October 2, 2006

Bring on the Yankees A's

I can't imagine a more fitting way to end what was one of the craziest, most exciting regular seasons in Twins history than the madness that took place yesterday afternoon. It started with the Twins needing both a win and a Tigers loss to claim their fourth AL Central title in five seasons and avoid a first-round trip to New York, and ended with the A's booking a flight to Minnesota for a series that begins tomorrow afternoon at the Metrodome.

After beating the White Sox for their 96th win of the season, the Twins excitedly gathered in the dugout to watch their fate play out on the jumbotron. With a roster full of players and about 30,000 fans sticking around to root for the Royals, Kansas City completed an improbable three-game sweep in Detroit with a come-from-behind 12-inning win that propelled the Twins into sole possession of first place for the first time all season.

Joe Mauer went 2-for-4 to hold off pressure from Derek Jeter and Robinson Cano to finish with a .347 batting average and become the first catcher in AL history to win a batting title, Justin Morneau drove in his 130th run to further enhance his MVP resume, and Johan Santana officially became just the eighth pitcher in baseball history to lead both leagues in wins, ERA, and strikeouts. It was the perfect ending to a regular season that Twins fans will remember forever.

While it would be fun to bask in the team's historic turnaround and many individual accomplishments, there's little time for that with the postseason beginning tomorrow afternoon. I've long suggested that the Twins would be best served to do whatever they can to avoid a matchup against the Yankees, and sure enough that's what yesterday's insanity accomplished. Rather than going on the road to face the 97-win Yankees, the Twins will stay at home to welcome the 93-win A's.

Beating Oakland certainly won't be easy, but they're clearly the weaker opponent and the hope is that Detroit can knock New York out before they even get to the Twins. That may seem highly unlikely given how poorly the Tigers played down the stretch, but the playoffs show on an annual basis that anything can happen and even "highly unlikely" tends to carry some decent odds. Plus, getting past the Yankees in the ALDS has proven difficult, while taking on the A's has worked pretty well.

I'll be back first thing tomorrow morning with an in-depth preview of the ALDS matchup with the A's. In the meantime, feel free to debate the playoff roster, marvel at the season that was, and look forward to the World Series run that is hopefully ahead. It's been one hell of a ride and the best part might just be yet to come.
UPDATE: I wrote a brief (for me, at least) playoff preview geared towards non-Twins fans over at the world-famous Deadspin. At times it's very Shecky Souhan-like (intentionally), so be warned.

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