MLB Playoff Preview: Yankees vs. Twins

With Johan Santana going in two of the five games, Minnesota has a shot to dethrone the defending AL Champs.

AMERICAN LEAGUE DIVISION SERIES

Minnesota Twins (92-70) vs. New York Yankees (101-61)

Game 1 @ NY: J. Santana (L) (20-5, 2.61 ERA, 265K) vs. M. Mussina (R) (12-9, 4.59 ERA, 132 K)
Game 2 @ NY: B. Radke (R) (11-8, 3.48 ERA, 143 K) vs. J. Lieber (R) (14-8, 4.33 ERA, 102 K)
Game 3 @ MIN: C. Silva (R) (14-8, 4.21 ERA, 76 K) vs. O. Hernandez (R) (8-2, 3.30 ERA, 84 K)
Game 4* @ MIN: J. Santana (L) vs. J. Vazquez(R) (14-10, 4.91 ERA, 150 K)
Game 5* @ NY: B. Radke (R) vs. M. Mussina (R)


OFFENSE
Yankees: As usual, the Bronx Bombers will try and bash the baseball into the gaps and out of the park. Power is the name of their game and without the speed and small ball effect to manufacture runs consistently they attack the opposing pitcher with a patient but relentless approach. Jeter and Lofton are key at the top of the order as it's imperative that Gary Sheffield and Alex Rodriguez have as many RBI opportunities as possible. Joe Torre is contemplating leaving Jason Giambi off the roster for the LDS and going with 11 pitchers. This makes the offensive output of Tony Clark and John Olerud that much more vital.

Key Yankee Bat: Bernie Williams- Williams has been clutch in the past and ended the regular season on a hot streak. Expect Williams to step to the dish in several key situations in this series.

Twins: Lacking the power that the Yankees display, the Twins will continue to string together singles and doubles in the clutch and use their speed to their advantage. The power source comes from Torii Hunter, Corey Koskie, Justin Morneau and Jacque Jones but for the limited home runs surges to be most effective, Shannon Stewart must get on base from the lead off spot. Without Luis Rivas, red-hot fill-in Michael Cuddyer should provide some extra punch from the 2B position.

Key Twins Bat: Jacque Jones- Jones just lost his father and would have every excuse to be distracted in this series. Don't bet on it. Watch for the free agent-to-be to come out swinging from the get-go. If Jones disappears the Twins will be one more bat short in a series that ultimately could be a slugfest.


PITCHING
Yankees: These aren't your fathers starting pitchers in pinstripes anymore. In fact, these aren't even your big brother's Yankee starters for that matter. From Kevin Brown's injuries to the struggles of Javier Vazquez and Mike Mussina, the rotation has been the main weakness on a 100-win club. Jon Leiber has been solid at times and Mussina picked things up in September to give the Yankees some hope at the front end of the series. If El Duque isn't able to pitch, the Yankees will have to bash their way to a series win.

The pen has saved the season for the Bombers but the only question is whether the main three components were overworked during the regular season. Tom Gordon, Paul Quantrill and closer Mariano Rivera led the AL in appearances and will certainly be counted on just as much if not more in the postseason.

Key Yankee Arm: Orlando Hernandez- El Duque was nails down the stretch for the Yankees and will be vital to the depth of the staff during the postseason. His recent shoulder injury is a major concern for Torre and could end up being the deciding factor in a short series versus a deeper Twins staff.

Twins: Johan Santana's presence alone gives the Twins a major advantage in a short series and the Twins intend to ride their horse through the LDS and all the way to pay dirt. The problem arises in games Santana doesn't pitch. Game 2 starter Brad Radke hasn't fared to well against the Evil Empire in his 23 games against them. Sporting a career 4.60 ERA and allowing a .288 average, Radke must reverse his Yankee fortunes and provide the Twins with a solid effort. Without Radke's best, the Twins are forced to win both games that Santana pitches as well as game three behind Carlos Silva. If the Yankes upset the Twins in game one, the pressure on Radke will triple and the Twins will be in serious trouble.

Minnesota's bullpen is solid, though inexperienced in the playoffs. Joe Nathan has pitched 1/3 of an inning in the playoffs while left-hander J.C. Romero and right-hander Juan Rincon have just 11.1 innings of postseason experience between the two of them. In the five-game series the bullpen could be looked to for three frames a night and between the three stars in the Twins' pen, they shouldn't have too much trouble covering them.

Key Twins Arm: Romero- The southpaw can neutralize the left-handed bats of Jason Giambi and Hideki Matsui while turning around switch-hitters Jorge Posada and Bernie Williams to their weaker sides.


DEFENSE
Yankees Outfield: The Yankees lack range in the outfield with an aging Bernie Williams and Kenny Lofton roaming center field, but they rarely make mistakes and all have above average throwing arms. The Twins can take advantage by hitting the gaps and forcing the Yankees to run down liners in the alley ways.

Twins Outfield: Minnesota's three starters are the exact opposite of the Yankee outfield. A young, speedy trio that can cover several acres, Hunter, Jones and Stewart lack the collective throwing arms that could cut down Yankee base runners or hold them at third on a sacrifice fly attempt. Hunter is the only above-average arm in the Minnesota outfield.

Yankees Infield: Very solid on the left side with Jeter and Rodriguez and with the addition of Olerud at first, the Yankees boast the best defensive infield they have had since their recent run of World Series success. Miguel Cairo's play at second base is more than adequate and Posada is very solid behind the plate.

Twins Infield: With Koskie's gold glove caliber at the hot corner and Guzman's range at shortstop, Minnesota's left side is as good as any. The right side took a hit when the club dealt slick-fielding-sacker Doug Mientkiewicz to Boston and Luis Rivas was scheduled for season-ending knee surgery. Cuddyer will be fine at second base while Morneau is merely adequate at first.


Manager Analysis: Torre has more postseason experience-and success-than any active manager and rarely gets out managed in the playoffs. The six-time World Series manager has things in order heading into this series and has baseball's best closer to rely on late in close games.
Ron Gardenhire is an underrated strategist and won't make the key mistake that loses the Twins a game or the series. With the two clubs being polar opposites, their managers are very much alike. Each runs a relaxed but business-like clubhouse and expects the best efforts from their players at all times. This series will be won and lost by the players not the managers.


InsidethePark.com Prediction: Yankees in five-
While I will pull for the Twins, I think it's very possible that New York gets to Santana just enough to squeak out a game with Santana on the hill. If they do it could be a sweep. Otherwise, the Yankees could win games 2, 3 and force Gardenhire to go with Santana on three days rest.



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