While perusing Facebook and Twitter Tuesday evening during another wretched loss by the Minnesota Twins, I came across comments from scores of people who were ready to be placed on suicide watch. You would have never guessed that one week ago the Twins were the first team in the 2010 MLB season to clinch their division.
While I've had the reputation of being an incurable optimist (except when it pertains to the Minnesota Vikings), it doesn't take a "glass half full" outlook to realize there is no reason for the vapors.
So as a public service, I would like address some of the concerns brought forth by Twins Nation.
-The Twins have played with no life since clinching the AL Central. They need to go into the playoffs with some momentum.
Really? The Twins were the hottest team in baseball when they entered the postseason last year, winning 17 of their final 21 regular season games. In 2006, they won 16 of their final 23, culminated by winning the AL Central on the final day. Does anyone recall how the Twins fared in the 2006 and 2009 postseasons? Yep, they were swept in both. In fact, they never once had a lead against Oakland in the '06 American League Division Series. And in last year's ALDS there was only one occasion where the Twins scored runs and the Yankees didn't answer back in the next half inning.
I'd be more concerned if the Twins were losing these games while at full strength. But the fact of the matter is they've played most of the past week without Joe Mauer, Jim Thome and J.J. Hardy, all of whom are nursing nagging injuries. I'd rather play with a AAA caliber lineup than have key guys irritate injuries while playing meaningless September baseball.
Sure, the pitching has been sub par. But the lion's share of the runs allowed have been yielded by pitchers (i.e. Kevin Slowey, Glen Perkins, Jeff Manship, Alex Burnett and Randy Flores) unlikely to be major factor in the playoffs, if not left off the postseason roster altogether.
-The Twins still have a shot at home field advantage throughout the AL playoffs. They're blowing it by not winning down the stretch.
Question: In the nine seasons Ron Gardenhire has been Twins manager, what's his home record in the postseason?
Answer: 2-9, including eight consecutive postseason home losses since 2002.
I'm not saying that I wouldn't want them to have home field advantage throughout the American League playoffs. Heck, the Twins have adapted well to outdoor baseball as they have the best home record in the A.L thus far. But in the five seasons they've gone to the playoffs under Gardenhire (all while playing at the Metrodome), the Twins averaged 51 home wins during the regular year. For whatever reason, that success didn't translate into the postseason.
And as the 2006 St. Louis Cardinals can attest, just get in the playoffs and see what happens. The Cards won a mere 83 regular season games in '06, never had home field advantage in any playoff series and yet still managed to win the World Series.
-Looks like the Twins will have to play the Yankees again in the Division Series. Yet another "One and Done."
Hard to argue that Gardenhire's record against that Yankees is, to put it mildly, abysmal. Regular season and postseason combined, Gardy has a record of 18-54 versus the Yanks. Extrapolate that record over a 162-game regular season, and you're 40-122, which means you're the 1962 New York Mets.
But if you hold tight to the theory that "Pitching wins championships", then the Twins have a fighting chance in 2010. Outside of C.C. Sabathia, there isn't any other Yankees starting pitcher who strikes fear in the hearts of opponents.
A.J. Burnett, who is supposedly the Yanks' #2 starter, is 10-15 with a 5.33 ERA this season. In his last ten starts, Burnett is 1-6 with a 6.26 ERA (the Yankees are 2-8 in that span).
Veteran starter Andy Pettitte just came off the a two-month stint on the disabled list, so who knows what he'll provide. Last Friday, in only his second start since coming off the D.L., Pettitte allowed six earned runs and 10 hits in 3-1/3 innings against the Red Sox.
Phil Hughes is showing signs of fatigue as he has pitched nearly as many innings this season as the previous three years combined. In fact, Hughes has walked nine batters over his past two starts covering 12-1/3 innings.
Javier Vazquez has been relegated to mop up duty in the bullpen and may not even make the postseason roster.
So does my rationale mean a World Series berth in inevitable? Of course not. But save all the angst and hand wringing for meaningful games. You know, like the kind of games the Twins will be playing next week!!!