Tuesday, September 21, 2004

The Day After Tomorrow

Last night the Twins played their first game since clinching the division. This means the younger players who have been waiting for a chance are finally going to see some action. Last night it was Jason Kubel, Mike Restovich and Jason Bartlett. Each of them contributed. Kubel hit his first major league homerun, Restovich hit one out too and Bartlett drove in a run with his first ML hit. Kubel is the only one who has a chance of playing in the postseason and this may be his audition. It was good to see Restovich have another big hit. He may no longer be a top prospect but there is no reason he can't contribute to next year's team.

Kyle Lohse started and pitched like Kyle Lohse, going 6 and allowing 4 runs. The biggest hit of the game was a grand slam off the bat of Juan Uribe in the 7th. It is always heartbreaking to lose to the White Sox but even more disappointing given the Twins had the lead even after Lohse left the game. All that is left though is positioning for the playoffs. It is really a tossup of whom the Twins should play in the first round.

I would like to see them get home field advantage. Boston is a tough team but the Twins match up well with Santana and Radke vs. Schilling and Martinez. The Yankees still have that mystique that will be hard for the Twins to overcome especially at Yankee Stadium. It would be great if Oakland could knock them out in the first round and this might finally be the year they do it. Oakland just seems to have a better chance of beating the Yankees then they do of Boston. In other words, if the Twins play and beat the Yankees they will still have to play Boston in the LCS. Clinching so early definitely gives the Twins a slight advantage. The rest of the teams are almost certain they are in but cannot start setting their playoff rotations just yet.

Today Twins Chatter debuts a new feature called "Playoff Perspectives". From now right up to the playoffs we will take a look at what is going on with the rest of the possible playoff field. This feature will supplement our regular columns and appear at the end of every entry. Some will be longer than others. We plan on at least giving the results of the previous night's game and each team's current record and place in the standings. On some occasions we will take a look at important news coming from each team. We will also recap some games. We feel that in doing this our readers will be better informed going into the playoffs. The Twins will play the Red Sox or Yankees in the first round but they could play Oakland in the ALCS and any of the National League teams if they make the World Series, making all the teams relevant. We hope you enjoy this feature. Let us know what you think.

Playoff Perspectives

New York Yankees

The Yankees won 5-3 over Toronto to finally give Estaban Loaiza his 10th win. Loaiza gave up 2 runs in 5 and a third innings before handing it off to the bullpen. The Yankees bullpen continued their dominance by not allowing a run until Mariano Rivera entered the game. Rivera gave up a run but recorded his 50th save of the season. Both Gary Sheffield and Jason Giambi homered for the Yankees. They are currently the #1 seed at 95-56 4-½ games ahead of the Red Sox. If the season ended today they would play Oakland in the first round of the playoffs.

Boston Red Sox -

Boston won their game 3-2 over Boston with Curt Schilling failing to get the win despite pitching 8 shutout innings with 14 strikeouts; at least making the Cy Young race interesting (Don't worry there isn't one). The Red Sox came from behind in the 9th to give Keith Foulke the win. He had blown a save in the top of the inning when he allowed a 2 run homer to Javy Lopez. Mark Bellhorn got the winning hit and Bill Mueller had a 4 hits in the game. The Red Sox are currently 90-60 and would be the wild card playing Oakland.

News - Pedro Martinez has admitted to not having his best stuff in his last couple of outings. Twins fans can only hope this carries into the playoffs for a possible match up but it's unlikely, given the caliber of pitcher.

Oakland -

Oakland lost to Texas 9-4. Mark Mulder got shelled giving up 9 runs in 4 innings. Mark Kotsay and Jermaine Dye each had 3 hits in the game and Nate Swisher of Moneyball fame contributed an RBI. Oakland is now 87-63 and percentage points behind the Twins in the American League.

National League

St. Louis lost 6-4 to Milwaukee and is the Central Division champion at 98-52.

Atlanta won 5-4 vs. Cincinnati, they are 9.5 up at 89-62.

Los Angeles (Playing San Diego Late) is 86-63, 2.5 games ahead in the West.

News - Hideo Nomo has been sent to the bullpen after only going 1 1/3 in his last start.

San Francisco (Playing Houston late) is 84-66, 2.5 back in their division and tied for the wild card lead.

Chicago won 5-4 over Pittsburgh, they are 84-66 and tied for the wild card lead.

Houston is 83-67 and a game back in the wild card.

San Diego 80-70, 4GB in Wild Card

Florida lost 4-2 to Philadelphia, they are 79-71 5 GB in Wild Card.


Champions Again!

We’ve known it was coming for quite some time, but no amount of anticipation can compare to the real thing. Our Minnesota Twins clinched their third consecutive American League Central Division championship last night, crushing their “rivals” from the South Side of Chicago, known as the “Bitch Sox” in some circles. I put the “rival” in quotes for the oft-cited reason that for a rivalry to exist, each team must at least occasionally beat the other. Over the past three years, the White Sox have wilted in the heat of the pennant race quicker than John Kerry’s views change under the heat of scrutiny.

Of the three division championships, this year’s has to be the most pleasant surprise. In 2002, the Twins were a team on the rise. The Indians and White Sox were both teams in decline, and the Twins experienced a storybook season and were never seriously challenged. In 2003, the team was tabbed a couple publications as the team to beat in the American League and woefully underachieved in the first half. A second half for the ages (and subsequent White Sox collapse) allowed the Twins to collect 90 wins and their second straight playoff berth.

This year, many “experts” predicted that the Twins would fall back to the rest of the pack. Not many were stupid enough to bet against the Twins (John Kruk comes immediately to mind) because they recognized the ineptitude of the Sox, but I read numerous accounts that believed 82-85 wins would be enough to win the division. These people woefully underestimated the talent of the Twins’ farm system and the genius of one Terry Ryan.

However, our team has exceeded almost everyone’s expectations this year, including my own. They clinched the division with 12 games left to play and will probably win 95+ games overall. In my opinion, year’s version is the best of the three championship teams. It is also the one best equipped to advance in the postseason. In 2002, just getting to the playoffs was an amazing accomplishment, and anything on top of that was simply icing on the cake. Last year, a first round victory seemed improbable, even after a Game 1 win. Beating the Yankee juggernaut seemed unlikely, especially in Yankee Stadium.

I firmly believe that 2004 is the Twins’ year. I wouldn’t have said that last year, and I certainly wouldn’t have said it back in 2002. The differences are obvious: Johan Santana, Joe Nathan, and Justin Morneau.

Tomorrow at Twins Chatter, we’ll begin out Playoff Preview series of articles. There are a lot of things to cover before October 5, and we plan on finally implementing some method into our madness. Right now, I’m simply reveling in last night’s victory. It was the first step in what promises to be quite a journey.

Torii and the Twins celbrate in the clubhouse after the game