Benches and defenses here:
R – Marcus Thames ("OF") .288/.350/.491 (237 PA), 12 HR, 33 RBI
S – Lance Berkman (1B) .248/.368/.413 (481 PA), 14 HR, 58 RBI
R – Austin Kearns (OF) .263/.351/.395 (461 PA), 10 HR, 49 RBI
S – Ramiro Peña (IF) .227/.258/.247 (167 PA), 7 SB @ 88%
R – Greg Golson (OF) .261/.261/.348 (23 PA), 5 SB @ 100%
R – Francisco Cervelli (C) - .271/.359/.335 (317 PA), 0 HR, 38 RBI
S – Nick Punto (IF) .238/.313/.302 (288 PA), 1 HR, 20 RBI, 6 SB @ 75%
S – Alexi Casilla (IF) .276/.331/.395 (170 PA), 1 HR, 20 RBI, 6 SB @ 86%
S – Matt Tolbert (IF) .230/.293/.379 (100 PA), 1 HR, 18 RBI
R – Jason Repko (OF) .228/.324/.346 (146 PA), 3 HR, 9 RBI
R – Drew Butera (C) .197/.237/.296 (155 PA), 2 HR, 13 RBI
S – Jose Morales (C/1B) .194/.295/.250 (44 PA), 0 HR, 7 RBI
The Twins have yet to officially announce their roster, so the above is my best guess plus one. Both of these benches are likely to contain just five men, but I’ve included both Thames and Berkman on the Yankee bench, which is official, because whichever one isn’t starting at DH will be on the bench. Consider them one player.
One major difference between these two benches is immediately apparent: the Twins don’t have anyone riding pine who can hit. Morales has hit for some average in the past and will take some walks, but might not even make the squad. Casilla’s numbers above represent his best major league showing and the less said about the rest, the better. Even if they put all six of these players on the ALDS roster, the Twins bench would have hit fewer home runs in 2010 than Austin Kearns, who slugged .395 on the season. It’s informative, then, to consider that three of these players were in the Twins’ starting lineup in last year’s ALDS (Tolbert, Morales as a platoon DH, and, of course, scrappy, gritty Nick Punto), yet another reason that this will be a tougher battle for the Yankees.
To be fair, the last three men on the Yankee bench (Peña, Golson, and Cervelli) can’t really hit either, and Austin Kearns enters this series cold as ice (though there’s no need to sacrifice), hitting just .164 with no extra base hits and 26 strikeouts in his last 74 plate appearances dating back to August 24 (that’s a strikeout more often than once every three trips to the plate for those who didn’t just do that math in their head).
Rather, the Twins bench is built mostly around defense. Casilla and Punto can run, Casilla with tremendous efficiency having stolen 35 of 39 bags in the majors, just shy of 90 percent success, but only two AL teams stole fewer bases than the Twins this year. Rather the Minnesota bench is there to provide warm bodies where needed who can catch the ball. That’s it. There is no big righty bat to spell Jason Kubel or even Jim Thome against lefties. The Twins could have used Marcus Thames, but the Yankees have him.
The Yankees were tied with the Rays with the second-best defensive efficiency in the majors this season. The Twins ranked 15th but with a rate of turning balls in play into outs that was below the major league average. You can blame some of that on the multiple disabled list stays of slick-fielding middle infielders Orlando Hudson and J.J. Hardy, both of whom are healthy and in the ALDS lineup. However, Justin Morneau’s season-ending concussion has forced the Twins to play right fielder Michael Cuddyer at first base and designated hitter Jason Kubel in right field, where they have played like a right fielder and designated hitter, respectively. Left fielder Delmon Young gives the Twins a matched set of terrible corner outfielders in Target Field’s expansive outfield. By comparison, the Yankees have the competent Nick Swisher in right and a pair of speedy center fielders in the other two pastures, given them an excellent outfield defense. The Yankees also benefit from the fine work of Robinson Cano and Mark Teixeira on the right side of the infield, though the two former shortstops on the left side of the infield leave something to be desired. The Yankees also give up a lot behind the plate, where both Jorge Posada and Francisco Cervelli have had a tough year against opposing baserunners, throwing out just 22 of 149 attempting basestealers, a miserable 14.7 percent. You can blame some of that on the pitchers, in the case of A.J. Burnett, you can blame most of it on him, but it’s still a damning figure. Joe Mauer threw out 26 percent of opposing basestealers this year, which is right around the league average.
Doing it by position, the defensive edge breaks down like this:
That looks a lot closer than those full-season defensive efficiency stats would suggest. Again, credit having Hardy and Hudson healthy. Also, consider that I’m being a bit subjective here. According to UZR, Orlando Hudson is a much better fielder than Robinson Cano, and Curtis Granderson has a slight the edge over Denard Span, but in both cases, both are strong defenders so I’m calling it even. The other comparisons are more lop-sided. I’ll still give the overall edge to the Yankees, in part because, while Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter lack range, they’re not the kind of butchers that Young and Kubel are. Also, the latter duo is being asked to cover much more territory where botched balls turn into extra-base hits rather than singles.