The New York papers are replete with previews, puff pieces and predictions this morning. While there is nothing especially remarkable, Jack Curry has an informative piece on Johan Santana. Meanwhile, Aaron Gleeman, Seth Stohs preview the series from the midwest. I asked a couple of writers about their thoughts on the Yanks-Twins match-up. Here is what they've got to say:
Allen Barra (author of "Brushbacks and Knockdowns: The Greatest Baseball Debates of Two Centuries"):
To tell you the truth, I feel the Yankees will win, but that they'll win in some way that is just not apparent to me.
Though the Yankees swept the Twins last week, the unpleasant truth is that they were behind in both games (as I recall) when both Santana and Radke were lifted, which doesn't bode well for this series.
Yet, I've got to hand it to Mussina. After a horrible first inning, he gutted it out and kept the Yankees in a position to win. I don't suppose he's likely to have a second stright game with a horrible first inning, particularly at Yankee Stadium. My gut feeling tells me that the Twins will probably be tougher than whoever the Yankees play in the second round.
Tim Marchman (NY Sun):
I think this will be a really telling series for the Yankees. Their offense is structured around the walk and the home run, and Santana and Radke are going to take away the walk. (Carlos Silva will, too- 70-some Ks and 35 BBs in 200+ IP! An unnoticed and bizarre season.) They’re not good at hitting for average and they’re not going to get much better at it with the Twins’ defense in the picture, and that leaves them with the home run.
For a team that hit 241 HRs, this isn’t a team of power hitters. Matsui, Jeter, Sheffield and Rodriguez all wait out the pitcher and swing for line drives, which often go over the wall. If they can change their approach, swing at more fastballs early in the count and swing for the fences, I think they’ve got a decent shot at winning one against Santana and a great shot at splitting the other two. Whether they can do that is an open question, and, I think, points up how remarkable the O’Neill/Martinez Yankees were, because what they did better than anyone was adjust their approach to take advantage of their opponent’s weaknesses. The Twins aren’t a great team, and past Santana I’m not even sure they’re a very good one, but in my mind they’re the slight favorites here. (Of course, I said the same thing last year…)
Bruce Markusen (Author of "Ted Williams: A Biography"):
Here are a few key points to consider in the Division Series matchup between the Yankees and Twins:
1) Reversed Roles: There's something unusual about this series. In Game One, the home team usually faces additional pressure because it is expected to win and thus avoid the "dreaded" split. In this case, however, the Twins are facing a bit more pressure because Johan Santana (who deserves the Cy Young) is pitching, making them the favorites in Game One. If the Twins lose the first game with Santana on the mound, they're in real trouble. If the Yankees lose the first game, they know they will be facing weaker pitchers in Games Two and Three, and also know their recent history of coming back in the Division Series after a Game One loss.
2) Bernie Williams' Arm: In last week's series, the Twins showed an ability and willingness to run on Williams, twice extending what should have been routine singles into doubles. As a team, the Twins are excellent baserunners and hustle from the swing of the bat, which makes them dangerous on the basepaths. When the Yankees face right-handers (Radke, Silva, and Lohse) in the series, Kenny Lofton HAS to be in center field, with Williams either handling the DH chores or coming off the bench. In games against Johan Santana, Joe Torre faces a quandary: logic dictates that Williams plays center against the left-hander with Ruben Sierra DHing, but I'm not so sure that is the right way to go; I might use Williams as the DH, play Lofton in center, and let him try to bunt or hit-and-run against Santana. Although Lofton doesn't hit left-handers well, he might not be any worse than Sierra, who struggles against Santana's change-up. It wouldn't be the conventional move to play Lofton against Santana, but it would certainly improve the defense and give the Yankees one more baserunning threat.
3) Artificial Turf: This Yankee team is better prepared to play on turf (in the third and fourth games) than recent clubs. The infield defense has been terrific in the second half, much improved over every infield position on last year's club. With John Olerud, Miguel Cairo, Derek Jeter (playing much better in the field than last year), and Alex Rodriguez, the Yankees have better hands everywhere and improved range at first and third. Plus, Cairo turns the double play much more effectively than Alfonso Soriano. Again, if there's a concern, it's Williams in center field, but that's why Lofton should start with Bubba Crosby available for the late innings.
4) The 11-Man Pitching Staff: Ordinarily, I'd be strictly opposed to carrying 11 pitchers against the Twins, simply because you don't need that many pitchers in a five-game series. The situation with Orlando Hernandez, however, dictates using 11 pitchers. The Yankees probably won't know until Wednesday whether Hernandez' sore shoulder will allow him to pitch Game Three on Friday. Given Hernandez' success this season (he's been the Yankees' best starter for half a season) and his postseason credits, the Yankees have to take the gamble that he will be healthy enough to pitch. If he can't, the 11th pitcher would give the Yankees another bullpen option and easily allow Kevin Brown to move back into the rotation. Simply put, if there's any chance that "El Duque" can pitch, the Yankees have to take that chance. As a result, the Yankees will probably have to leave Jason Giambi off the 25-man roster, leaving them with 14 position players and a bench consisting of Flaherty, Clark, Wilson, Sierra, and Crosby.
Joe Sheehan: (Baseball Prospectus)
A team that can't pitch against a team that can't score. Sounds like fun.
The Yankees' lack of any left-handed pitching would have hurt them less against the Angels. Not being able to attack Morneau, Koskie and Jones will be a tactical problem later in games.
The Yankees are as unstable as they've been in the Torre Era. The lineup after the top three is basically unpredictable, especially with Giambi. The rotation is scrambled as well, although Moose's strong September at least provides the chance of beating Santana.
There won't be any blowouts here. The Yankees have to hope to get good starts and take advantage of maybe a tiring Radke, or a slumping Juan Rincon. If they can split the first two, Game Three will be the chance to take control.
I'm not optimistic. This looks a little like the '01 DS against the A's, and we won that one by the skin of our teeth.
Joel Sherman: (NY Post)
I think Game One is vital for the Twins. I would think they have to win the games Santana starts. Also, if Santana wins decisively (something like eight innings, four hits, one run) then he becomes a Mike Scott-ish specter waiting at the end of the series again for the Yanks. But if the Yanks were to tattoo the Twins' Hershiser, then perhaps Minnesota would have its confidence severely impaired for the rest of the series.
I think the Yanks come back better from a Game One loss than Minnesota would. However, the Yanks do not have Andy Pettitte, Roger Clemens and David Wells lined up the rest of the series. So falling behind this year becomes much more perilous. I think this Yankee team will still find a way to beat Minnesota, but I wouldn't bet big dough on that.