The Yanks’ ALDS opponents are built around offensive star power, from All-Star Joe Mauer and future hall-of-famer Jim Thome to prodigal-prospect-made-good Delmon Young and top-tier second-baseman-for-hire Orlando Hudson. (They’d be even more loaded if Justin Morneau hadn’t been knocked out for the year with concussions during what was shaping up to be a Pujols-level season at the plate.) Their defense is not particularly great; Hudson and speedy center fielder Denard Span don’t quite make up for the relative ploddingness of the guys surrounding them. Their pitching is solid but not star-studded: Francisco Liriano is the only starter with really electric stuff, while the others generally pitch to contact and rely on good control to keep themselves in games. (Which we suppose is actually a Twins stereotype.) Their bullpen has piled up impressive strikeout rates, but on the other hand, learning about the fourth guy in some team’s bullpen is the most tedious part of reading playoff previews, so who cares?
With that overview in mind, click through to read about a few of the issues on Twins fans’ minds going into this series, as determined by reading a bunch of articles from Twins blogs and e-mailing our friend who grew up in Minneapolis.
Is Francisco Liriano okay? The Twins’ star pitcher closed the season with a run of three games in which he allowed twelve total runs in only thirteen innings; that’s an ERA of, hmmm, let’s say 8.9-ish. It’s particularly worrisome since last season, Liriano ended the year in the bullpen after his arm gave out. Presently his velocity and accuracy don’t seem to be down particularly, but in the aforementioned last three starts he gave up five homers — or four more than he gave up in June, July, and August combined — on a higher-than-normal number of fly balls.
Can Joe Mauer and Jim Thome come through? Mauer and Thome, by far the Twins’ biggest threats in the lineup, both missed a slew of games once the team had clinched a playoff spot. Mauer had tweaked his knee, while Thome was out with a bad back. According to Will Carroll at Baseball Prospectus, Mauer should be fine to play. Carroll is more noncommittal about Thome, and while the Twins are saying he’s fine, it doesn’t seem like it’d be a shocker if the 40-year-old slugger were to have further issues, having logged only five at bats in the season’s last eleven games. Another issue: Both are left-handed batters who hit significantly worse against left-handed pitchers than they do against righties. With CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte starting for the Yanks, that’s a big problem, especially given that other Twins lineup staples like Jason Kubel and Michael Cuddyer are having relatively down years.
Is Orlando Hudson going to play himself out of the lineup for a second-straight October? Hudson didn’t have any announced injury issues, but has managed only four extra-base hits since the beginning of September. Last year he lost his starting job for the Dodgers with a similar pre-playoff slump. Hudson hits second in the Twins’ order, and with leadoff man Denard Span having a letdown season, it’s especially worrisome for the team that Hudson’s OBP has dropped 25 points in the last month. According to this Twins blogger, the second baseman has looked unsure which pitches to swing at and which to take, all the while showing poor body language. Yanks fans should look out if he tries to turn things around and “get his swagger back” before Game 1 by wearing cool sunglasses and taking batting practice from the drivers’ seat of a fly Ford Mustang.
Can Brian Duensing keep it up? Duensing, a 27-year-old in only his second season, will pitch Game 3 at the Stadium. His 2.62 ERA this year is impressive, but he wasn’t a top prospect, doesn’t have great velocity, and has struck out a lot fewer batters than you’d expect for a guy with that ERA. Maybe he’s one of those Mark Buehrle–type pitchers who puts together a great career with good control and general craftiness, or maybe he’s been getting lucky. A playoff game on the road against the Yankees’ lineup will certainly make for a good test.
Could a potential Game 5 be canceled when the field freezes over and everyone dies of hypothermia? We were in Minnesota over Labor Day and it was about 30 damn degrees at night. Five weeks later it must be a polar apocalypse up there. We also have it on good authority that MLB is worried that the Twins’ new outdoor ballpark exposes players to the threat of being eaten by marauding bears.