Sunday, October 03, 2004

Playoff Previews: Three Reasons Say It All

With a screeching halt, the marathon that is the Major League Baseball season came to an end this weekend. Anaheim beat Oakland to claim home field advantage in the first round and send the Twins to New York, while the Dodgers and Houston prevailed in the National League. The Twins did save themselves from entering the playoffs without any momentum by winning 2 out of 3 from Cleveland, including a game played 11 innings one day and finished in 22 minutes the next. The Twins finally know their fate is to play the perennial powerhouse Yankees, the same ones who swept them just last week. That was a different team playing on a different level. The Twins enter the second season believing this is their year and they just might be right. Today, Twins Chatter gives you three reasons the Twins will win the World Series and three reasons why they might have to wait until next year.

It’s all about the Pitching...
And the Twins have lots of it. They finally have a dominant starter capable of beating anyone in the playoffs. Johan Santana has not been fazed by pressure all year and seems poised to put the icing on a magical season. The pitching staff runs deeper then Santana; Brad Radke has been a great complement all year long and has pitched great in the playoffs before. Together they bring back memories of the great pitching tandems that won it all in 1987 and '91. Carlos Silva has come on in the last month of the season and could give the team a major boost from the third starter. The bullpen may be overworked but has the power to overpower and dominate. The Yankees starters have had a slew of up and down seasons and no one knows what to expect out of them. Their bullpen has been overworked, and outside of Mariano Rivera and Tom Gordon, largely ineffective. Boston has the starters to match up with the Twins, but once they get to their bullpen, it could get scary. It has been inconsistent and the Twins have hit Keith Foulke hard before. There are some intriguing pitchers in the National League but none of them are good enough to match up with Johan Santana.

An extra year of experience means...
An increased ability to win. The Twins are going to the postseason for the third straight year. They have acted like they have been there before all year and they are no longer just happy to be simply included in the party. In 2002 they shocked themselves by beating Oakland and were not ready to take on Anaheim despite being favored in the series. Last year they had to play the Yankees and once again were wide eyed at the prospect of beating a team that not only had terrorized them in the regular season, but all of baseball for most of the past decade. The Twins appear to have overcome those demons and are ready to make a statement. Despite being swept by New York last weak (in what amounted to meaningless games), they played them much better against them this year. It is time for this team to take the next step now that they have become the veterans themselves. For the first time, they believe.

The Twins have weapons in their lineup
Justin Morneau is a legitimate power threat who teams have to respect. He changes the complexity of the game even when he doesn’t get a hit. Shannon Stewart sets the tone for the lineup. Lew Ford is the type of player who makes a name for himself in the playoffs; he plays hard and will not be intimidated despite a lack of experience. Torii Hunter is a gamer who wants to put the team on his back and carry them to a victory. The bench is deep and will enable Ron Gardenhire to pick his matchups. Unlike in past years, this team should not need many runs to win. They are good enough at playing small ball to scratch a run across. This includes swiping a base or laying down a sacrifice bunt when they need it.

And Three Reasons Why Not…

The intimidation factor
The Twins may be telling themselves that they are ready to win it all, but there is still no doubt that the road to the World Series still goes through Boston and New York. That road is paved with doubt, history, and about a hundred million dollars more in payroll. The Yankees do not appear to be as strong as they have been. Their pitching is suspect, but all of their starters are capable of dominating at any given time and have done so in the past. They are experienced and they expect to win. They can break a team’s spirit by hitting a game-winning home run late in a well played ballgame. Both lineups are jam packed with high-paid stars. Gary Sheffield, David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez all could be the MVP. If the Twins stumble early, it could result in a snowball affect and cause a downward spiral. Curt Schilling, Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera have all been there and have the rings to prove it.

The Twins have an inconsistent lineup
It has plagued them before in the playoffs and there is no reason to think it will not happen again. They have been up and down all year; they can get hot and score runs in bunches or wilt against good (and mediocre) pitching. The Twins will need clutch hitting to win because they probably won’t score a bunch of runs despite their added weapons. The problem is they haven’t always been that clutch either. Justin Morneau is inexperienced and has cooled off in the latter part of the season. Jose Offerman is older then dirt and being counted on to deliver as a pitch hitter. The lineup is filled with players who have struggled in the postseason, such as Jacque Jones who has never batted over .200. If the bats go dry the Twins will lose no matter how dominating their starting pitching is.

The bullpen is not as deep as it appears
Joe Nathan has had an extraordinary season but the postseason brings with it new challenges. He may need to go two innings in some games, and there is no telling how he will respond. J.C. Romero has had a terrible final month to the season and has been shaky all year. If the Twins count on him to get a crucial out, the game may very well get out of hand in a hurry. Jesse Crain has looked good but has never been relied upon in a must-win major league situation. After Juan Rincon, the bullpen consists of Terry Muholland (who struggled as a reliever this year) and Kyle Lohse (who just plain struggled). The two of them might not matter, but then again, who would have expected Rick Reed to be called upon to get key outs in the 2003 ALDS? The group is inexperienced and capable of giving up a lead in a hard fought 2-1 ballgame, which is all it takes to turn a series.

The best part about the playoffs is anything can happen. Some stars disappear while others emerge. No-name players step up and become heros. It is a special kind of player who can excel in the postseason, and the Twins don’t know how many of these players they have yet. Sometimes it takes a couple of tries to make it to the World Series. The Twins are in a great position to do it this year, and for the first time in three playoff appearences, they are being taken seriously by both the national media and their opponents. Other teams do not want to play them, especially in a short series. On Tuesday the Twins will get to show what they are made of. There are reasons why they should win it all and reasons why they might stumble. It's up to the Twins to decide what path they will follow.

Thank you everyone for stopping by today and sticking with us for our first season of blogging for the Twins. We are very lucky to have a great team to follow and it has been a lot of fun, as well as a learning experience. As Ryan alluded to last week, tomorrow will be a big day for this and all other Twins blogs. We are very excited. We can’t let the cat out of the bag quite yet, but make sure you stop by (you might be surprised at how many others do too!). In the meantime, have a great Monday as the Twins prepare to open up in New York tomorrow. And don’t forget to read your morning paper! :)