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A capsule look at Yankees-Twins playoff series

By The Associated Press
October 4, 2010

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A look at the best-of-five American League division series between the New York Yankees and Minnesota Twins:

Schedule: (All times EDT) Game 1, Wednesday, at Minneapolis (8:37 p.m.); Game 2, Thursday, at Minneapolis (6:07 p.m.); Game 3, Saturday, at New York (8:37 p.m.); x-Game 4, Sunday, at New York (TBA); x-Game 5, Tuesday, Oct. 12, at Minneapolis (TBA). (All games on TBS).

x-if necessary.

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Season Series: Yankees won 4-2.

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Projected Lineups

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).

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Projected Rotations

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).

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Relievers

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).

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Matchups

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 -- 12 counting the playoffs -- 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 -- four starts -- against the Yankees in his career.

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Big Picture

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.

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Watch For

-- 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.

-- 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.

-- 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.

-- 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.

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