October 3, 2004
Heading to New York
That was close. The Twins did their very best to prove my semi-guarantee that they'd be playing the Yankees in the first round wrong, taking the first two games from the Indians over the weekend, before losing the third game by just one run.
Had they swept the series, it would have been just one of many predictions I've gotten completely wrong this year, but it may have been the one that took the least amount of time to make me look stupid. As it is, the Twins are heading to New York, I got saved from looking silly, and, perhaps most importantly, I don't have to restart the playoff preview articles that I worked on during the weekend.
A few other thoughts before the playoffs arrive and completely take over my brain ...
- I am such a sucker for those montages with music in the background. You know the ones, where there's a few minutes of clips from, say, the Twins' 2004 season, with Linkin Park's "Somewhere I Belong" playing and audio from the TV announcers interspersed throughout.
I don't know what it is, but I've always loved these things, whether it's about the Twins or something I don't even care about. There's something about seeing Torii Hunter rip a homer to deep left field over a hard drum beat and then hearing Dick Bremer's voice say, "And then Twins SWEEP the White Sox!" that gets me going.
I'm fairly certain someone could put together a montage of PGA tour highlights, stick some Metallica behind it, and I'd be full of goosebumps by the second Tiger Woods fist pump.
- Speaking of Bremer, he mentioned something interesting during the "second" game yesterday, saying that Grant Balfour was the only Minnesota pitcher to spend time on the disabled list this year. Obviously that makes sense when you think about it, but with all the team's injuries this year, it surprised me.
If the Twins were going to be hit with injuries, it was far better for them to have their position players ravaged. The Twins, as has been the case for years, have incredible position-player depth. Lew Ford, Michael Cuddyer, Henry Blanco, Justin Morneau, Jason Kubel, Terry Tiffee and Augie Ojeda all started the year by either being on the bench or in the minor leagues and all made significant contributions at some point, many of them due to injuries.
In fact, only one position player on the entire team missed fewer than 10 of Minnesota's games this year and that was Ford, who began the year at Triple-A and only came up to spell an injured Hunter early on. Hunter missed a total of 24 games, Corey Koskie missed 44 games, Shannon Stewart missed 70 games, and Joe Mauer missed 127 games. If you'd have told me that before the season, I certainly wouldn't be thinking about the first playoff game being on Tuesday, and two big reasons for that are the team's depth and the health of the pitching staff.
The starting rotation was particularly healthy, as Johan Santana, Brad Radke, Carlos Silva and Kyle Lohse each started at least 33 games and each threw at least 190 innings. I'm not sure I even remember a time when one of their turns in the rotation was skipped, aside from Radke being moved back to prep him for the playoffs once they clinched the division.
- The times for the first two games of the Twins-Yankees series have been announced, with Tuesday's series opener being the night game on FOX (starting at 7:19 Central) and Wednesday's Game 2 starting at 6:09 as the middle game of a tripleheader on ESPN.
It'll be Santana against Mike Mussina in Game 1, followed by Radke and Jon Lieber hooking up in the second game. The Yankees haven't announced who their Game 3 starter will be, so it could be Kevin Brown, Orlando Hernandez or Javier Vazquez against Silva. I like the way this is setting up for the Twins. Mussina is perhaps New York's best pitcher, so assuming you think Santana can beat anyone, Mussina is the guy you want going up against him if you're a Twins fan.
Then you get Lieber against Radke in Game 2, which is certainly to the Twins' advantage. Lieber has a nice record this year at 14-8, but he has a 4.33 ERA, doesn't strike anyone out, and has allowed opponents to hit .301 off him. Actually, Radke and Lieber are very similar pitchers who throw strikes without overpowering stuff. Radke walked 26 batters in 219.2 innings this year, while Lieber walked just 18 in 176.2 innings. The difference is that Radke gave up slightly fewer homers, struck out slightly more hitters, and held opponents to a .267 batting average.
I'll get to my official preview of the series tomorrow, which is full of all sorts of thoughts and theories, but I'm starting to think that, as strange as it sounds, the Twins' only real chance is to win the first two games, in New York. If they only win one, they are in serious danger of New York taking a 2-1 lead after the third game, at which point a) they need Santana to stave off elimination in Game 4 and b) they need to beat the Yankees in a series-deciding Game 5. I like my chances with Santana, but I'm not sure I'd ever bet against the Yankees in the final game of a series.
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