Last time the Yankees played the Twins was May 27. The Yankees starter that day was Javier Vazquez. Their left fielder was Kevin Russo, their designated hitter was Juan Miranda and the first two relievers out of their bullpen were Chan Ho Park and Damaso Marte.
In other words, it’s been a while. A quick recap of the team the Yankees will be facing in the Division Series.
The Twins have already announced a four-man rotation for the division series: LHP Francisco Liriano, RHP Carl Pavano, LHP Brian Duensing and RHP Nick Blackburn.
Liriano is probably the weakest of the four aces in the American League playoffs, but he has a 3.11 ERA and a .239 opponents batting average at Target Field. He’s faced the Yankees twice this season. He allowed 17 hits in those games, but he gave the Twins a chance to win both times. Pavano — as you might have heard — won 17 games this season. He threw seven complete games. You can’t predict baseball.
Duensing and Blackburn are clearly step behind the Twins’ top two. Blackburn has a 5.42 ERA and a losing record, but he did beat the Yankees twice this season. Duensing has only faced the Yankees as a reliever. Marcus Thames is 3-for-6 against him.
Joe Nathan was supposed to be the Twins closer, but he had Tommy John surgery before the season. Jon Rauch opened the season as the Twins closer, but then the Twins made a trade with the Nationals. Now Matt Capps handles the ninth.
Assuming Rauch is healthy — he’s said he’ll be fine after a knee injury — the Twins have a strong group of setup relievers. Rauch, Matt Guerrier, Jesse Crain and Brian Fuentes are Minnesota’s version of Kerry Wood, Joba Chamberlain, Dave Robertson and Boone Logan. Like the Yankees, the Twins seem to be deciding between some long relievers and potential second lefties.
Justin Morneau will not play in the division series after a concussion that cost him the second half and a shot at the AL MVP. Without Morneau, Delmon Young has been a beast, Jason Kubel and Michael Cuddyer have been plenty productive and Joe Mauer has been very good even in a down year.
Danny Valencia is a name worth knowing. He was a 19th round back in 2006 and the Yankees have never seen him, but Valencia has become a solid Rookie of the Year candidate while filling the Twins hole at third base. Nothing flashy, just a nice all-around hitter.
Rauch and Mauer both have knee injuries. Mauer was able to play a little bit this weekend — one at-bat Saturday, five innings Sunday — but Rauch hasn’t pitched in a week. Duensing felt some tightness in his shoulder during his last start.
Best I can tell, those are the most pressing non-Morneau injury concerns. Denard Span got an MRI last month, but he missed only one game in the final two weeks. Scott Baker almost certainly would have been in the rotation had he stayed healthy, but elbow problems forced him to the bullpen. He might be available as a long reliever.
Associated Press photos of Liriano and Mauer