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On May 14th, the Twins held a slim 4-3 lead over the Yankees. With the bases loaded in the bottom of the 7th inning, Alex Rodriguez was due to bat. Ron Gardenhire walked to the mound and pointed to the bullpen summoning right-handed reliever Matt Guerrier. Guerrier has been one of the Twins best relievers, one of baseball's best relievers, over the past four seasons. However, coming into the at bat, Rodriguez had been 4-6 with a double and three home runs against Guerrier. Six at bats is a very small sample size, but it certainly was an indicator of what was to come next. On an 0-1 pitch, Rodriguez launch a grand slam into the left centerfield bleachers.
In the world of stats, the term "Small Sample Size" means a lot. Six at bats is far from enough to to determine what would happen over 100 at bats. The playoffs represent the ultimate Small Sample. What means more? What a player does over 162 game schedule, maybe 600 plate appearances, or what happens in a Best of Five or Best of Seven series where a player may get anywhere from 10-20 plate appearances.
I think that the stats from 600 plate appearances always mean more than the stats from 20 plate appearances, and yet, there is no questioning the value of the playoffs. Obviously it is the reason they play the 162 game schedule.
The Twins will again play the Yankees in the ALDS. We can hope that there will not be an important Alex Rodriguez versus Matt Guerrier matchup in a crucial late-inning situation, especially now that he is 5-7 with a double and four home runs in their matchups. What other matchups could be worth watching during this series?
Let's start with Alex Rodriguez. His OPS against left-handed pitchers was nearly .130 points lower than against right-handers. So, maybe it would make sense to have Brian Fuentes pitch against him? However, in his career, A-Rod is 2-4 with two walks and two home runs against Fuentes. The other left-handed option is Jose Mijares who he has never faced. Maybe it'd be best just to leave the starter in. The four pitchers scheduled to start for the Twins have held him to 8-38 overall.
The Twins will face lefty CC Sabathia in Game 1. The Twins regulars have had little success off of him. Michael Cuddyer is 11-56. Joe Mauer is 5-23. Delmon Young is 3-15. Orlando Hudson is 2-9. Jim Thome is just 4-27 against Sabathia. Of course, all four of those hits are home runs. The biggest surprise might be that Alexi Casilla has gone 9-13 with two doubles aginst Sabathia. Is it possible that could lead to a Game 1 start for him?
Andy Pettitte is another tough left-hander with some track record against the Twins. Twins hitters have had a little more success against him. Cuddyer is 8-21 with two doubles and a homer. Joe Mauer is 6-20. Jim Thome has gone 9-35 against Pettitte with two doubles and two home runs. Delmon Young has gone 11-21 (.524) in his career against the veteran lefty.
Here's where we bring up Jason Kubel. There is no hiding that Kubel has struggled against southpaws his whole career. People were disappointed by his performance last year in the ALDS against the Yankees, but consider that in his career (including postseason), he is 0-5 against Sabathia with three strikeouts. Against Andy Pettitte, he is 0-6 with four strikeouts. He doesn't hit lefties well, so it's not a great matchup for Kubel to hit against a couple of the better left-handers. Of course, we can all forgive Kubel for his shortcomings against lefties after his grand slam off of Mariano Rivera in May gave the Twins a win. He is actually 3-9 with that home run. He's also 6-9 with two home runs against Chad Gaudin and 2-3 with a walk against Phil Hughes.
Joe Mauer has pretty good numbers against most of the Yankees pitchers (the exception being 0-6 with two walks against Chad Gaudin). But it would be great to get an important, late-inning at bat against Joba Chamberlain. Mauer has gone 3-4 with two walks and a home run.
Back to Matt Guerrier for a moment. We already documented his struggle against Alex Rodriguez. Curtis Granderson has also hit him well. Granderson has gone 5-14 with a double, a triple, a home run and six walks. But it's not all bad for Guerrier. Nick Swisher is just 1-11 against him (although the one hit was a home run). Marcus Thames has gone 1-10 with a walk and five strikeouts. Robinson Cano is just 1-7.
So... late innings, who do the Twins bring in to face Mark Teixeira in a clutch situation? He is 3-9 with a walk, a double and a home run against Jesse Crain. Against Jon Rauch, he is 4-6 with a walk, a double and a home run. He is 1-2 with a home run against Jose Mijares. Of course, if it's Nick Blackburn on the mound, any of those numbers are improvement over the 10-16 (with a walk, two doubles and a home run) that Teixeira against Blackburn.
And what about the unsinkable Mariano Rivera? Well, we already talked about Kubel. Joe Mauer is 3-10 agaisnt him. Jim Thome is just 3-18 against "Mo", but he also has walked eight times.
Here are some more quick numbers for the starters against the other team:
Francisco Liriano: Curtis Granderson (4-22, 2 BB, 2B, HR, 12 K), Nick Swisher (5-17, 2-2B), Mark Teixeira (3-17, 1 BB, 8 K), Derek Jeter (5-13, 2B, HR), Marcus Thames (5-14, 3 HR), Robinson Cano (4-13, 2B), Alex Rodriguez (1-9, 4 BB, 4 K), Brett Gardner (3-9, 2B), Jorge Posada (3-7, 2B), Austin Kearns (2-5)
Carl Pavano: Granderson (6-21, 7 K), Jeter (5-18, 3-2B), Lance Berkman (3-9, 2 BB, 2-2B, HR), Teixeira (2-9, 2 BB, HR), Posada (2-8, HR), Cano (0-8), Swisher (1-8, 7 K), Gardner (1-6), Rodriguez (2-6, HR), Kearns (1-2, BB).
Brian Duensing: Granderson (2-7, BB), Rodriguez (1-5, BB), Teixeira (1-6, BB), Thames (3-6, BB, 2B), Cano (2-6, 2B), Jeter (3-5, BB, 2-HR), Swisher (1-3, 2 BB, 2B), Gardner (0-3), Posada (1-2, BB)
Nick Blackburn: Jeter (7-18, 4 BB, 2B, HR), Swisher (4-17, 3 BB, 2B), Granderson (4-14, 4 BB, 2B, HR), Rodriguez (4-18, HR), Teixeira (10-16, BB, 2-2B, HR), Cano (3-16, 2B), Gardner (3-11), Thames (1-9, BB), Posada (2-4)
If Matt Capps comes in for a save opportunity, do not be surprised if you see Lance Berkman pinch hit. Berkman and Capps matched up against each other in the National League. In that time, Berkman went 5-9 with two walks and a home run against the Twins closer.
And finally, remember that Danny Valencia was promoted to the Twins in early June. The Twins have not played the Yankees since May. So, his at bats in this series will be the first against the pinstripes. We have no idea how he will respond in the playoffs, in the pressure. He should come up big, drive in some important runs. He could struggle and barely put the ball in play. The reality is that we just don't know.
Likewise, when we discuss the reality of the playoffs and the small sample size that a short series is, the same thing could be said about each and every player. Derek Jeter has had a disappointing season in 2010, but he could have a great series against the Twins and we could hear more about his 'clutch-ness." Or, he could go 0-12 with 9 strikeouts. Same with Joe Mauer. Same with Mark Teixeira. Same with Nick Punto. Same with Brett Gardner. Francisco Liriano could dominate, and he could be bad. Same with CC Sabathia. Same with Nick Blackburn. Same with David Robertson. Same with Matt Capps, Mariano Rivera, Jose Mijares and Kerry Wood.
The great thing, and the frustrating thing, about palyoff baseball is that the phrase, "Anything can happen!" is very much true. Steve Lombardozzi hit .417 in the World Series. Like I said, Anything can happen.
*Note - all stats are available at the tremendous baseball resource, Baseball Reference (www.baseball-reference.com).
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