw Your Place

If the regular season ended today, the Yankees and Twins would meet in the Division Series for the second year in a row and fourth time in the last eight years. This week’s three game set in Minneapolis, the Yankees’ first visit to the new Target Field, will conclude the season series between the two teams, but there’s a very good chance that they will meet again come October.

The Yankees took two of three from the Twins in the Bronx the weekend before last, but have gone 2-5 against the Red Sox, Rays, and Mets since. The Twins have gone 3-4, splitting a two-game set with the Blue Jays, dropping two games in Boston, then returning home to take two of three from the Brewers. The Twins scored 31 runs in the three wins, but just nine runs in the four losses.

Target Field has been a happy home for the Twinks thus far as they are 14-7 (.667) at home against just 12-11 on the road. Here are the runs-scored splits for the Twins and their opponents at and away from Target Field:

@MIN: Twins 5.43 R/G; Opp 3.67 R/G; total: 9.10 R/G
Road: Twins 4.60 R/G; Opp 4.39 R/G; total: 8.99 R/G

Baseball-Reference’s park factors list Target Field as a slight hitter’s park (103/102). The total runs per game numbers above, which lack any adjustment for strength of opposition or road park factors, seem to agree with that.

The only change the Twins have made since the Yankees last saw them is that they called up Trevor Plouffe and installed him at shortstop. Plouffe was the Twins’ first round pick in 2004, but he isn’t a great defender and has hit just .259/.321/.391 in the minors. He’s simply a place-holder for the injured J.J. Hardy (wrist), who could return during this series.

Tonight A.J. Burnett, who has pitched poorly in two of his last three starts, the exception being a quality start against the Twins in which he walked four and got a no-decision, goes up against Scott Baker. Baker was the losing pitcher in that game against Burnett despite striking out nine Yankees in six innings against just one walk.

Baker actually left that game with a 4-3 lead in the seventh, but he bequeathed a couple of runners to his bullpen, both of whom scored on Alex Rodriguez’s grand slam off Matt Guerrier later that inning. That game, with those two runners added to Baker’s tally, was the only one of his four starts in May in which he allowed more than three runs. On the month, he has averaged more than 6 2/3 innings per starts and has struck out 27 men in 27 innings against just four walks.

With Baker starting tonight, Francisco Liriano starting Wednesday, and Javy Vazquez testing out his bruised finger on Thursday, all in a ballpark that has been very friendly to its new tenants, the Yankees will be hard pressed to pull out of their current skid this week.


2010 Minnesota Twins

In each of the last two seasons, the American League Central was decided by one run in the 163rd game of the year. I don’t expect things will be quite so close this year. The Twins, who lost 1-0 to the White Sox in a one-game playoff in 2008 then beat the Tigers 6-5 in the 12th inning of Game 163 last year, are the clear class of the division, as much because of the backward steps taken by Chicago and Detroit (the Yankees’ just-completed series loss to the Tigers notwithstanding), as because of the slight improvements to the Minnesota squad.

In conjunction with their move into their new outdoor ballpark, Target Field, the Twins finally healed some of the wounds from the horribly-botched Johan Santana trade by ridding themselves of out-machine Carlos Gomez (who came over from the Mets in that deal and posted a .293 OBP in 963 plate appearances over the last two seasons) just in time for Santana’s supposed successor, lefty Francisco Liriano, to finally return to something resembling his his 2006 All-Star form three years after Tommy John surgery.

Liriano’s reemergence as the staff ace has been a key to Twins early success this year as the Twins have been the second stingiest team in the AL (albeit well behind the Rays and only slightly ahead of the Yankees[!]). While you’re still in a good mood from the mention of the Yankees right there I’ll add that another reason for that success has been Carl Pavano, who (brace yourself) leads the Twins in innings and K/BB (thanks to just seven walks in as many starts) and is second to Liriano with a 3.30 ERA.

The Twins also rival the Tigers for the junior circuit’s best bullpen. No Joe Nathan? No problem. Jon Rauch thrived as a closer for the Nationals in 2008 before being traded to Arizona, and he’s thriving in the role again for the Twins, posting a 1.93 ERA making like Pavano by posting a stellar K/BB largely due to a dearth of walks (just two in 13 appearances). That on top of typically fine work from Matt Guerrier and strong early showings from sophomore lefty Brian Duensing and veteran LOOGY Ron Mahay give the Twins an excellent end game.

At the plate, the Twins trail only the Yankees in all of baseball in on-base percentage with a team mark of .358. Credit defending AL MVP Joe Mauer (.413), major league OBP leader Justin Morneau (.486), center fielder Denard Span (.379), free agent second baseman Orlando Hudson (.369), and the man who eliminated the Twins with a solo homer in 2008 and has recently eliminated a struggling Jason Kubel from the lineup, 39-year-old Jim Thome (.384).

Unfortunately, despite finally going out and getting a qualified middle infield duo this winter, the Twins still have Nick Punto and Brendan Harris in the lineup. Harris because J.J. Hardy, the shortstop acquired from the Brewers for Gomez, was hit in the write with a pitch and is on the DL. Punto, because while they got Hudson and Hardy to fill the middle infield, they forgot to get a third baseman. Punto is now in his sixth (sixth!) season as a starter or replacement starter for the Twins. In that time, he has hit .250/.323/.328 yet the Twins still haven’t figured out that they win despite him, not because of him.

Nonetheless, with their pitchers keeping runs off the board and the bulk of their lineup keeping outs off the board, the Twins are on pace to post the second best record in franchise history and best since the original Senators went to the World Series in 1933. I don’t expect the Twins to keep up their 105-win pace (they haven’t faced the Yankees, Rays, or Rangers yet), but I do expect them to win the AL Central with ease.

Scott Baker starts tonight for the Twinks. The team’s best pitcher a year ago, he’s third in line this year despite little change in his own performance save some BABIP correction (from .277 to .311). In his last two starts, against the Tigers and Orioles, Baker has put up this line: 15 IP, 10 H, 4 R, 2 BB, 14 K. He faced the Yankees once last year and gave up five runs on eight singles, a double, and two walks in just three innings. He faces A.J. Burnett, who looks to get back on the ball after his failure at Fenway.

Francisco Cervelli starts for Jorge Posada, who gets a routine day off after two days on, which might be a pattern going forward. Brett Gardner continues to bat second (though I’m waiting for the Yankees to swap him and Jeter in the order). The lineup behind Robinson Cano is Nick Swisher, back from biceps tightness, Marcus Thames, in left against a righty, Juan Miranda at DH, and Cervelli.


Minnesota Twins II: Revenge is a Dish Best Served Cold (a.k.a. Bye-Bye, Baggie, Goodbye)

The Twins in a nutshell: average offense, average rotation, excellent defense and bullpen.

The offense is three-tiered, with the MVP-quality performances of Joe Mauer (.389/.465/.648) and Justin Morneau (.323/.399/.601, 21 homers, 69 RBIs) on top, the similarly alliterative Jason Kubel, Michael Cuddyer, Joe Crede, and, uhm, Denard Span at or above league average in the middle, and the punchless skill positions of shortstop, second base, and center field (currently occupied by Brendan Harris, Nick Punto, and Carlos Gomez, respectively) dragging things down from below.

The manner in which the Twins are punting offense at those three skill positions is a throwback to the days when teams couldn’t really expect to get much production from their middle infielders, which is to say, it’s outdated and inappropriate to competing in the DH league in 2009. The Twins are at least getting elite defense from Gomez in center and Punto at second base, but Harris is a complete dud on both sides of the ball, which underlines just how poorly Alexi Casilla (.180/.242/.225 and since demoted to the minors) and Matt Tolbert (.184/.275/.232 and benched) had to perform in order for Harris to make his way back into the lineup.

The presence of Harris in the lineup while Delmon Young rides pine behind Cuddyer, Kubel, Span, and Gomez underlines just how much the Matt Garza trade has blown up in the Twins’ faces. Young has now hit .285/.326/.392 in 204 games as a Twin and is well south of that overall mark this season. Meanwhile, Rays shortstop Jason Bartlett is headed to the All-Star Game on the strength of two and a half flukey months of hot hitting. Bartlett’s bat will come back to earth, but his glove will continue to outshine Harris’s. Meanwhile, Matt Garza helped the Rays reach the World Series last year as the ALCS MVP.

The Twins aren’t hurting for starting pitching. Their rotation of Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey, Nick Blackburn, Francisco Liriano, and Glen Perkins is comprised entirely of home grown pitchers 27-years-old or younger and includes two lefties (Liriano and Perkins). They have so much home-grown pitching that even their injury replacements come from the farm, as is the case with 23-year-old Anthony Swarzak, who will start for the injured Slowey on Thursday. Still, Garza was likely the best of their bunch given Liriano’s disappointing post-Tommy John performance, and while they tried to deal from that strength to correct a weakness, all they managed to do was create an additional weakness at shortstop. Young is just 23, leaving open the possibility of significant improvement, but he’s heading in the wrong direction for the Twins to hope for a way to salvage that trade.

The Johan Santana trade isn’t looking much better, though that comes as less of a surprise given the lack of bargaining power the Twins had and their rejection of superior offers from the Yankees and Red Sox. Like Young, Gomez is just 23, but he’s never shown any ability to hit in the majors. Most agreed that the Mets rushed him in 2007 due to injury-created need and that the Twins needed to give him more development time in the minors, but Gomez hasn’t spent a day in the minors since joining the organization. He might be the best defensive center fielder in baseball, but that doesn’t make up for his .250/.293/.353 line in 225 games as a Twin.

As for the three minor league right-handers included in that deal, Phil Humber was designated for assignment earlier this year, Kevin Mulvey has been solid but ordinary as a 24-year-old righty in Triple-A this year (4.17 ERA) and is trapped behind the aforementioned home grown starters, and Deolis Guerra has yet to impress in his third full-season in the Florida State League (though he is just 20).

The Yankees swept the Twins in a memorable four-game series in the Bronx in mid-May. The first three wins were all walkoffs, two of them coming in extra-innings. The difference in the entire series was five runs. Since then, the Twins have dropped two of the losing pitchers, letting the A’s claim lefty Craig Breslow off waivers and demoting Jesse Crain to Triple-A. You can bet the Twins remember that series all too well and will come out with some extra fire for this week’s three-game set in the Homer Dome.

Things kick off tonight with a battle of aces. Scott Baker doesn’t lead the twins in any major pitching category, but his 1.41 WHIP and 4.11 K/9 add up to make the 27-year-old righty their best starter despite his 4.99 ERA and .500 record. Indeed, Baker fell one inning short of his sixth-straight quality start in his last outing, but still held the Royals to one run over five inefficient frames. Over those last six starts, Baker is 4-0 with a 3.20 ERA, a 0.97 WHIP, and a 4.38 K/BB. Much to my surprise, Baker hasn’t faced the Yankees since 2006, when he beat them twice.

CC Sabathia takes the hill for the Yankees. CC’s coming off a disappointing outing in which he couldn’t locate his pitches yet still struck out eight Mariners in 5 2/3 innings. Two starts prior to that, he was pulled in the second inning due to tightness in his bicep. Otherwise, he lasted a minimum of seven innings in each of his other nine starts since May 8, going 6-1 with a 2.75 ERA in those outings and only passing 113 pitches once (tellingly in the one loss).

Francisco Cervelli catches CC yet again tonight. Brett Gardner roams center. Hideki Matsui hits fifth behind Alex Rodriguez with Nick Swisher batting sixth and Robinson Cano dropping to seventh ahead of Gardner and Cervelli.

Finally, this series marks the Yankees last trip to the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome barring an only moderately unlikely postseason matchup. Good ridance, I say. I’m happy to have the place confined to my 1987 World Series box set, bringing us one step closer to the end of Astroturf and indoor stadiums in baseball.


Minnesota Twins

Minnesota Twins

2009 Record: 18-17 (.514)
2009 Pythagorean Record: 16-19 (.457)

2008 Record: 88-75 (.540)
2008 Pythagorean Record: 89-74 (.546)

Manager: Ron Gardenhire
General Manager: Bill Smith

Home Ballpark (multi-year Park Factors): Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome (93/93)

Who’s Replaced Whom:

25-man Roster:

1B – Justin Morneau (L)
2B – Matt Tolbert (S)
SS – Nick Punto (S)
3B – Joe Crede (R)
L – Joe Mauer (L)
RF – Michael Cuddyer (R)
CF – Carlos Gomez (R)
LF – Denard Span (L)
DH – Jason Kubel (L)


R – Mike Redmond (C)
L – Brian Buscher (3B)
R – Brendan Harris (IF)
S – Jose Morales (C)


L – Francisco Liriano
R – Nick Blackburn
R – Kevin Slowey
L – Glen Perkins
R – Scott Baker


R – Joe Nathan
R – Jesse Crain
R – Matt Guerrier
L – Craig Breslow
R – Luis Ayala
R – R.A. Dickey
L – Jose Mijares

Family Leave List: OF – Delmon Young (R)

15-day DL: RHP – Boof Bonser (labrum and rotator cuff surgery)

60-day DL: RHP – Pat Neshek (TJ)

Typical Lineup:

L – Denard Span (LF)
S – Matt Tolbert (2B)
L – Joe Mauer (C)
L – Justin Morneau (1B)
L – Jason Kubel (DH)
R – Joe Crede (3B)
R – Michael Cuddyer (RF)
R – Carlos Gomez (CF)
S – Nick Punto (SS)


Minnesota Twins III: Back Where We Started Edition

UntitledThree weeks ago, the Twins arrived in the Bronx holding a two-game lead over the Yankees for second place in the Wild Card race. The Yanks swept past Minnesota in that week’s three game series, but have since fallen back into the back. As a result, the Yankees head into Minneapolis tonight once again trailing the Twins by two games for second place in the Wild Card race.

While the Yankees have been struggling to remain relevant to the Wild Card picture, the Twins have had bigger fish to fry. Three days after leaving New York, the Twins hosted the AL Central-leading White Sox and took three of four games to close the gap atop the central to a half a game. Since then, the Twins have twice slipped past the Pale Hose, only to slip back behind them the next day. They enter tonight’s action trailing the Chisox by just a half game and the two teams have been within 1.5 games of one another for the past week.

The Twins have been hanging tight in the Central all year, and a week ago they finally brought rehabilitated lefty ace Francisco Liriano up to replace aged innings eater Livan Hernandez in the rotation. The Yankees are fortunate not to have to face Liriano (2-0, 2.31 since being recalled) this week, but given the Twins’ spectacular record at home (.650 winning percentage), and the fact that Minnesota actually has something to fight for, they’ve got their work cut out for them anyway.

The Yanks split a four-game series in the Homer Dome as May turned into June, and will kick this week’s three-game set off tonight by sending Sidney Ponson to the mound against Glen Perkins. Ponson has faced the Twins thrice already this year. He pitched 5 2/3 innings in the opening game of the Yankees’ July sweep and picked up a win thanks to 12 runs of support. His first start of the season saw him pitch 5 1/3 innings against the Twins in Texas, give up four unearned runs, and take a no-decision. His one start at the Metrodome, however, was one to dream on, a 110-pitch complete game in which Sir Sidney allowed just one run on six hits and a walk while the Rangers cruised to a 10-1 victory. Perkins, meanwhile, has faced the Yankees twice, once in each location, both times coughing up five runs, which is exactly what he did against the Mariners in his last start as well.

The lefty Perkins won’t have to deal with Jason Giambi or the hot-hitting Johnny Damon tonight, as Richie Sexson gets the start at first base and Justin Christian starts over Damon in left field with Xavier Nady DHing. Damon DHed in both weekend games after slamming his sore left shoulder into the wall on Friday night in pursuit of a rocket hit off Ian Kennedy, so it seems likely that Joe Girardi is simply using the opposting lefty as an excuse to give Damon a needed day off. Still, starting both Christian and Melky Cabrera over Damon hurts, as Damon has had two singles in each of the last five games, is hitting .370 over his active 11-game hitting streak, has hit .333/.413/.420 with five steals in as many tries since being activated from the DL after nursing that same sore shoulder back to relative health, and, if you hadn’t noticed, is actually leading the league in batting average. Similarly, while Sexson has quietly hit .292/.400/.458 as a part-timer since joining the Yankees, the clean-shaven Giambi is hitting .313/.500/.875 with three home runs on the current road trip.


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