The New York Yankees will launch their defense of their 2009 World Series Championship at 8:37 p.m. ET Wednesday. The most successful franchise in professional sports will be battling a familiar post season opponent in the home-standing Minnesota Twins who once again championed the Central Division.
After 162 games, the Twins (94-68) and Yankees (95-67) will send their two ace lefthanders to the mound to capture the all-important first game. The game is critical to the Twins who are 53-28 at home compared to a very average 41-40 road record.
This is Minnesota’s sixth ALCS appearance since Ron Gardenhire took the reins. The Twins have advanced but once in their five previous post season attempts and have not defeated the Yankees in post season play, a stat not overlooked by the Twins.
In three previous losing playoff series against the Yanks, the Twins started on the road and have never really pressed the home team, winning just two of the eleven playoff games between the teams. With home field advantage, the Twins will start lefty Francisco Liriano (14-10, 3.62 ERA) and former Yankee Carl Pavano (17-11, 3.75 ERA) in games one and two respectively. Liriano had two quality starts against the Yanks this year although he won neither game.
Uncharacteristically, the Yankee rotation is muddled. Game one starter and leading Cy Young candidate CC Sabathia (21-7, 3.18 ERA) has anchored a wavering ship. Yankee starters Burnett and Vasquez have pitched so ineffectively that they are doubtful starters for the best of five first round.
Sabathia, who is 13-8, 3.05 ERA against Minnesota, will most likely be backed up by Andy Petite, who has postseason success but has not been sharp since his return from injury and Phil Hughes who has benefited from home cooking and loads of runs.
If the starters can keep the Twins in range, the Yankees would like to have their bullpen decide their fate. Late season pickup Kerry Wood is relishing his role as setup man for Mariano Rivera.
The Twins will be without first baseman Jason Morneau who has been sidelined since July and will rely on power from Jim Thome and all world catcher Joe Mauer. Despite their recent playoff history, the Yankees have had their problems against lefties. The have lost their last ten games when a lefty started.
The most dangerous hitter in the Yankee lineup is second baseman and serious MP candidate Robinson Cano, a left-handed hitter. Liriano has a lively arm and has the stuff to neutralize Cano and Granderson. If he does, the prize will belong to the Twins.
We like the Twins in four.