The New York Yankees spent $423.5 million after seeing their 13-year postseason streak end last year. Those moves paid off in the regular season to the tune of a major league-best 103 wins.
Sabathia will try to put aside his poor postseason numbers Wednesday night when the Yankees start an AL division series against the Minnesota Twins, who will try to avoid a hangover less than 24 hours after winning a one-game playoff for the AL Central title.
New York saw its streak of playoff appearances end with a third-place AL East finish in 2008. Reacting to that, the high-spending Yankees added Sabathia, A.J. Burnett(notes) and Mark Teixeira(notes) to a roster that already featured superstars Derek Jeter(notes), Mariano Rivera(notes) and Alex Rodriguez(notes), then used a huge second half to finish 103-59 and win the division by eight games.
The first postseason berth for manager Joe Girardi won’t be enough to satisfy the illustrious franchise, which is seeking its 27th championship but hasn’t won a World Series since 2000. The Yankees lost 13 of their final 17 playoff games under Joe Torre from 2004-07, then hired Girardi to try to reverse those woes.
“You don’t play this game and put all that hard work in just to make the playoffs,” Girardi told the Yankees’ official Web site. “The goal was set when we went to work last winter, so I think our guys are very determined.”
The Yankees will be heavily favored after sweeping the seven-game season series against the Twins, who they eliminated in four games in division series in 2003 and 2004. Minnesota beat Detroit 6-5 in a 12-inning tiebreaker game Tuesday to win its first Central title in three years.
“We’re not afraid. I can guarantee you that,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said.
New York rested and watched the thrilling decider, and is prepared to take on the small-market Twins in the first postseason game at the new Yankee Stadium. AL batting champion Joe Mauer(notes) (.365) leads the way for a Minnesota club playing without injured former league MVP Justin Morneau(notes).
“The Twins offensively have left-handed power in (Jason) Kubel and Mauer, and everything really focuses around Mauer,” Girardi said. “He’s so dangerous in their lineup.”
Sabathia has plenty of familiarity with Minnesota from his days with division rival Cleveland, and he’ll be trying to erase the memories of his past playoff outings. He’s 2-3 with a 7.92 ERA in five career postseason starts, having posted a 10.93 ERA in losing the last three.
With Milwaukee last year, he lasted 3 2-3 innings and gave up five runs in a 5-2 loss at Philadelphia in Game 2 of an NL division series.
Sabathia, who went 19-8 with a 3.37 ERA during his first regular season in New York, has a theory as to why he’s fared poorly in Octobers past.
“I think maybe just trying to go out and do too much,” Sabathia said. “Trying to go out and throw shutouts and throw no-hitters and things like that instead of going out and doing the same things I’ve done during the regular season which is throwing strikes early in the count.”
The left-hander is 9-4 with a 1.91 ERA in his last 13 starts against the Twins. Mauer is 5 for 23 (.217) against him in his career.
Teixeira emerged as the big bat New York paid $180 million for, tying for the league lead with 39 homers and driving in an AL-high 122 runs. The slugger went 14 for 29 (.483) with four homers and 11 RBIs against Minnesota.
The postseason also provides a redemption opportunity for Rodriguez, who has batted .143 (8 for 56) with a solo homer for his lone RBI in his last 16 playoff games. Rodriguez’s best postseason moments with New York came against Minnesota in a division series in 2004, when he went 8 for 19 (.421) with three RBIs.
Though they went winless in the season series with the Yankees, the Twins may take some solace from their performance while being swept in four games May 15-18 in the Bronx. That series featured three one-run games, two that went extra innings and three walk-off wins for the Yankees.
“Once the playoffs start though, it’s a new series and we know the importance of each game,” Girardi said. “You can pretty much throw everything else out the window.”
Minnesota is riding plenty of momentum. The Twins overcame a seven-game gap in the Central in the final month, went 17-4 to pull even on the final weekend and won their fifth division title in eight years.
That means Minnesota will need quality innings from Game 1 starter Brian Duensing(notes), a college teammate at Nebraska of Yankees reliever Joba Chamberlain(notes). The rookie went 5-2 with a 3.64 ERA in 24 appearances this season, including nine starts.
Duensing’s only experience against New York was in his third career appearance. He allowed four runs, two hits and four walks in 2 2-3 innings of relief in a 10-2 home loss July 7.
The left-hander was 5-1 with a 2.73 ERA in his nine starts.
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