A few notes related to the Yankees and Twins each starting left-handed pitchers tonight, and some Game 1 trivia.
What to do with Brett Gardner?
It will be interesting to see whether Brett Gardner gets the start in left field over Austin Kearns.
Yankees vs Lefty Starters
When Gardner Starts/Doesn;t
The best argument to why he should start: The Yankees were 22-16 when Gardner started against a left-handed pitcher, 9-11 when he didn't, and they were a significantly worse team both offensively and pitching-wise.
Gardner didn't start the last six times the opponent threw a lefty starter against the Yankees in the regular season, all Yankees losses.
One argument against it: Gardner struggled to get on base against left-handed pitching in the last two months of the season (April-July: .391 OBP, August-October: .333 OBP) and Francisco Liriano is VERY tough on lefties (A 52:4 strikeout-walk total).
Gardner's presence on the bench would also give Joe Girardi multiple options for use late in games, either batting against the back end of the Twins bullpen, pinch-running, or coming in for defense.
Jim Thome vs CC Sabathia
Jim Thome has had 30 career plate appearances against CC Sabathia, and 20 of those have resulted in what are known as "the three true outcomes" (a strikeout, walk, or home run).
The full breakdown:
14 strikeouts (including each of their last four meetings)
4 home runs (accounting for ALL of Thome's hits vs Sabathia)
2 walks (the third and fourth turns he had against Sabathia)
Thome enters swinging a stellar bat. He had the highest on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and OPS in the American League after the All-Star Break. Those outweigh any sampling against Sabathia in deciding whether he should start.
What's with the lefty starter losing streak?
The Yankees have lost nine straight games in which the opposition started a left-hander and there's fear that could be an issue with the Twins starting lefties in Game 1 and Game 3. Couple the streak with the recent struggles of Robinson Cano against left-handed pitching, and the year-long issues Alex Rodriguez has had (.217 BA) and you've got a few worries.
Forgotten is this though: Prior to that nine-game losing streak, the Yankees had won nine of 10 their previous 10 games against left-handed starting pitching. So there's precedent for strong performance.
Which Twin could give CC Sabathia the most trouble?
The Twins best hitter against left-handed pitching this season isn't named Joe Mauer, Delmon Young or Michael Cuddyer.
It's Danny Valencia, who was 37-for-99 with 12 walks against southpaws. Valencia crushes pitches from lefties in the strike zone. When he makes contact with one of those pitches, our Inside Edge video review data says he hits .418. That's 121 points above the major league average.
Lastly some Game 1 Yankees trivia
Three nuggets with which to stump your friends. Maybe you'll hear one on Baseball Tonight later this evening.
1-- Who's the last Yankee to pitch a complete game, pitching on the road in a playoff series opener?
That would be Catfish Hunter against the Royals in Game 1 of the 1976 ALCS.
2-- Who is tied with Derek Jeter for most Game 1 home runs in Yankees postseason history?
Jeter and ex-teammate Bernie Williams are even with five apiece. Manny Ramirez has the major league record with seven.
3-- True or False: The Yankees have a winning record when opening a playoff series on the road.
False. The Yankees are 12-13 all-time when opening a playoff series on the road. They've alternated wins and losses in the last six, losing the last one to the Indians in 2007.