Another rematch against a team that we just can’t seem to beat.
After being swept in the season series against the Yankees last year, and losing two of three to them in our first meeting this year, the Twins will be considered the underdog in this series, despite what the above numbers say. Should the Twins fail to win this series against the Bronx Bombers, there will undoubtedly be people throwing in the towel on the season, citing the Twins’ inability to beat the “good teams” that they will be paired up against in the postseason.
That’s certainly an overreaction, but winning two of three in the Yankee’s first visit to Target Field sure would be nice.
Game One - Burnett (4-2, 3.86 ERA) vs. Baker (4-4, 4.88 ERA)
AJ Burnett has certainly been having a great season, and was among the early favorites for Cy Young before he got rocked for six runs in just under seven innings a few days ago. Ignoring that last start, Burnett has been an above-average starter. He isn’t striking out his usual total, though, and he is giving up plenty of hits. If an offensively potent team can string some hits together — like the Rays did last week — Burnett’s ERA may rise a few dozen points.
On the face of things, it appears as if Baker is his “start the season slow” mode. With a relatively high 4.88 ERA, Baker is hardly pitching well enough to be considered the staff’s “ace.” As evidenced by his abnormally-high .343 BABIP and improved groundball rate, Baker may be on the cusp of a few lucky breaks. Baker is striking out the most in his career and walking opposing batters at a very low clip, and has the 25th-lowest xFIP in baseball: 3.70.
Game Two – Pettitte (5-1, 2.68 ERA) vs. Liriano (4-3, 3.25 ERA)
Andy Pettitte has been the anti-Baker so far this year. Although his ERA and win/loss record is appealing, his xFIP is a much-higher 4.34, which testaments to his high walk rate, low strikeout rate, and low BABIP, all of which indicate a regression to the mean in the very near future. Pettitte also has a very impressive 82.2 strand-rate, which simply isn’t sustainable over the course of a whole season.
After posting a 7.02 ERA over his last three starts, Liriano seems to have finally convinced people that he will never return to his pre-surgery form. Even with three less-than-desirable starts so far this year, Liriano’s intangibles have been right in line of what we expect: a solid strikeout rate and an average walk rate. His almost complete aversion of the long-ball this year (he’s given up just two home runs all season) is also good to see.
Game Three – Vazquez (3-4, 6.69 ERA) vs. Blackburn (5-1, 4.50 ERA)
After dealing away a package centering around Melky Cabrera for Javy Vazquez, the Yankees are undoubtedly upset with their return. Vazquez, who finished fourth in Cy Young voting last season, is off to a terrible start with New York. His sky-high ERA is only slightly worse than the advanced stats claim, and hope can’t even be gleaned from his BABIP, which is maddeningly (at least for Yankees fans) normal.
Blackburn, on the other hand, has pitched worse than his ERA indicates. Striking out an extremely low 2.50 batters per nine innings (the lowest mark in baseball among qualified pitchers) and giving up far more than his fair share of home runs, Blackburn has been “off” this season. His BABIP isn’t too far off line, and he is inducing more groundballs than he usually does, which is what he needs to do to be successful in 2010. Against the mighty Yankee’s offense, I’m guessing a full return to his usually-reliable self isn’t going to happen.
This series will be the last time the Twins play the Yankees this season. While too much shouldn’t be read into a mid-May series, any matchup of two of the best teams in baseball is important. Another series lose would leave an awful taste in Twins’ fans mouths, but a good showing could help spring-board a successful June for Minnesota.
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