Monday, May 03, 2004

Early Season Playoff Matchups

Twins Chatter has learned that if the season were to end today, the Twins would be back in the playoffs as the number two seed. Because April counts, we think it is never too early to analyze a possible post-season match-up. This year's opponent looks to like it will be those cursed Boston Red Sox. How do the teams match up in a five game series? The following is a breakdown of the series. Remember, you saw it here first!

Catcher -
Joe Mauer will be healthy and adds balance to the batting order while Jason Varitek has been a steady early season contributor to the middle of the Boston order. Mauer gets the slight edge defensively.
Edge - Boston

First Base -
Doug Mientkiewicz wins hands down the defensive side of this battle. David Ortiz was a strong MVP candidate last year. Both have started off well offensively with Ortiz hitting for a little more power.
Edge - Even

Second Base -
Luis Rivas has been terrible to this point and anything he contributes to this team is a bonus from here on out. Nick Punto has been better and a pleasant surprise. He stands to come down to earth in the coming months. The two-headed monster of Pokey Reese's glove and Mark Bellhorn's glove could give the Twins problems but is more likely to cause a mere whimper.
Edge - Futility - Even

Third Base -
Corey Koskie has been a strong member of this team despite early season back troubles. As long as he holds up expect a great series from him. Bill Mueller is not the player he was last year but contributes a solid glove.
Edge - Twins

Shortstop - Cristian Guzman has shown some life of late and could cause a lot of problems in a short series but it will probably be an up and down season. Nomar Garciaparra has been injured all season but has some time to get healthy and put it all together. He's in a contract year and one of the best shortstops in the game.
Edge - Boston

Left Field - Shannon Stewart is the catalyst of the lineup. He never has a bad at-bat. His defense isn't spectacular but adequate. Manny Ramirez is one of the best hitters in the game and has exhibited some extra fire this year. His defense is a liability.
Edge - Even - Key to the Series

Center Field -
Torii Hunter is still coming back from his early season injury and his numbers are not strong. He adds stability to the lineup and his glove is worth half a run a game. Johnny Damon is one of the best lead off guys in the league but Boston doesn't steal a lot of bases. He could drive Twins pitching insane.
Edge - Boston

Right Field - Trot Nixon, like Garciaparra, has been injured to start the season. He is a playoff performer and solid all around player. Jacque Jones is an exciting professional hitter who will have a year under his belt to feel comfortable in right.
Edge - Twins

Designated Hitter -
Who will it be for the Twins, Lew Ford, Matt LeCroy or Justin Morneau? It doesn't matter because the Twins have the luxury of riding the hot hand. Kevin Millar was a huge part of Boston's success last season but has started off slow this year. He is a great hitter and his fortune could be his team's in this series. The team has Twins-killer Ellis Burks in reserve if they need him and his knees hold up.
Edge - Twins

Bench -
Boston has weapons and is likely to go out and get what it needs at the trading deadline. Many of them are over the hill players and mixed parts that don't necessarily fit together. The Twins have a chance to develop a lot of depth by the playoffs. Michael Cuddyer can play anywhere, Nick Punto has been great to this point and the Jose Offerman/Mike Ryan combo is an excellent pitch-hitting option. The Twins can pick their match-ups at this point.
Edge - Twins

Ace -
Pedro Martinez isn't even the best pitcher on his team and his best stuff is behind him. He is an intimidator in what could be his last playoffs with Boston. Brad Radke has been a playoff horse for the Twins.
Edge - Even

Second Starter -
Curt Schilling wins in the playoffs. He has started the year off great and sets the tone for his team. Johan Santana has worked through his problems and has the potential to be really tough in a short series.
Edge - Boston

Third Starter -
Kyle Lohse has been inconsistent his entire major league career and has really struggled with his control in big games. Derek Lowe struggled last year and has been decent so far. He has the potential to take over a game and dominate.
Edge - Boston

Fourth Starter -
Tim Wakefield is a Twins killer who gives Boston flexibility because he can throw a lot of innings. Carlos Silva has been an early season surprise but has never started before and could be blown out by playoff time. He has good stuff and keeps his team in the game.
Edge - Boston

Closer -
Keith Foulke is one of the best in the game and has solidified the Boston pen. Joe Nathan is in his first year closing but was a great set up man who is 7/7 in saves so far and brings a nasty slider to the table.
Edge - Boston

Bullpen -
The Boston Pen was rebuilt this year and so far so good. Williamson, Embree and Timlin can be really tough but they are also capable of imploding at anytime. The Twins pen has kept itself afloat to this point and will get an added boost from Jesse Crain and Joe Mays before the year is out. JC Romero will be the key to its success.
Edge - Twins

Intangibles -
The Twins are hungry and an early exit will not be acceptable this year. They always play Boston tough. They also play station-station baseball, which could make the difference. This could be Boston's year. They built this team to beat the curse and the expectations are huge.
Edge - Twins

Coaching -
Ron Gardenhire has been here the last couple of years and has had a chance to learn. Pitching coach Rick Anderson has done a great job getting the most out of pitchers. Terry Francona is in his first year but is an excellent manager and under the pressure to win.
Edge - Even

Prediction -
When all is said and done it is going to be tough for the Twins to overcome Boston's pitching. Look for the games to be low scoring with the Twins pushing it to five before losing for the second time to Schilling in the series. The starters will not be able to keep the Twins in the game long enough. Boston in 5

Texas vs. Chicago? Yikes! It might still be a little early for that one.

Any Thoughts or Comments? Email me at

Sunday Conversation: New and Improved Formula

Last week, we introduced a new feature called the “Sunday Conversation”. To say the least, while the concept itself was solid, the execution was a little lacking. We’re introducing a slightly more “user friendly” version this week that we think you’ll all enjoy a lot more. Let us know your answers to the questions proposed here (or just a general thought) in the comments section below. It's a bit long, but an extremely good read.

Question: First of all, has the early performance of Carlos Silva surprised you at all?

John’s response: “I have been surprised by Carlos Silva. I knew he had potential that he had never quite lived up to yet. All the reports coming out of spring training sounded great, but then again he was traded for Eric Milton. I think the team had to talk him up just so it didn't look like a salary dump. Before this year he had one major league start and was by all reports a mediocre reliever. What we all have to worry about is that he's never thrown a lot of innings in a single season. What happens in August and September, when we need him the most? So, yes, I'm very pleasantly surprised by his performance while at the same time crossing my fingers that he doesn't implode later on.”

Ryan's response: "I have to agree with you there John- I have been pleasantly surprised by the early returns from Silva, but I also have to wonder if he can keep this up over the course of a full season. The new Field Turf seems like it will benefit Silva the most out of all our starters, but in the only game I've seen him pitch (Friday) he gave up an inordinate amount of fly-ball outs. But after the game, I recall Henry Blanco saying that Silva's power sinker was "nasty", so I’ll assume he can still be effective even if he’s getting more fly-balls. Overall, I would say that I'm cautiously optimistic."

We got two great, albeit wasted, starts from Johan Santana and Brad Radke this weekend. Do you think they have turned a corner and are ready to heat up or is this just more inconsistency?

RM: "I was as shocked as the next Twins fan to see that those two previously ineffective pitchers had turned in back-to-back stellar performances. Radke has already shown flashes this year, and he has traditionally had some success against the Halos for some reason (2002 ALCS, complete game shutout last year). Santana's outing today, even though I wasn't able to catch much of it live, was what really impressed me. His line sounds like the Santana of old- 7 innings, 6 Ks, 1 ER in 108 pitches. Looks like he struggled a bit early on, but hopefully he has now found the elusive feel for his devastating change-up and is ready to pitch like this for the rest of the season.

In my experience, the change-up is a pitch that requires more "feel" than just about any other pitch- it often doesn’t come back as easily as say the fastball or breaking ball. Johan didn't pitch in winter ball for the first time in his career, and it seemed like he was always just a little behind schedule up to this point. Now it seems like he's finally caught back up."

JPB: Excellent winter ball point. I think the only thing shocking is that these two haven't performed yet. Radke is a pretty good pitcher and Santana has a chance to be great. Brad always has some rough spots in his season before rattling off about 10 great starts in a row, so at least he got them out of the way early this year. Santana is the key to this team’s success in the long run and this is the 3 or 4th start in a row that he has built on. With these two guys on track there aren't going to be many more weekends where the team loses both games in which they pitch.

Two rather disturbing trend emerged from Saturday and Sunday's games- the Twins utter lack of ANY kind of offense, and the re-entry of J.C. Romero into his patented (2003) 'implosion mode'. Do these trends concern you?

JPB: “We all knew this was coming with the offense. They were just hitting too well to keep it up. They aren't going to be as good as they were but they also aren't going to struggle as much as the last two games. The Twins also have a lot of hitters with more on the way. I think it was more telling that the starters were effective because they had been so bad up to this point. The hitting isn't going to come down near as much as the pitching is going to come up.

J.C is concerning. He had been so dominant to this point but relievers outside of Gagne have bad stretches every now and then. Last year his problems had more to do with control and I'm not sure that was as much the case this weekend. As long as that's true, J.C. should be fine. I look for him to rebound this week. As it stands it was two games which don’t make a trend. Remember, the Angels are a very good hitting team that had just been stifled by the starters for 7 innings.”

RM: "I might be overreacting a bit because the only inning I heard today was J.C.'s disaster, but this concerns me quite a bit. I'm willing to overlook Thursday's nightmare performance (0.2 innings, 4 ER) and even Saturday's (since he only allowed the one hit). But today's outing really broke my heart. I realize he was going against one of the best lineups in the game, but here Gardy entrusts our supposed ‘best’ reliever with the task of keeping the game tied and he falls utterly on his face.

All I could think was, 'J.C., PLEASE PLEASE don't go back to last year. Please. Last year, we had the back-up net ready to bail you out (LaTroy), but this year J.C. is it. There is no one else.’ If J.C. falters again, the Twins bullpen is doomed. There is no doubt in my mind. For positives, at least he wasn't walking guys like crazy. He has been throwing strikes for the most part, but has been getting hit hard. Today, I was concerned that he was unable to put a couple of key hitters away when he got 2 strikes on them. But we'll see. It is definitely still early."

Don't look now but Cristian Guzman is hitting .286 and was seen driving the ball this weekend. Is it possible he could finally be doing something for this team?

RM: "I'm completely baffled by Guzman's recent 'hot' streak (if you can call it that yet). If he is still in fact capable of driving the ball, why hasn't he been doing it for the last 2 years? This is the longest period of time since 2001 (that I can remember anyway) that Guzman has looked this good. The extra base hits haven't been there yet, but if he keeps hitting the ball this well, they can't be that far behind. What is causing this? Is it the fact that he is in a contract year and money is the only motivational technique that appeals to Guzie's laid-back personality? Or is it something deeper than that? And why hasn't any of this rubbed off on his soon-to-be ex-double play partner Luis Rivas? Tune in next time for answers to these questions and more on our next episode of Unsolved Mysteries."

JPB: “Well I'm tired of waiting for the exciting Guzman to return. Maybe he's just been in a rather long extended slump these past two years, although I don’t know if that is possible. Perhaps it was at this point that he realized that he wasn't a slap hitter, never should have been a slap hitter and so he decided he would start driving the ball again. I remember reading this past week that the team fixed some flaws in his at-bats, so I'm guessing that is the real cause of his sudden production (what else could it be?). Only time will tell if these changes have created a player or merely prolonged his stay. It was nice to see one of the two stiffs in the middle of the field finally produce. I have always gone back and forth on Guzman but I'm hoping that he continues to hit the ball.”

Check back next week for a new installment of the "Sunday Conversation". If you have any ideas for questions, feel free to drop a comment below sometime this week or send a quick e-mail to me ( or John (