A Very American Coup By Michael – Louis Ingram, Editor-in-Chief...
Playoff Previews: Division Series
Atlanta Braves vs. San Francisco Giants Season Series: Braves won 4-3.
Braves: 3B Omar Infante (.321, 8 HRs, 47 RBIs, 7 SBs), RF Jason Heyward (.277, 18, 72, 11 SBs, .393 on-base percentage), 1B Derrek Lee (.260, 19, 80 with Cubs and Braves), C Brian McCann (.269, 21, 77), LF Melky Cabrera (.255, 4, 42) or Matt Diaz (.250, 7, 31), SS Alex Gonzalez (.250, 23, 88 with Blue Jays and Braves), 2B Brooks Conrad (.250, 8, 33), CF Rick Ankiel (.232, 6, 24 with Royals and Braves).
Giants: CF Andres Torres (.268, 16, 63, 26 SBs), 2B Freddy Sanchez (.292, 7, 47), 1B Aubrey Huff (.290, 26, 86), C Buster Posey (.305, 18, 67 after being called up from minors May 29), LF Pat Burrell (.266, 18, 51, signed to minor league deal May 29 after release by Tampa Bay and called up from Triple-A on June 4), SS Juan Uribe (.248, 24, 85), RF Jose Guillen (.266, 3, 15 after acquired from Royals on Aug. 13), 3B Pablo Sandoval (.268, 13, 63).
Braves: RH Derek Lowe (16-12, 4.00 ERA, including 5-0 with 1.17 ERA in last 5 starts); RH Tommy Hanson (10-11, 3.33), RH Tim Hudson (17-9, 2.83).
Giants: RH Tim Lincecum (16-10, 3.43, 231 Ks), RH Matt Cain (13-11, 3.14, 177 Ks), LH Jonathan Sanchez (13-9, 3.07, 205 Ks, career-high 193 1-3 innings), LH Madison Bumgarner (7-6, 3.00, 86 Ks in 18 starts as rookie).
Braves: LH Billy Wagner (7-2, 1.43, 37
44 saves), LH Jonny Venters (4-4, 1.95 ERA, best among major league rookies with at least 50 appearances), RH Peter Moylan (6-2, 2.97 in team-high 85 games), RH Craig Kimbrel (4-0, 0.44, 40 strikeouts in 20 2-3 innings, finished regular season with 16 1-3 consecutive scoreless innings), LH Mike Dunn (2-0, 1.89, 27 Ks, 17 BBs, 19 innings), RH Takashi Saito (2-3, 2.83, 1 save), RH Kyle Farnsworth (0-2, 5.40).
Giants: RH Brian Wilson (3-3, 1.81, 93 Ks, major league-best 48
53 saves), RH Ramon Ramirez (1-0, 0.67, 15 Ks, 1 save), LH Javier Lopez (4-2, 2.34, 38 Ks), LH Jeremy Affeldt (4-3, 4.14, 44 Ks, 4 saves), RH Santiago Casilla (7-2, 1.95, 56 Ks, 2 saves), LH Barry Zito (9-14, 4.15, 150 Ks), RH Sergio Romo (5-3 2.18, 70 Ks).
Atlanta’s 9-14 April included two losses in three games at San Francisco. The Braves’ rotation back then looked much different than it does now: Kris Medlen, the loser in the opening game, sustained a season-ending elbow injury in August. Kenshin Kawakami, the loser in the final game, lost his spot in the rotation. Atlanta’s 7-2 win in the series came from Lowe, who gave up one run in six innings. … The Braves were playing much better in August, when they took three of four from the Giants in Atlanta. Lowe beat Jonathan Sanchez in the final game of the series as Sanchez went 4 innings, yielding 4 runs and 5 hits.
Lowe was 2-0 with a 2.38 in his 2 starts against the Giants. … Hudson threw 8 scoreless innings and Troy Glaus hit a two-run single to beat Cain 3-0. … Wagner blew a save in the Braves’ only home loss. …
Hudson is 5-4 with a 3.56 ERA in 13 career starts against San Francisco.
… Huff was 2 for 23 (.087) with 4 RBIs against the Braves this year.
Posey went 1 for 11 (.091), Freddy Sanchez was 2 for 17 (.118) and Uribe was 4 for 23 (.174). On the plus side for the Giants, Torres batted .353 (6 for 17) against Atlanta pitching with two stolen bases and Sandoval was 9 for 27 (.333) with a homer and 4 RBIs. … Lincecum was 1-1 with a 3.38 ERA in 2 starts against the Braves this season, striking out 17 in 13 1-3 innings. He also gave up 3 homers. Jonathan Sanchez was 0-1 with a 7.56 ERA in 2 starts vs. Atlanta. He walked five and struck out 10 in 8 1-3 innings. … Barry Bonds and the Giants beat the Braves in a 2002 division series en route to the NL pennant, winning the decisive fifth game in Atlanta.
Braves: Atlanta (91-71) returns to the postseason after a four-year drought with its first appearance as the wild card. The Braves gave retiring manager Bobby Cox one final trip to the playoffs thanks to an 8-7 win over Philadelphia and a San Diego loss in San Francisco on the last day of the regular season. … Atlanta had to endure a nine-game losing streak in April and the losses of two starting third basemen â€” Chipper Jones and Martin Prado â€” to season-ending injuries. Each was the team’s No. 3 hitter. Prado was the NL All-Star starter at second base before moving to third. … Heyward played through a thumb injury and enjoyed a consistent season as a rookie. He was voted an All-Star starter, though the injury kept him out, and he reached base safely in 35 of the team’s last 36 games. His .393 on-base percentage is the sixth-highest in history for any player who was 20 at the start of the season. … Hanson pitched much better in his first full season than his record showed. He is the only pitcher in Atlanta history to have a losing record in at least 30 starts with an ERA of 3.50 or better. …
The Braves had baseball’s best home record at 56-25, matching the franchise record for home wins set in 1998 and 1999. But the Braves were 35-46 on the road, and that’s where they open the playoffs. … Atlanta led the majors with 25 victories in its final at-bat. The Braves also had 45 comeback wins.
Giants: San Francisco (92-70) needed to win only once in a season-ending, three-game series with visiting San Diego to clinch the NL West title, but it took until the final, dramatic day in Game 162.
Now, the Giants are back in the playoffs for the first time since 2003 with a roster that looks much different from opening day â€” and minus the superstar they had last time around in Bonds. … Looking to improve a punchless lineup, general manager Brian Sabean brought in Burrell and Guillen during the season, giving both second chances. Cody Ross was acquired from Florida to provide some more pop and depth in the outfield. Left-handed hitting infielder Mike Fontenot came over from the Cubs and has received playing time in some key games in place of Freddy Sanchez. There were two new bullpen additions at the trade deadline, too: Ramirez and Lopez. … Posey was called up in late May and initially plugged in at first base just to get his bat in the lineup. He went back to his regular position after catcher Bengie Molina was traded to Texas, and Posey has blossomed into an invaluable star. He’s delivered clutch hits and done an excellent job handling a talented pitching staff, making him a leading contender for NL Rookie of the Year. … While manager Bruce Bochy has had a reputation for sticking with veterans in the past, this year he benched CF Aaron Rowand â€” and his $12 million salary â€” in favor of the unproven Torres. The gamble worked, and Torres has been a catalyst as a leadoff man and effective base stealer. He also made quite a return in September. Torres underwent an emergency appendectomy Sept. 12 in San Diego and played for San Francisco again Sept. 24 â€” missing all of 11 games. … Lincecum endured an alarming five-start losing streak in August, but found a way to get back on track. The two-time reigning NL Cy Young Award winner returned to top form in September. … Sandoval’s disappointing season was a surprise. He admits he tried too hard and has been telling himself to relax more at the plate. Will B ochy stick with the “Kung Fu Panda” if he continues to struggle?
What To Watch For
â€” Lights Out in the Late Innings. Both teams boast deep and stingy bullpens anchored by hard-throwing closers. Cox has turned often to his most-trusted relievers. Moylan ranked second in the NL with 85 appearances. Venters was tied for sixth with 79, but he was ineffective in the eighth inning against the Phillies on Sunday after also struggling when asked to pitch more than one inning Saturday. Wagner says he feels strong after his 71 games tied for 16th in the league.
Venters, Kimbrel and Dunn are rookies. Meanwhile, the Giants’ bullpen went its final six games and 24 innings without giving up an earned run.
â€” Banged-up Braves. Season-ending injuries to Prado and Jones have left Atlanta without its best tablesetter and a proven bopper in the middle of the lineup. Conrad, normally a bat off the bench, struggled defensively at third base and was shifted to second for the regular-season finale. The loss of Medlen hurt the staff, and RHP Jair Jurrjens hasn’t pitched since Sept. 14 because of an injured right knee.
Saito was on a roll as the setup man before a shoulder injury sidelined him from Sept. 17 to Oct. 2. When he returned Saturday, he was shaky against the Phillies. Do the depleted Braves have enough to last in October?
â€” K-Zone. Giants pitchers led the majors with 1,331 strikeouts to establish a San Francisco single-season record, topping last year’s total of 1,302. That takes pressure off a subpar defense that lacks athleticism. Even when they find themselves in major jams, several Giants pitchers have the ability to overpower hitters and escape unscathed. All the power arms on this staff make San Francisco a postseason threat.
Cincinnati Reds vs. Philadelphia Phillies Season Series: Phillies won 5-2.
Reds: 2B Brandon Phillips (.275, 18 HRs, 59 RBIs, 16 SBs), SS Orlando Cabrera (.263, 4, 42), 1B Joey Votto (.324, 37, 113, led NL in slugging percentage at .600), 3B Scott Rolen (.285, 20, 83), LF Jonny Gomes (.266, 18, 86), RF Jay Bruce (.281, 25, 70), CF Drew Stubbs (.255, 22, 77, team-high 30 SBs), C Ramon Hernandez (.297, 7, 48).
Phillies: SS Jimmy Rollins (.243, 8, 41 in 88 games), 3B Placido Polanco (.298, 6, 52), 2B Chase Utley (.275, 16, 65), 1B Ryan Howard (.276, 31, 108), RF Jayson Werth (.296, 27, 85), LF Raul Ibanez (.275, 16, 83), CF Shane Victorino (.259, 18, 69, 34 SBs), C Carlos Ruiz (.302, 8, 53).
Reds: RH Edinson Volquez (4-3, 4.31 ERA in 12 starts after returning from elbow ligament replacement surgery in July), RH Bronson Arroyo (17-10, 3.88), RH Johnny Cueto (12-7, 3.64).
Phillies: RH Roy Halladay (21-10, 2.44, 9 CGs), RH Roy Oswalt (7-1, 1.74 in 13 games with Phillies after trade from Houston; 13-13, 2.76 overall), LH Cole Hamels (12-11, 3.06).
Reds: RH Francisco Cordero (6-5, 3.84, 40
48 saves), LH Aroldis Chapman (2-2, 2.03 in 15 appearances), RH Nick Masset (4-4, 3.40), LH Arthur Rhodes (4-4, 2.29), RH Logan Ondrusek (5-0, 3.68), LH Bill Bray (0-2, 4.13), LH Travis Wood (5-4, 3.51 in 17 starts), RH Homer Bailey (4-3, 4.46 in 19 starts).
Phillies: RH Brad Lidge (1-1, 2.96, 27
32 saves), RH Ryan Madson (6-2, 2.55, 5/10 saves), RH Jose Contreras (6-4, 3.34 4/5 saves), RH Joe Blanton (9-6, 4.82 in 28 starts), LH J.C.
Romero (1-0, 3.68, 3 saves), RH Chad Durbin (4-1, 3.80), LH Antonio Bastardo (2-0, 4.34).
Philadelphia finished June with a miserable series in Cincinnati. The Reds took two of three, and the Phillies lost half their starting infield to injury. Utley hurt his right thumb while sliding and Polanco was sidelined by a sore left elbow. … The Phillies swept a tight-as-could-be four-game series in Philadelphia heading into the All-Star break, winning by scores of 4-3, 9-7, 1-0 and 1-0. The first three games went to extra innings, the first time in Phillies history that they won three straight that way. It was the first time they won back-to-back 1-0 games since 1913. Philadelphia’s pitchers threw 21 straight scoreless innings during that series. … Four of the seven games in their season series went extra innings, with the Phillies winning all four. … Wood will be in the bullpen even though he pitched eight perfect innings in Philadelphia on July 10. Cincinnati manager Dusty Baker doesn’t want to put too much pressure on the rookie initially. … Arroyo is the only Reds starter who has playoff experience. Pitching for Boston from 2003-05, he made two starts and eight relief appearances. … Philadelphia’s 97 wins led the majors for the first time in franchise history. … The Phillies were 21-7 in September. … The Phillies are the third NL team to reach the postseason four straight years. … Halladay is 1-1 with a 2.84 ERA in four career starts against the Reds. … Oswalt is 23-3 with a 2.81 ERA in 34 appearances (32 starts) against the Reds. … Hamels is 6-0 with a 1.07 ERA in seven starts against Cincinnati, including 3-0 with a 1.67 ERA in four starts at Great American Ball Park. … Pitching carried the Phillies to a 5-2 record against the Reds. The team batted just .230 and scored 30 runs in those seven games.
Reds: Champions of the NL Central, the Reds are making their first playoff appearance since 1995, when they lost to Atlanta in the NL championship series under manager Davey Johnson. They went through three owners, five general managers and seven managers before finally making it back. … The Reds went 91-71, the first time they reached the 90-win mark since 1999, when they lost a one-game tiebreaker to the Mets for the NL wild card. … Baker is the second manager to take three NL teams to the playoffs, joining Bill McKechnie. Baker also went with the Giants and Cubs and has four division titles as a manager. … Baker is the ninth manager to lead three different franchises to the playoffs overall, joining McKechnie, Johnson, Tony La Russa, Jim Leyland, Billy Martin, Lou Piniella, Joe Torre and Dick Williams. … Baker did some of his best work this season, handling a lineup full of young players still trying to figure things out. Stubbs struggled and lost his leadoff spot early, Bruce was on a home run drought the first half of the season, and rookies Wood and RHP Mike Leake steadied the rotation. …
The starting pitching was slow to come around, leaving the Reds a season-high five games out on May 4. They pulled within three games of defending champion St. Louis on May 10, and the two teams were never separated by more than that until Aug. 19. The Reds pulled away by going 19-8 in August, opening a seven-game lead that essentially secured the title. … The Reds made the playoffs by beating up on bad teams. They were 61-30 against teams with losing records, 30-41 against clubs that were .500 or better. … Votto led the NL in slugging percentage at .600, finished second in batting at .324, third in homers with 37, and third with 113 RBIs, making him a leading MVP contender.
Phillies: Coming off their fourth straight NL East title, the Phillies (97-65) are trying to become the first NL team to win three consecutive pennants since the St. Louis Cardinals did it from 1942-44.
Charlie Manuel’s team overcame a seven-game deficit on July 22 by going 49-19. … Injuries decimated the Phillies early, forcing six of the eight regulars to spend time on the disabled list. An offense that featured four hitters with 30 homers last year had only one this season.
Howard led the team with 31 homers, far below his average of 49.5 over the previous four seasons. … The starting rotation is the best in the majors. With an extra day between games in the first round, the Phillies are going with their three aces in the series because each can pitch on normal rest. … A bullpen that struggled last year is a strength.
Lidge bounced back from a poor season, and the Phillies were 85-2 when leading after eight innings. … Fans flocked to the ballpark in Philadelphia, selling out every game and setting a club attendance record.
What To Watch For
â€” H2O. The Phillies’ three aces â€” Halladay, Hamels and Oswalt â€” got that nickname during a dominant run. After Oswalt joined Philadelphia on July 29, the trio was 20-7. Halladay, a strong candidate for the NL Cy Young Award, doesn’t have any postseason experience, however. But Oswalt and Hamels have been very successful in big games.
â€” Green Reds. Arroyo is the only member of the three-man rotation with playoff experience, and that’s limited to those two starts and eight relief appearances. In the everyday lineup, only Cabrera, Rolen and Hernandez have playoff experience. The NL Central champs handled the pressure during the regular season. How these newcomers deal with the heightened pressure will be a major factor against the playoff-tested Phillies.
â€” Senor October. Ruiz batted a career-high .302 this year, raising his lifetime average to .260. But the catcher known as “Chooch” to his teammates is even better in the playoffs. He’s hit .303 in the postseason over the last three seasons, and has delivered several clutch hits in October.AMERICAN LEAGUE
New York Yankees vs. Minnesota Twins Season Series: Yankees won 4-2.
Yankees: SS Derek Jeter (.270, 10 HRs, 67 RBIs, 18 SBs, 111 runs), RF Nick Swisher (.288, 29, 89), 1B Mark Teixeira (.256, 33, 108, AL-high 113 runs), 3B Alex Rodriguez (.270, 30, 125), 2B Robinson Cano (.319, 29, 109, 41 2Bs, 200 hits), C Jorge Posada (.248, 18, 57), DH Lance Berkman (.248, 14, 58 with Astros and Yankees) or Marcus Thames (.288, 12, 33 in 212 at-bats), CF Curtis Granderson (.247, 24, 67), LF Brett Gardner (.277, 5, 47, 47 SBs, 97 runs, .383 on-base percentage).
Twins: CF Denard Span (.264, 3, 58, 26 SBs), 2B Orlando Hudson (.268, 6, 37), C Joe Mauer (.327, 9, 75, 43 doubles), LF Delmon Young (.298, 21, 112), DH Jim Thome (.283, 25, 59 in 276 at-bats), 1B Michael Cuddyer (.271, 14, 81), RF Jason Kubel (.249, 21, 92), 3B Danny Valencia (.311, 7, 40 in 299 at-bats), SS J.J. Hardy (.268, 6, 38).
Yankees: LH CC Sabathia (21-7, 3.18 ERA, 237 2-3 innings), RH Phil Hughes (18-8, 4.19), LH Andy Pettitte (11-3, 3.28), RH A.J. Burnett (10-15, 5.26).
Twins: LH Francisco Liriano (14-10, 3.62), RH Carl Pavano (17-11, 3.75), LH Brian Duensing (10-3, 2.62 in 53 games, including 13 starts), RH Nick Blackburn (10-12, 5.42).
Yankees: RH Mariano Rivera (3-3, 1.80, 33
38 saves, 61 games, 39 hits in 60 IP), RH Kerry Wood (2-0, 0.69 ERA in 24 games with Yankees after being acquired from Cleveland; 3-4, 3.13, 8 saves in 47 games overall), RH David Robertson (4-5, 3.82, 64 games), RH Joba Chamberlain (3-4, 4.40, 3 saves, 71 hits in 71 1-3 IP), RH Chad Gaudin (1-4, 5.65, 16 HRs in 65 1-3 IP), LH Boone Logan (2-0, 2.93, 51 games, 38 Ks in 40 IP), LH Royce Ring (0-0, 15.43, 2 1-3 IP, allowed 3 hits to 9 lefties faced).
Twins: RH Matt Capps (5-3, 2.47, 42
48 saves for Nationals and Twins), LH Brian Fuentes (4-1, 2.81, 24/28 saves for Angels and Twins), RH Matt Guerrier (5-7, 3.17), RH Jesse Crain (1-1, 3.04), LH Jose Mijares (1-1, 3.31), RH Jon Rauch (3-1, 3.12, 21/25 saves), RH Kevin Slowey (13-6, 4.45 in 30 games, 28 starts).
En route to their 27th World Series title, the Yankees swept Minnesota in the first round of the playoffs last year, coming back in all three victories. New York also beat the Twins in the first round in 2003 and 2004, having home-field advantage each time. … The Twins snapped a nine-game losing streak â€” 12 counting the playoffs â€” against the Yankees on May 16, when Rivera gave up a grand slam to Kubel. It was Minnesota’s first victory at Yankee Stadium since July 4, 2007. … The Yankees batted .297 with six homers and 24 runs against the Twins this season, but had only a .329 on-base percentage. Teixeira hit .400 (10 for 25) with a homer and 4 RBIs. Rodriguez (.273) led the team with 5 RBIs. Granderson was on the disabled list with a strained groin and missed all six games against the Twins, all in May. At Target Field, Cano hit .455 (5 for 11) with 2 doubles and Jeter was 5 for 13 (.385).
A-Rod batted just .185 (2 for 11). … Yankees pitchers had a 3.40 ERA against Minnesota. Rivera blew his fourth save vs. the Twins in the regular season (28 of 32). He has a 1.42 ERA in 63 innings over 47 games. … Sabathia, who won Game 1 of the division series last year, did not face the Twins this season. He is 13-8 with a 3.05 ERA in 28 career starts against the Twins, including 4 complete games and 2 shutouts. … Pettitte beat Minnesota twice this season, with a 1.26 ERA in 14 1-3 innings. … In two outings against the Twins this year, the struggling Burnett gave up 2 runs in 11 2-3 innings (1.54 ERA) but walked six. On May 25, he pitched 5 shutout innings at Target Field.
Burnett held the Twins to a run and three hits in six innings in Game 2 of the division series last year. … New York had a 4.66 ERA in September, going 12-15. … Kubel hit .467 (7 for 15) with 3 homers and 9 RBIs in 4 games against the Yankees this season. … Mauer batted .417 in the playoff loss to New York last year. … Liriano will make his first postseason start in Game 1. He is 0-2 with a 3.12 ERA in 5 appearances â€” four starts â€” against the Yankees in his career.
Yankees: After stumbling to a 13-17 finish, New York lost the AL East title to Tampa Bay on the final day of the regular season. Still, the wild-card Yankees (95-67) had the third-best record in baseball and are trying to become the first team to win consecutive World Series championships since they won three straight from 1998-00. … It is the Yankees’ 15th trip to the playoffs in 16 years. They also were the AL wild card in 1995, 1997 and 2007, losing in the first round all three times. But the club didn’t appear to place much emphasis on winning the division as it closed in on a playoff spot. New York manager Joe Girardi rested regulars and was careful with his bullpen even while his team slumped in September. … The Yankees mourned the death of longtime owner George Steinbrenner this season. … New York let popular and productive OF Johnny Damon go last offseason and brought in Granderson and Nick Johnson, who has missed most of the season with an injury. But Granderson has picked up his game of late and could bat second against right-handers. … While a three-man rotation of Sabathia, Pettitte and Burnett was the linchpin of the playoff run last year, pitching is the Yankees’ biggest uncertainty this postseason. New York signed Javier Vazquez to be a formidable fourth starter, but he lost his spot in the rotation and maybe a place on the playoff roster. Burnett cut his hands smacking a door in frustration and sported a mysterious black eye while going 10-15 with a 5.26 ERA, and Pettitte has made just three starts since spending two months on the disabled list with a strained left groin. Hughes has been shaky after going 11-2 before the All-Star break.
Look for Sabathia to start Game 4 on short rest instead of Burnett if the Yankees are down 2-1. … New York has fought through injuries all season, losing Rodriguez, Granderson, Posada, Berkman and Thames for long stretches. Swisher has a sore knee, Gardner a sore thumb and Teixeira has been playing with a broken toe and sprained thumb. But the offense led the majors with 859 runs, despite Jeter’s drop-off. …
Rodriguez celebrated his 600th homer and reached 30 home runs for the 13th straight year. … Cano has emerged as an MVP contender. … The Yankees traded for Berkman and OF Austin Kearns to help boost the bench, and added Wood, who has been stellar out of the bullpen.
Twins: After playing in a 163rd game each of the last two seasons, the Twins (94-68) used an incredible second-half run to put away their sixth AL Central title of the decade with plenty of time to spare. It also allowed manager Ron Gardenhire to spend the final two weeks of the season trying to get Mauer (knee) and Thome (back) healthy and ready for the first playoff series at spacious Target Field. These aren’t the same cute, cuddly Twins who always seemed to defy the odds and win in spite of playing under financial constraints. The payroll swelled to nearly $100 million this year as the team reaped the benefits of its new ballpark. Minnesota added proven producers Hudson, Thome and Hardy to an established core of Mauer, Cuddyer and Justin Morneau, who hasn’t played in three months because of a concussion and will miss the postseason. Even so, the Twins were clearly the best team in the AL Central during the second half. Now comes the hard part. Minnesota has lost nine straight postseason games and hasn’t won a playoff series since 2002. To snap that skid, they’ll have to conquer their nemesis.
The Yankees are 9-2 vs. the Twins in the ALDS this decade and have dominated head-to-head matchups in the regular season as well. To continue that success, the Yankees will have to do it without home-field advantage this time. This is one occasion when the Twins might actually miss the Metrodome. Target Field has opened to rave reviews, bringing outdoor baseball to the Twin Cities for the first time in nearly three decades. But the Dome, with its baseball-colored roof and earsplitting crowd noise, gave the Twins one of the few true home-field advantages in the league. Then again, all that noise didn’t do them much good in their postseason series against the Yankees, who went 5-0 there in the last three ALDS meetings.
What To Watch For
â€” Jeter in the Clutch. The 36-year-old shortstop had an uncharacteristic season, sinking to career lows for batting average and on-base percentage (.340), and hitting just one homer after Aug. 1. He worked with hitting coach Kevin Long in Texas when he was given Sept. 11 off, and has batted .342 with a .436 OBP since then. Now, the Yankees captain must live up to his billing as one of the most clutch performers in playoff history (.313, 20, 55). He will have to carry over his recent surge to help an offense that sputtered to a .248 average during the same span.
â€” Closing with Capps. The acquisition of Capps right before the trade deadline helped shore up the Minnesota bullpen, moving Rauch into a setup role and giving the Twins an established closer to turn to in early 2011 in case four-time All-Star Joe Nathan isn’t yet recovered from reconstructive elbow surgery. In the meantime, Capps will be asked to work the critical ninth inning against a seasoned Yankees squad that boasts the best postseason closer in baseball history, Rivera. No pressure, right? The 27-year-old Capps has 109 career saves since taking over the role in 2007 with Pittsburgh, but he’s never pitched in this kind of environment before, getting all his closing experience with losing teams in the Pirates and Nationals.
â€” Andy and A.J. New York’s rotation looks shaky. Is Pettitte healthy?
The left-hander won the clincher in all three rounds of the 2009 postseason and is 18-9 in 40 postseason starts. It’s critical he provide a solid presence behind Sabathia. But that’s not so certain. He’s made only three starts since spending two months on the disabled list with a groin injury, and he said his back bothered him during his start on Sept. 24, when he yielded six earned runs and 10 hits in 3 1-3 innings against Boston. He pitched four-plus innings Saturday against the Red Sox and said he felt better, but Pettitte last threw 100 pitches on July 8. Burnett has been inconsistent all year. He started out 6-2, then lost five in a row. Since Aug. 1, he’s 1-7. He allowed 204 hits and 78 walks in 186 2-3 innings this season. Can Girardi trust him to go deep into a game and not burn his bullpen? With a revamped playoff schedule, it will be tougher for the Yankees to use only three starters the way they did during their championship run last year.
â€” New Target. Twins fans flocked in record numbers to Target Field, the gorgeous new ballpark in downtown Minneapolis. The team drew a franchise-record 3.2 million fans, the third-highest total in baseball this season. But the open-air park doesn’t trap noise the way the Metrodome did, so it will be interesting to see what kind of boost the crowd can give the home team in this new, possibly chilly, environment.
During the regular season, the Twins were the best team in the AL at home, finishing 53-28.
Texas Rangers vs. Tampa Bay Rays Season Series: Rays won 4-2.
Rangers: SS Elvis Andrus (.265, 0 HRs, 35 RBIs, 88 runs, 47 SBs), 3B Michael Young (.284, 21, 91, 99 runs, career-high 115 strikeouts), CF Josh Hamilton (major league-leading .359, 32, 100), DH Vladimir Guerrero (.300, 29, 115), RF Nelson Cruz (.318, 22, 78 in 108 games), 2B Ian Kinsler (.286, 9, 45), LF David Murphy (.291, 12, 65), 1B Jorge Cantu (.235, 1, 2 in 30 games since acquired from Florida) or Mitch Moreland (.255, 9, 25 in 47 games since called up from Triple-A on July 29), C Bengie Molina (.240, 2, 19 in 57 games since acquired from San Francisco) or Matt Treanor (.211, 5, 27).
Rays: 2B Ben Zobrist (.238, 10, 75), CF B.J. Upton (.237, 18, 62, 42 SBs), LF Carl Crawford (.307, 19, 90, 47 SBs), 3B Evan Longoria (.294, 22, 104), DH Dan Johnson (.198, 7, 23), RF Matt Joyce (.241, 10, 40), 1B Carlos Pena (.196, 28, 84, 158 strikeouts in 484 at-bats), C John Jaso (.263, 5, 44), SS Jason Bartlett (.254, 4, 47).
Rangers: LH Cliff Lee (12-9, 3.18 ERA, 7 CGs in 28 starts, 185 Ks, 18 walks, 212 1-3 innings; 4-6, 3.98 in 15 starts since acquired from Seattle on July 9), LH C.J. Wilson (15-8, 3.35, 3 CGs in 33 starts), RH Colby Lewis (12-13, 3.72 in career-high 201 innings), RH Tommy Hunter (13-4, 3.73).
Rays: LH David Price (19-6, 2.72 ERA), RH James Shields (13-15, 5.18), RH Matt Garza (15-10, 3.91), RH Wade Davis (12-10, 4.07).
Rangers: RH Neftali Feliz (4-3, 2.37, MLB rookie-record 40 saves in 43 chances), LH Derek Holland (3-4, 4.08; 2.53 in 4 relief appearances), RH Dustin Nippert (4-5, 4.29 in 38 games), RH Darren O’Day (6-2, 2.03 in 72 games), RH Alexi Ogando (4-1, 1.30 ERA in 44 games), LH Darren Oliver (1-2, 2.48 ERA in 64 games).
Rays: RH Rafael Soriano (3-2, 1.73, 45
48 saves), RH Joaquin Benoit (1-2, 1.34), RH Grant Balfour (2-1, 2.28), LH Randy Choate (4-3, 4.23), RH Lance Cormier (4-3, 3.92), RH Jeremy Hellickson (4-0, 3.47 in 10 games, including 4 starts), RH Chad Qualls (3-4, 7.32, including 43 appearances with Arizona), RH Dan Wheeler (2-4, 3.35), RH Jeff Niemann (12-8, 4.39 in 29 starts and 1 relief appearance).
Tampa Bay swept a three-game series at home against Texas in mid-August, the Rangers’ only trip to Tropicana Field. The Rays lost two of three at Rangers Ballpark in June. … Lee started the series opener at Tampa Bay, just as he will in the playoffs. He lost 6-4 after the Rays took advantage of an ill-advised throw by 2B Joaquin Arias that set up a four-run eighth inning. Arias was sent to the Mets a couple of weeks later in the deal to acquire OF Jeff Francoeur. … Lee is 6-5 with a 2.87 ERA in 13 career starts against the Rays, but 0-3 with a 4.56 ERA in three starts this year (two for Seattle). … The Rangers struck out 54 times in six games against the Rays, and had at least 10 Ks three times. … Hamilton has hit only .147 (5 for 34) with one homer and six RBIs in nine career games at Tampa Bay. The Rays drafted him No. 1 overall in 1999. … Cruz hasn’t played against Tampa Bay this season. He was on the DL three times because of hamstring problems, and missed both series against the Rays. … This is the first time Texas has faced somebody other than the Yankees in the playoffs. The Rangers won Game 1 of the 1996 division series, but the Yankees won the next three games and then swept Texas in the first round in 1998 and 1999.
… The Rangers hope Murphy is healthy enough to play. He will have to test his groin Tuesday before the playoff roster is turned in. If he can’t go, the lineup could change considerably â€” especially against Price in Game 1. Hamilton could move to LF, with CF Julio Borbon (.276, 3, 42, 15 SBs) batting ninth. Or, Francoeur (.340, 2, 11 in 15 games since acquired from the Mets) could start in RF and bat in Murphy’s slot, moving Cruz to LF. … The Rays won four straight against the Rangers after losing the first two meetings in Texas. Price beat Lee at home in August, allowing two runs, five hits and five walks in six-plus innings while striking out 8. Tampa Bay took a 2-0 lead into the seventh. Two runs charged to Price scored after Qualls entered the game.
… The Rays outs cored the Rangers 24-11 in that series, batting .327 with 13 extra-base hits. Longoria led the way, going 7 for 12 with three doubles, a triple, home run and 8 RBIs. Hamilton, meanwhile, went 1 for 10 for the Rangers. … Tampa Bay expects to have Longoria back in the lineup for Game 1. He was sidelined for the last 10 days of the regular season with a strained left quadriceps. … Lee retired his first 11 batters against the Rays on Aug. 16, but wound up losing 6-4. While he was with the Mariners, the Rays handed Lee his first two losses of the year, beating him 8-3 at Seattle on May 5 and 2-1 at Tropicana Field on May 16.
Rangers: The only current major league franchise that hasn’t won a playoff series, Texas is in the postseason for the fourth time, including three AL West titles from 1996-99. … Texas (90-72) led the division for 154 days in all, taking over first place for good June 8.
After winning three of four games from the Angels before an off day July 26, the Rangers had at least a seven-game lead over their final 63 games. … The season began with the team for sale, a drawn-out process that included bankruptcy before Hall of Fame pitcher and team president Nolan Ryan’s group finally won an auction in mid-August with a bid valued at $590 million to buy the club from Tom Hicks. There also was manager Ron Washington’s admission in spring training that he used cocaine once during the 2009 season. Washington offered to resign, but Ryan and general manager Jon Daniels stuck by him last year and again when it became public. … The Rangers have increased their win total each season under Washington, who is in his fourth season. … Despite bankruptcy and financial constraints, Texas acquired Lee from Seattle when it looked as though the ace left-hander was headed to the Yankees.
Daniels also made midseason deals for Molina, Cantu and Francoeur. …
The team ERA of 3.93 is the club’s lowest since a 3.83 mark in 1990. …
The Rangers led the majors with a .276 batting average, though their 162 home runs were their fewest since 1992. Their 986 strikeouts marked the first time since 2000 they had fewer than 1,000 â€” after having at least 1,200 each of the last three seasons. … Hamilton had an MVP-caliber season, though he missed 24 games in September because of two broken ribs. He was sore but feeling OK after a three-game comeback before the playoffs. … Cruz was limited to 108 games because of hamstring problems, but became only the second major leaguer with five extra-inning homers. Three of them ended games, as did his strikeout last week when he reached on a wild pitch. … Wilson asked for another chance to be a starte r, and responded with a team-high 15 wins. The left-hander was 0-5 with a 12.05 ERA in six starts as a rookie in 2005, then became a standout reliever before earning a rotation spot last spring.
Rays: AL East champions for the second time in three years, manager Joe Maddon and the Rays won the division title on the final day of the regular season. … At 96-66, they came within one win of matching the franchise record, and they have home-field advantage throughout the AL playoffs. They were 20-19 at Tropicana Field through June, but went 29-13 over the last three months of the season. … Tampa Bay is the first team in major league history to post 10 consecutive losing seasons, then make the playoffs two of the next three years. … While four-time All-Star Crawford probably had his best overall season and three-time All-Star Longoria had another solid season, several Rays had disappointing years at the plate, including Zobrist, Upton, Bartlett and Pena, who led the club with 28 homers but batted .196 with 158 strikeouts. … Tampa Bay was no-hit twice and limited to 1 hit in two other games. On the other hand, Garza also tossed the first no-hitter in Tampa Bay history, shutting down Detroit on July 26. … The absence of a true closer was one of the reasons the Rays finished third in the AL East last year. Soriano, a first-time All-Star acquired from Atlanta in the offseason, solidified the bullpen and might have been the team MVP.
What To Watch For
â€” Young and Restless. The longest-tenured Rangers player, Young is finally in the playoffs after 10 major league seasons and 1,508 games.
Cardinals OF Randy Winn (1,717 games) is the only active player to appear in more games without reaching the postseason. Young is Texas’ career leader in hits (1,848), having surpassed Ivan Rodriguez this season, and a six-time All-Star who twice had the game-winning RBI for the AL. Young began his big league career as a second baseman, moved to shortstop after Alex Rodriguez was traded to the Yankees before the 2004 season, then after winning a Gold Glove moved to third base in 2009 to make room for Andrus, then a 20-year-old rookie who had never played above Double-A.
â€” On The Way Out. Crawford is the longest-tenured player in franchise history, and he’s had one of his best seasons, narrowly missing out on joining Alex Rodriguez, Alfonso Soriano, Jose Canseco, Bobby Bonds and Carlos Beltran as the only players in AL history to have at least 20 homers, 40 steals and 90 RBIs in a season. He’s also in the final year of his contract with the budget-minded Rays and likely will be one of the top players available in free agency this winter. Potential suitors may be sold on him already, but what better way to boost his value even more than with a strong postseason run?
â€” Lee’s Back. In his last four August starts, Lee was 0-3 with a 9.00 ERA. Then he finally had an injection in his sore back and took nearly two weeks off before returning and allowing only two hits in eight innings against the New York Yankees. He went 2-1 with a 1.93 ERA in four September starts. In his regular-season finale Thursday, Lee struck out eight and allowed only an unearned run over seven innings against the Angels.
â€” B.J. On The Big Stage. Upton shrugged off a relatively quiet regular season with a breakout performance in the postseason two years ago, batting .287 with an AL record-tying seven homers and 16 RBIs in 16 games to help the Rays reach the World Series. That, after watching his home run total decline from 24 in 129 games in 2007 to just nine in 145 games in ’08. He slumped to .241 with 11 homers and 55 RBIs last season and has been inconsistent again this year. The Rays hope the playoffs will bring out the best in him again. Maddon even tinkered with the batting order on the final weekend of the regular season, moving Upton into the No. 2 hole, where he flourished in the 2008 postseason.