Thursday, September 23, 2004

Playoff Previews: (Ro)star Wars

Some of you probably stopped by your nearest retailer yesterday and picked up your copy of the “Star Wars” DVDs (I know I sure did), but there is possibly a similar battle raging in the Twins front office regarding the playoff roster. Technically, playoff rosters were “set” on August 31, but as we all know, there are exceptions to every rule. Injuries to Nick Punto, Joe Mauer, and Joe Mays technically give the Twins three roster spots to play around with before the postseason begins on October 5 (more if they put someone like Balfour on the DL). Much of the roster is a forgone conclusion, but Terry Ryan and Ron Gardenhire will have some decisions to make in the coming weeks.

This issue has been a topic of discussion ever since the Twins clinched the division on Monday, simply because postseason rosters are no longer an eventuality but a certainty. There is a new thread pertaining to the subject over at the DTFC, and Jim Souhan also wrote an article for the Star Tribune on Tuesday. In the spirit of piggy-backing on popular ideas, I thought I would throw my two cents into the mix as well.

The Sure Things™

The Lineup™
Shannon Stewart- Stew has been a tad beat up of late, but he should be fine for the postseason.
Jacque Jones- JJ has been slumping lately (.458 OPS in Sept.) but he will undoubtedly still start every game in the playoffs, even against tough lefties.
Torii Hunter- Torii is one of the key cogs in this lineup, and the team is counting on him to produce come crunch time.
Justin Morneau- The Twins’ biggest power threat received a cortisone shot for his ailing hand on Sunday. He’s missed four straight games and is day-to-day; he should be back soon. We all know how important he is for the Twins’ offense.
Lew Ford- Sweet Lew has been a model of consistently in 2004 and will be big factor in October.
Corey Koskie- Koskie has looked pretty good since returning from his ankle injury. Hopefully he’ll flash his late-August form next month.
Christian Guzman- While Guzy really hasn’t played as well as everyone thinks he has, his defense has been much more consistent and I worry about him far less.
Henry Blanco- Henry’s really the only choice here, and although I wouldn’t be surprised if he went 0 for October, he’s done his job defensively all year.
Luis Rivas- Rivas has done almost nothing this year to deserve his job, although he is 5-16 this month (.313 avg.). Gardy will probably go with what’s worked before.

The Bench™
Michael Cuddyer- Cuddy has played nearly every game in September, and I daresay he’s played quite well (.298/.403/.474). I’ve always been a little skeptical of Cuddyer’s defensive abilities, but he’s improved enough in that area that I would consider starting him at 2B. He sat out last night with a possible pinched nerve, which is a bad sign.
Pat Borders- Borders probably won’t start a game in the playoffs unless Kyle Lohse starts, but he’ll be used as a defensive replacement if Blanco is pinch-hit or pinch-run for.
Jose Offerman- Remember Mike Ryan’s pathetic at-bat against Clemens last October? That’ll be Jose this year. And I’m glad it will be.
Matthew LeCroy- I don’t know how effective Matty will be off the bench, but he’s the team’s best bet if they need right handed hitter late in the game.

The Starters™
Johan Santana- It has been all but that confirmed that Cy will start Game 1 of the playoffs, and I know Red Sox hitters aren’t looking forward to that treat.
Brad Radke- Personally, I don’t think there’s a better Game 2 starter out there than Radke. It’s almost a guarantee that he’ll keep the Twins in the game.
Carlos Silva- After Mulholland’s lackluster outing yesterday, there is no doubt that Silva will start Game 3. I think he’s a perfect fit for Fenway, but we’ll see what happens.

The ‘Pen™
Joe Nathan- Super Joe has been the epitome of a great closer almost all season long. There will be a lot of pressure on him in the postseason, but I think he’s up to the challenge.
Juan Rincon- Rincon has been the team’s most consistent middle reliever all year, and he’s the guy Gardy should use in the tough situations. He might even get a little rest now that the Twins have clinched!
J.C. Romero- J.C. went into his patented “implosion mode” the other day, but I still think that he’s as close to his 2002 form as he’ll ever be. He’ll be Gardy’s 2nd go-to guy in the pen.
Jesse Crain- Crain did give up the grand slam the other day, but he’s still earned a spot on the playoff roster. You can never have too many strikeout pitchers in the playoffs.
Terry Mulholland- Even though I don’t see what purpose he’ll serve, Mulholland will undoubtedly make the roster. I guess he’ll be Gardy’s second lefty and/or one of his long relief guys. You might want to close your eyes when he comes in though; it might not be pretty.

What’s Left: Two bench spots, two bullpen spots

The Contenders™

Augie Ojeda- If Nick Punto isn’t fully recovered from his broken collarbone, the Twins will go with the reliable Ojeda in a utility role. He won’t contribute much, but he’s not a liability either.
Nick Punto- Punto seems to think that he’ll be ready in time for the postseason; the Twins aren’t so convinced. If he can prove that he’s healthy, the Twins would probably prefer him over Ojeda because he can pinch-run as well.
Joe Mauer- I watched Joe take batting practice the other day, and he was hitting line shots and monster homers left and right. We know that he won’t be able to play defense this year, and if there’s any doubt at all that his knee isn’t 100%, he’ll be shut down (as he should be). But if Joe can play, he’ll no doubt be an offensive asset. We'll know more on Friday after his doctor visit.
Jason Kubel- Kubel hit another homer last night, and it looks like he’s the fallback plan if Mauer can’t go. I don’t know how effective he’ll be coming off the bench in a pressure situation, but he certainly has talent to spare.
Grant Balfour- I think that Balfour, if healthy, should be a no-brainer for one of the final two bullpen spots, but that’s a huge “if”. If there are any lingering concerns with his reliability, Gardy may look elsewere.
Kyle Lohse- Unfortunately, Kyle Lohse will probably make the playoff roster. I’m telling you right now: he doesn’t deserve it. I’d actually rather have Roa or Mulholland out there in a mop-up role, simply because they’ve filled that role before this season. If the Twins advance to the ALCS and need a 4th starter, then I would consider adding him.
Joe Roa- After a solid August, Joa’s play in September has been decidedly less-than-stellar (14.40 ERA). Although he’s pitched pretty decently overall this year, he’s still a long shot to make the roster.

My Contender Predictions: Kubel, Ojeda, Lohse, Balfour

There you go. If you agree or disagree with my analysis or choices, feel free to post a comment below or e-mail me at Don’t’ forget to catch up on yesterday’s action with “Playoff Perspectives” below, and hopefully we’ll see you again tomorrow.

Playoff Perspectives

New York lost 5-4 to Toronto leaving them 3.5 GA at 95-57.
News - "El Duque" Hernandez finally pitched poorly allowing 5 earned runs in 6.1innings.

Boston won 7-6 over Baltimore, they are 91-60 and in first for the Wild Card.
News - Possible playoff third starter Bronson Arroyo allowed 5 runs in 5.1b innings, Orlando Cabrera won the game with a homerun in the bottom of the 12th inning.

Oakland lost 5-3 to Texas, they are 87-64 2.5 GA of Anaheim in the West.

Anaheim lost 16-6 to Seattle, dropped 6.5 GB in Wild Card race

Texas won 5-3 over Oakland, they are 84-67 and only 3 GB in the West.

National League
St. Louis won 3-2 over Milwaukee to go 99-52, they have the best record in baseball.
Atlanta lost 11-8 to Cincinnati,
Los Angeles lost 4-0 to San Diego, remains just .5 GA of San Francisco in NL West
San Francisco won 5-1 over Houston, has won 3 straight. .5 GA of Cubs in Wild Card standings.
Chicago won 1-0 over Pittsburg, they are 85-66 a game
Houston lost 5-1 to San Francisco, fall 3 GB in NL Wild Card