Friday, August 27, 2004

Setting the Playoff Rotation

There was a possibility of the Twins employing a grizzled veteran as their third starter in the playoffs come October. That dream may have died last night as Terry Muholland came back down to earth against Texas. It may have been his worst outing of the season as he went 3.2 innings while allowing 7 runs. He wasn’t even able to stay in the game and eat innings for the team. It was a rude reminder of why he only cost the team a dollar, way back at the beginning of the season. The Texas lineup is filled with the kind of power the Twins can expect to see in the playoffs and was able to expose Muholland and his lack of stuff.

The last 3 starts have done little to clear up the dilemma that is the Twins playoff third starter. Carlos Silva remains the front-runner with a nasty habit of putting guys on base. Kyle Lohse returned to his old crappy self, failing to run with a huge early lead. Even J.D Durbin has been hit hard recently in AAA. It is beginning to look more like a competition of who can suck the least.

The only reason this is a topic worth discussing these days is the Twins large lead in the division almost assures they will be in the playoffs. Now is the time to look ahead in preparation to advance further then the last 2 years. The lack of a quality third starter means the Twins are going to have to role the dice and hope their 2 Aces are able to win close to 90% of their games. Luckily there aren’t a lot of teams out there with 2 pitchers who have pitched as well as Brad Radke and Johan Santana.

Another reason for optimism is the propensity for certain players to emerge in the playoffs. Just like when some stars choke when it matters, other fringe players make their names in the playoffs. No one expected Jaret Wright to be the Indians Ace in 1997. Last year Josh Becket and Carl Pavano pitched much better in the playoffs then the regular season. Their surprise excellence was the reason the Marlins won the Series.

It is hard to identify whether the Twins have that player capable of making a big impact. It is certainly not Carlos Silva. He may pitch one or two good games but eventually all the hits he gives up will catch up to him. Who know though, maybe 1 or 2 good games are all the Twins would need. Kyle Lohse would seem to fit the mold. In previous years it appeared that he pitched better in big games but last year he was terrible in his playoff outing and this year he has continued to struggle in every kind of outing.

Any surprise performance would have to come from a pitcher with good stuff and a makeup not prone to getting rattled. The Twins have 2 young pitchers in Scott Baker and Durbin who the league hasn’t seen yet, which could also work to their advantage. If the Twins are going to hit it big it would have to be with one of those 2 pitchers. They have not performed well enough to warrant a promotion but the other starters may not leave the organization an option. It is not good enough to make the playoffs this year; everything is in place to advance deep into them. The only ingredient missing is the third starter. Who will answer the call and how long must we wait to find out?