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Previewing The Yankees-Twins

October 5, 2010 - John Whittaker
Usually, when I get a text message at work at night, it's either my brother sending me a picture of my niece Mackenzie or the News Wife asking me to bring home something from the store.

So, picture my surprise when the text I received Wednesday night read, simply, "Javy SUCKS."

Needless to say, the News Wife is not a big fan of Javier Vazquez.

Let me go on record as saying I hated this move ever since I read the crawl on ESPN that said the Yankees were thinking about trading for Javier Vazquez. I have terrible memories of Vazquez in 2004 that still leave me waking up some nights in a cold sweat. I have no mommy or daddy issues, but I have serious Javy Vazquez issues. The guy is terrible — and he's only gotten worse as he's lost velocity on his fastball and decided to pitch like he's auditioning for Bassmasters — nibble, nibble, nibble, nibble, nibble ... and BOOM goes the dynamite.

So, no, I'm not looking forward to what I'm about to write, but I have to say it. At some point in the next month, Javier Vazquez will be called upon to get at least one big postseason out — and I have a way to prove it.

Let's jump in the patented Whitless Wonder Wayback Machine, set the dial for 2000, and discuss David Cone's postseason.

After throwing his perfect game July 18, 1999, Cone lost the ability to do anything on the mound except express shock at the latest home run he'd given up. The guy went from twirling a perfect game to becoming a batting practice pitcher. Still, a year and a half after Cone developed Can't Get Anyone Out Disease, Joe Torre trotted out to the mound during Game 4 of the 2000 World Series to relieve Denny Neagle. Torre tapped his left hand on his right arm — he wanted the righty, Cone, to come in and get Mike Piazza out.

Coney threw an 86 mile an hour fastball inside and followed it up with a mediocre fastball away. Then, after two of those frisbee sliders Cone was famous for, the aging righty threw another Reagan-era fastball that Piazza popped up for the third out of the inning. With the threat over, Cone heaved a sigh of relief, trotted to the bench and watched the Yankees celebrate another championship five innings later.

After going 4-14 with a 6.91 ERA during the season, Cone was the 2000 version of Javier Vazquez. Little did anyone know it would be Cone who Torre called on to save the season.

There are differences — Cone had brass testicles, and I'm pretty sure Vazquez is a woman. Cone had built up years of trust with Joe Torre while Joe Girardi might name his first heart attack Javy. Even the biggest supporters of the Vazquez trade want Brian Cashman to drag Vazquez behind Yankee Stadium and beat him repeatedly in the head with a shovel.

As bad as he's been, it doesn't change the fact that, at some point this postseason, he will be called upon — a thought that makes me throw up in my mouth and have diarrhea, all at the same time.

With that lovely mental image burned into your brain, let's preview the Yankees ALDS matchup with the Twins, which kicks off at 8:37 p.m. Wednesday in balmy Minnesota.

Offense What I Like:

A few weeks ago, I wrote that fans should look for two-hit games out of Derek Jeter. He's more than obliged. Since his batting average bottomed out at .260 on Sept. 10, Jeter raised his average 10 points with seven two-hit games. Three of those two-hit games came in postseason-like games against Tampa Bay and he had two more last week against Toronto. We've seen some serious signs of life from Mark Teixeira in the last two weeks that I'm choosing to take as signs he's starting to get over the thumb and toe injuries that have plagued him. And, should we start an MVP chant for Alex Rodriguez? Down the stretch, he's carried the Yanks — 9 home runs, 26 RBI and eight multi-hit games in September. Throw in the resurgence of Lance Berkman, the discovery of Curtis Granderson's pulse and the power threat of Marcus Thames, and the Yankees offense should have enough to put up some runs in October.

What Worries Me:

Robinson Cano lost nine points on his batting average since September 1, to go with 2 September home runs and 16 RBI. At least he's driving in runs, but I'm hoping the end of a long regular season reinvigorates Cano, or else A-Rod could get pitched around a lot. Also, Brett Gardner does a lot of little things that you love, but you can't steal your way to first base. Maybe that .300 batting average earlier this season was a little high, but Brett's only stolen three bases in September — a little disturbing for a guy whose big asset is his speed. Of course, two days after I wrote this, he decided the next-to-last day of the season was a great time to swipe a few bags. Way to prove me wrong Brett, you prick.

Stacking Up Against Minnesota Pitching:

A lot of the Yankees regulars have hit Twins pitching pretty well this year — Jeter is hitting .321, Teixeira is hitting .400, Cano is hitting .348 and Rodriguez is hitting .273. And, the Yankees have Marcus Thames waiting for his chance to mash some lefthanded pitching — in 10 at bats, he hit .300 against the Twins this year. I think the Yankees can put up some runs. What's really worth noticing is how much Francisco Liriano (0-1, 9.69 ERA, but 14 K against 2 walks) struggled against the Yankees this year. The Yankees didn't face Carl Pavano, but Nick Blackburn wasn't too bad against the Yankees (2-0, 3.86 ERA) and Brian Duensing was in the bullpen when the two teams played, going 0-1 with a 4.50 ERA in 4 innings. One of the two hits Duensing allowed against the Yankees was a mammoth home run to Alex Rodriguez, so he's got that going for him.

Starting Pitching:

What I Like: Three of the starters are locks — C.C. Sabathia, Andy Pettitte and Phil Hughes. With those three guys, you have a chance to win any series — especially having two solid left-handed starters. Anyone who has read this blog before knows how much I look forward to seeing Sabathia and Pettitte pitch. The surprise for me has been Hughes. Look past the 4.28 ERA and look again at his September starts. On Sept. 5, against a Toronto team that can flat-out smoke the ball, Hughes gave up a pair of two-run homers. Other than those two pitches, he threw well in the loss. Sept. 15, against Tampa Bay, Hughes made two mistakes to Dan Johnson, who deposited them into the rightfield bleachers, in a 4-3 loss. On Sept. 21, in a rematch with Tampa Bay, he was responsible for 3 runs in 6.1 innings and threw well to get the win. Then, against the Red Sox on Sunday, Hughes was solid again, giving up one run through six innings. Let's just say, I think he's primed for a good postseason — as long as he keeps the ball in the ballpark. As long as he pitches around Dan Johnson, I think Hughes will be fine.

What Worries Me:

Where are Kei Igawa or Andy Hawkins when you need them? Pick any of the memorable starting pitching flops from the last 10 years, and I think you'd want them out there right now over A.J. Burnett and the aforementioned Javy Vazquez. If I have to watch Vazquez nibble his way through 3 innings and six runs one more time this season, my head might blow up like the Death Star. He sucks, the News Wife and I hate him and the News Cat looks forward to the day he can spread fresh kitty litter over Vazquez' Yankees career. Let's move on to Burnett, who I just can't figure out. There are times he looks like he might be finding his way back to decency (his first five September starts weren't too bad) and then he coughs up one of those 2.1 inning, 7 earned run hair balls like he did Monday against Tampa Bay. I think you probably start him as the fourth starter in the playoffs if you're ahead in the series and push Sabathia on three days rest if you're behind.

Stacking Up Against Minnesota:

Somehow, the Twins avoided C.C. Sabathia and Phil Hughes this year, but Andy Pettitte threw well against the Twinkies in two games — 2 wins, an ERA of 3.77 and a WHIP of .91 in 14.1 innings. As for the Twins offense against Yankees pitching, Jason Kubel had 3 home runs in 15 at bats while Denard Span hit .346 and stole 4 bases. Justin Morneau is out for the playoffs, which is good news for the Yankees since he hit .350 in 20 at bats. Unfortunately for the Yankees, Joe Mauer and Delmon Young are fine. In short, the good hitters in the Twins lineup don't mind seeing the Yankees, but the bottom of the lineup is weak enough the Yankees should be alright.

Bullpen:

What I Like:

Not much. The bullpen sucked when the year started, and it pretty much sucks now. Let's start with the two bright spots. Mariano Rivera, except for a few hiccups late this season, has had a typical Mariano Rivera season. I don't like it that he's given up runs in three of his last four appearances, but at least against Toronto the other night, he only needed six pitches to get through the ninth. I think he'll be alright, especially if he gets one tune-up appearance this weekend (like that nice outing Saturday night against Boston). At this point, Mo's like a 1987 Ferrari — it looks great and usually runs great, but once in a while, it leaves you stranded in the middle nowhere and you have no idea what went wrong. The other highlight is Kerry Wood, who I haven't seen pitch this well since he was a rookie. His fastball is crisp, his breaking stuff has tremendous bite and he's not even walking that many guys anymore, or at least, he wasn't walking many guys before walking the bases loaded Saturday. He's the unquestioned bridge to Mariano. And, I'm utterly comfortable with Nova as the long man — he runs into trouble in the sixth inning, so if the Yanks need three innings from him, they should be happy. Boone Logan has been decent, and I think he'll be fine getting out choice lefties.

What Worries Me:

The ball never getting to Wood and Rivera. Let's face it, I can wax poetic all day long about unexpected contributions, but does anyone feel comfortable with Javier Vazquez keeping a game close so the offense can claw its way back? Does anyone feel comfortable that Javier Vazquez can wipe his butt adequately so he doesn't have brown marks in his white pinstripes? That's what I thought. As if that wasn't bad enough, Joba Chamberlain and David Robertson haven't been that good this season. I wrote enough about both of them in my last post, but suffice it to say I haven't seen any of the signs I wanted to see from them. The best thing you can hope is that they can get through the seventh inning of postseason games between them. If Goose Gossage came out of retirement tomorrow, I think I'd trust him with a lead more than I trust Chamberson, and Goose has gotta be 60 by now.

Stacking Up Against Minnesota:

Ugh. Mariano is the only key reliever who had much success against the Twins, allowing a run in 3.1 innings. Robertson got hit around a little and Joba threw up a tidy 15.00 ERA against the Twins this year. On the plus side, if it comes down to the long relief, Javier Vazquez did have a solid 5.2 innings against Minnesota this year, allowing 1 run. And yes, I'm grasping at straws here. Burnett is in the bullpen too, but does anyone trust him to throw strikes? That's what I thought.

Outlook:

I should be really worried about the top of the Twins lineup, but without Morneau, I fear the Twins offense less than I probably should. If Sabathia, Hughes and Pettitte throw decently, the Yankees should be alright. I'm worried about the bullpen in close games. Usually, you'd be worried about the Twins playing smallball, but against the Yankees bullpen, I'm really worried about Jason Kubel or Joe Mauer getting one big swing to steal a game. If Hughes or Pettitte throws six shutout innings and then the bullpen blows a game, you're putting a lot of pressure on C.C. Sabathia to be perfect in his next start, and it could also end up shatter Chamberlain or Robertson for the rest of the postseason. For this series, especially only having to throw three starters, I think the Yankees pitching holds up.

Offensively, nobody in the Minnesota bullpen wants any part of Alex Rodriguez or Mark Teixeira late in games — they've beaten the Twins too many times over the last couple of years in just about every way imaginable— and that looming threat of A-Rod late in a game just hangs over a team with a weak bullpen. The most important thing here is Game 1. C.C. Sabathia has to throw a good game to take the pressure off of Pettitte in Game 2. If the Yankees win Game 1 (especially if C.C. keeps the bullpen from getting used too much) then it sets up the rest of the series nicely.

Prediction: Yankees in 4.

 
 

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