C.C. Sabathia's Start Tonight: None Bigger All Year

Prudence suggests that Bill Madden's pick in today's Daily News - Minnesota twins in five - is a correct one. Madden's reasoning is sound: the Yankees have been a lackluster 29-30 since July 30 and only 9-17 since September 5. "Combined," Madden writers, "with Girardi's erratic managing and the uncertainty of the starting rotation these factors give us a bad feeling. By contrast, the Twins' best-in-the-AL 53-28 record at Target Field, along with their inspired play in august and early September runaway of the AL Central gives us good vibes about them."

All true, but there are two strong mitigating factors.

First, as Jay Jaffe pointed out in yesterday's Baseball Prospectus, history has proven that "It's important to remember that late season records aren't predictive of October success - or failure." The second is this: C.C. Sabathia, 21-7, 3.18 ERA, is a better pitcher than the Twins Francisco Liriano, 14-10, 3.62. That the Twins do not hit lefthanders particularly well - and Sabathia may well be the best lefthander in the league - could be the hinge around which the Series turns.

Simply put, if Sabathia beats Liriano tonight, the odds shift dramatically in the Yankees' favor. Why? If Phil Hughes pitches in the second game, he'll have a much better chance of being effective than he would at Yankee Stadium. For some reason, Hughes has a remarkable propensity for surrendering the long ball when pitching at home - he gave up 20 of his 25 home runs this year at Yankee Stadium - and for reasons not entirely explained has been more effective in other AL ballparks. If Hughes starts game two, as currently projected, he'll also start game five should there be one, at Minnesota, and with a full four days rest.

As Aaron Gleeman points out on MinnPost.com, "A.J. Burnett's getting bumped from the Yankees rotations means the Twins will ace a left-handed starte din for of the five games, which is a definite advantage for New York. In the regular season, the Twins had a .776 OPS vs. right-handers, compared with .736 OPS vs. left-handers, in large part because Jim Thome and Jason Kubel both struggle against lefties and the Twins don't have a good right-handed bat to sub for them."

If Sabathia does win tonight, there are three other considerations, all of which tilt the series towards the Yankees. Number one, the Twins were a mediocre road team this year at 41-40 (.506) , while the Yankees were an overpowering 52-29 (.642) at Yankee Stadium. Since Sabathia will be pitching on three days rest in game four, there's a very good chance that the Yankees could be heading back to Minnesota next week ahead three games to one in the series - again, if Sabathia wins tonight.

The second factor going for the Yankees is that the Twins likely starter in game four is their most weakest starter, Nick Blackburn, 10-12 with a 5.42 ERA.

The third and final arrow pointing in the Yankees' direction is, of course, the loss for the Twins of their fine first baseman, Justin Morneau, their best hitter, who will impossible to replace both at-bat and in the field.

So, it al comes down to C.C. tonight. Games exactly like this were what the Yankees got him for.


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