September 27, 2010

Answering some playoff-related questions

Since the Twins clinched the division title last week many of the same playoff-related questions have been asked repeatedly in the comments section, on Twitter, via e-mail, and by the phone callers when I co-hosted "Twins Wrap" on 1500-ESPN. In an effort to address many of those questions--and also to simply get them all in one place for easy referencing--I've put together the answers, best guesses, and predictions below ...

Which team will the Twins play in the first round?

All four AL playoff teams are set (Minnesota, New York, Tampa Bay, Texas) and two teams from the same division can't play each other in the first round, so that means the Twins will host the Wild Card team while the AL East winner hosts the Rangers. As of right now that would mean a five-game matchup against the Yankees beginning October 6 at Target Field.

Which team should the Twins want to play in the first round?

In an attempt to answer that question, I wrote about the Yankees and Rays last week. I tend to think the Rays are a slightly more favorable matchup for the Twins, but both AL East teams are extremely good and ... well, you should read the whole thing.

When will the playoff games be?

Game 1 of the ALDS will be next Wednesday, followed by Game 2 next Thursday, Game 3 on Saturday, Game 4 on Sunday, and Game 5 on Tuesday. The start times for the games won't be announced until the regular season is over, but if the Twins indeed face the Yankees there's a very strong chance most or even all of their games will be at night, in primetime.

Can the Twins get homefield advantage throughout the playoffs?

Because homefield advantage for the World Series is decided by which league wins the All-Star game, that means the team that comes out of the NL will host the World Series this season. Beyond that the Twins are basically guaranteed homefield advantage for the ALDS and would have homefield advantage versus the Rangers in the ALCS, so securing the AL's best record would only add to their homefield advantage if they played the AL East winner in Round 2.

What is the playoff rotation?

Francisco Liriano will start Game 1 of the ALDS, followed by Carl Pavano and Brian Duensing. Nick Blackburn is the fourth starter, although presumably his playoff rotation spot isn't quite etched in stone yet given that he was at Triple-A a month ago. Scott Baker and Kevin Slowey are the alternatives to Blackburn, likely in that order. If healthy and effective Baker is the class of that trio, but he's been hurt and Blackburn has done well since returning from Rochester.

Will the Twins have Justin Morneau for the playoffs?

Justin Morneau hasn't played since suffering a concussion on July 7, and while nothing official has been announced yet last week Ron Gardenhire all but ruled him out until 2011. Morneau is highly unlikely to be available at any point in the playoffs, even as a bench player.

How many pitchers and how many position players will be on the playoff roster?

Because of increased off days and the reliance on better starting pitchers there's far less need for a deep bullpen in the playoffs, and in fact many recent teams have made World Series runs while essentially relying on just 3-4 relievers. Despite that it sounds like the Twins will go with 11 pitchers and 14 position players for the playoff roster.

Who are the 11 pitchers?

Liriano, Pavano, Duensing, and Blackburn in the rotation, with Matt Capps, Jesse Crain, Brian Fuentes, Matt Guerrier, Jon Rauch, and Jose Mijares in the bullpen. That would leave one spot open on an 11-man pitching staff, presumably for Baker or Slowey. I can't see the Twins trusting any starter in a key bullpen role, which means Baker or Slowey (or Blackburn) will be a long reliever, mop-up man, and "break glass in case of emergency" option for extra innings.

Who are the 14 position players?

Joe Mauer, Michael Cuddyer, Orlando Hudson, J.J. Hardy, Danny Valencia, Delmon Young, Denard Span, Jason Kubel, and Jim Thome are the starters, with Drew Butera, Nick Punto, Alexi Casilla, and Jason Repko as the reserves. That would leave one bench spot for Matt Tolbert, Jose Morales, or Ben Revere, with the latter available despite not having a 40-man roster spot on September 1 thanks to some disabled list-related roster maneuvering.

Who should get the final bench spot?

Starters rarely take days off, so playoff reserves are limited to pinch-hitting, pinch-running, and coming in as defensive replacements. Tolbert, Morales, and Revere are unlikely to pinch-hit for anyone in the lineup. Morales ranks behind Butera defensively, while Tolbert is behind Punto and maybe Casilla. Revere is behind Repko, but with Kubel and Young two outfield gloves may be handy. Revere is also the fastest runner of the three. To me he has the most playoff utility.

Will the Twins continue to use Butera as Pavano's personal catcher in the playoffs?

Prior to Mauer's knee injury the Twins planned to let him catch Pavano's final few starts to get them comfortable working together, because clearly as much as they love Butera defensively they don't want him in the playoff lineup. Butera has certainly done a nice job catching Pavano, helping to limit his weakness holding runners and posting a 3.65 ERA in 15 starts together, but Pavano also has a 3.96 ERA in 16 starts with Mauer catching. Mauer will catch everyone.

  • Pat

    “All four AL playoff teams are set (Minnesota, New York, Tampa Bay, Texas)”

    Bert’s California math says not quite yet..but probably very soon since Gene Mauch won’t be managing the Yankees this last week.

  • Anare

    Punto makes the roster? Why? With Mauer’s knee being a little iffy, and with Cuddyer seemingly the only person to play 1B, why would they not want Morales on the bench, he can catch, play 1B, switch hit. Seems like he might have some worth in an emergency. I’d say “no Punto” and put Revere and Morales on the bench for the playoffs.

  • moopdog

    Who plays 1B if Cuddyer gets injured early in a game? I assumed Morales would make the roster for this reason alone. I believe Thome’s the only other guy who has played 1B in the majors, and that ain’t happening. Punto? Valencia played a little at first in 2008 at AA…

  • Chris

    I’d go with the 10 pitchers AG mentions and keep an extra player on the bench. I think Morales is a good choice. He might get much chance to play, but neither will a fifth starting pitcher.

  • marietta mouthpiece

    I too think that Morales will be on the playoff roster because of his (real or perceived) versatility. I do think it funny that many talk about his ability to play first as a given, when he in fact has approximately 10 minutes of total (major league, minor league, pee wee league, etc) experience at the position. Frankly, no one (and I mean no one) knows if the kid can play the position (I’m still not sure if I think Cuddyer can play the position).

    That said, and as inferred by Aaron, the switch-hitting Morales is the only one of the “bubble” guys that may (and likely would) be called on to pinch hit for a non-bubble player (Repko, Punto and Casilla) in a late and close game. Thus, it seems to me that Morales is the natural 25th man. Nothing wrong with having the extra position player be a catcher, either.

  • Rieux

    Second what Pat said–as of today the Yankees can still miss the postseason with a historic choke, if the Red Sox win out.

    I also agree with the above commenters that Morales ought to be on the roster. More to the point, why in the world is Butera such a lock? He can’t hit, he can’t run, and Mauer is going to provide the defense that he has to offer. Why not leave Butera out, bring Morales, and use the remaining spot for someone who can actually contribute–as a pinch-runner, if nothing else? I agree that Revere would be a good choice, though obviously we can’t count on him to hit anything.

  • JB (the original)

    Morales had his 1st start ever at 1B last Wednesday, the day game after the clincher. He actually made a couple nice plays.

  • Pedro Munoz

    IMHO, the biggest reason the Twins went on such a tear the second half is that Nick Punto was on the disabled list. First, we didn’t have Punto’s crappy hitting, boneheaded baserunning, and overrated fielding dragging us down. And second, and more importantly, Punto’s absence opened the door for Danny Valencia, who was a revelation. If Punto had been healthy, Valencia would have probably spent the second half in AAA instead of hitting .330 for the Twins.

    I know Punto is a lock for the post-season, and that’s too bad. I would rather go with Tolbert and/or Casilla as backup infielders, since they were the guys who got us here.

    We also better keep a 5th starting pitcher, because someone will have to finish up after Pavano gets shelled. I think that guy is spent. Based on recent performances, I would rather see Blackburn or Baker starting the second game.

  • jo

    the Twins are basically guaranteed homefield advantage for the ALDS

    Basically? What’s the scenario where they wouldn’t have homefield advantage?

  • KC

    Basically, meaning if the Twins play like they did against the Tigers and Texas does well this week they could still screw up HFA in the first round. (Texas is 5 out with 7 games left)

  • Anare

    When you think that there are several Twins sluggers with knee, foot and back owies who might not run very fast (Mauer, Hardy, Span) or they are not known for their speed regardless of ailments (Thome, Hardy) it seems like they would want a couple of speedy guys on the bench to pinch run. Like Revere and Tolbert. No Punto!

  • Bill B

    Butera, Punto, Casilla and Repko as bench players?? Can you say, “Twins lose in Round 1, AGAIN.”??

  • Scot

    If you don’t want Butera in the lineup during the playoffs then why would he be included? Keep Morales as the backup and if Mauer/Morales get hurt then Butera replaces them on the roster.

    The strongest lineup is with Mauer catching and Butera isn’t going to be called on to pinch hit so what purpose does he serve?

    … and Punto? C’mon.

  • Rieux

    I’m okay with Casilla and Repko on the bench for the postseason: both have reasonably good speed and defense. Casilla can even hit a little. Same goes for Morales, though he’s slower.

    I’d also be okay with Punto if Gardy promises to put him behind the above three, and all of the starters, on the depth chart.

  • Rieux

    …So I guess my bench would be Casilla, Morales, Repko, Revere, and Punto. Not exactly Murderer’s Row.

    Anyone think Tolbert deserves a spot? I guess his OPS is a little higher than Punto’s, not that that’s saying much….

  • mike wants wins

    Why would you want Casilla, Tolbert, and Punto all on one roster, ever? It baffled me when they had Harris and the other two to start the season. Do other teams really carry three utility guys? I don’t get it. I don’t get it at all.

  • duane

    Question for Target field regulars- got SRO tickets, but live about five hours away and have never been at Target Field (been fighting flooding all this summer in my hometown). Any suggestions on parking, getting to games? Thanks for any advice.

  • D-Luxxx

    Duane, take the light rail. If you’re coming from the north, take the North Star, from the South, somewhere around MOA is fine. Trust me, it’s easy and cheaper than parking…

  • Pat

    “All four AL playoff teams are set (Minnesota, New York, Tampa Bay, Texas)”

    Red Sox still on life support!

  • duane

    Thanks D-Luxxx. Appreciate it. Go Twins!

  • Pedro Munoz

    Slowey has other plans next week so last night he made sure he wouldn’t be on the postseason roster.

  • James M.

    How important is HFA? It depends on the team. Here arew the Home/Road records for each of the playoff teams against the others.

    Team Home Road Diff. Advantage
    Rays 10-6 9-7 +1 Minimal
    Yanks 9-6 7-10 +3 Moderate
    Twins 8-5 4-7 +3 Moderate
    Rngrs 9-3 0-12 +9 MAJOR

    That’s right. The Rangers haven’t won a game on the road against the other top teams all year. The differential against the Twins is especially dramatic: 3-1 at home, 0-6 away. So the ideal scenario for the Twins would be to knock out the Yankees in the ALDS and pray that TX beats TB.

  • Griffin

    Giving up 10 runs per game and losing the rest of the way out….is this a good strategy?