Playoffs set to start with 3 Cy Young winners

Posted Oct. 05, 2010, at 7:30 p.m.
Last modified Oct. 06, 2010, at 3:40 a.m.

Joe Mauer and the Minnesota Twins need no added motivation to beat the Yankees. They found some anyway.

Prepping for their first-round playoff series, the AL Central champions hung a picture in their clubhouse of the back page of a recent (New York) Daily News that read “Bad news: Yanks must go on road for playoffs. Good news: They play the Twins. E-Z Pass.”

“Yes, we’ve had our issues with them,” Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire said Tuesday. “They find a way and that’s what we have to do. We have to find a way. We are pretty good at that this year and I expect us to do it.”

The time for talking is over and the pressure is on. Everyone knows what’s at stake in October.

Ryan Howard and the Phillies are swinging for their third straight pennant. Texas is trying to win a playoff series for the first time. The wild-card Yankees hope to repeat as World Series champs.

Postseason baseball begins Wednesday, with a trio of Cy Young Award winners on the mound: Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay and CC Sabathia.

Lee and the Rangers get it all started against the Tampa Bay Rays at 1:37 p.m. EDT. Next up, Halladay and the Phillies host Cincinnati at 5:07 p.m. EDT.

With three aces in the rotation and a playoff-tested team, Philadelphia is heavily favored to reach its third consecutive World Series. The last National League club to do that was the St. Louis Cardinals from 1942-44.

But MVP contender Joey Votto and the Reds can slug with just about anybody, and they have an overpowering arm to bring out of the bullpen in rookie Aroldis Chapman.

Cincinnati, winner of the NL Central, is in the postseason for the first time since 1995. The Reds can expect a packed house in Philadelphia, too.

“You’ve got to start somewhere,” said manager Dusty Baker, taking his third NL team to the postseason. “It’s sort of like a kid coming out of college. Everybody wants to know what is his job experience? And sooner or later you’ve got to work to get that experience, and that’s where we are right now.”

Halladay, obtained from Toronto last December, will be making his playoff debut after 13 stellar seasons. He’ll face Edinson Volquez, who returned this year from right elbow surgery and went 4-3 with a 4.31 ERA in 12 starts.

“It’s definitely something I’m looking forward to,” Halladay said at a rainy Citizens Bank Park. “It’s a great challenge. It’s something I’ve wanted to do my whole career, and I’m very grateful for the opportunity.”

The 8:37 p.m. EDT game is a familiar matchup. Sabathia and the Yankees face Minnesota in a first-round series for the fourth time since 2003. New York won all three previous meetings, including last year en route to its 27th World Series title.

“Doesn’t mean anything,” Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter interjected, cutting off a question about past success against the Twins.

He relented: “We haven’t played ‘em in a while. We understand that they’re very hot, especially in the second half. They’ll play us tough. Anything that’s happened in the past has no bearing on this season.”

This time, the Twins have home-field advantage at their spacious new ballpark, Target Field. Wednesday night will mark the first outdoor postseason game in Minnesota since 1970, and the temperature is supposed to be in the 60s.

“We went through a sweep last year. That obviously wasn’t a good feeling,” Twins center fielder Denard Span said. “I just think we’re a year older, a year more ready. We did what we had to do during the regular season. Now I think everybody’s goal is a little higher than it was a year ago.”

Francisco Liriano pitches the opener against Alex Rodriguez, Robinson Cano and the big-budget Yankees, who staggered to a 9-17 finish that cost them the AL East crown.

“We tried to wrap this thing up and didn’t get it done,” said Andy Pettitte, who will start Game 2 for New York. “The bottom line is we’re the world champs until someone knocks us off.”

In the first of Wednesday’s three marquee pitching matchups, Lee was set to face Tampa Bay ace David Price under the roof at Tropicana Field. Price has blossomed into the elite starter almost everyone expected, going 19-6 with a 2.72 ERA for the AL East champs.

“Should be a pretty fun matchup to watch,” said Rays third baseman Evan Longoria, cleared to play after missing the final 10 games of the regular season with a strained left quadriceps.

Texas’ dangerous lineup features playoff newcomers Josh Hamilton and Michael Young, but the AL West champion Rangers are the only current major league franchise that hasn’t won a playoff series.

Lee was acquired from Seattle in July to help change that. The left-hander went 4-0 with a 1.56 ERA in five postseason starts for the Phillies last year.

“I expect as much out of myself as anyone expects out of me. You can call it pressure, call it what you want. But I’m not nervous or worried or any of those kind of words that would go along with pressure,” Lee said. “I’m looking forward to it, and it’s going to be a challenge and a lot of fun.”

All division series are best-of-five. The fourth matchup gets under way Thursday night, when retiring manager Bobby Cox and his wild-card Atlanta Braves play at NL West champion San Francisco.

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