October 11, 2009

The End (For Real This Time)

The combination of mental and physical mistakes, a blown save by one of the best closers in baseball, and coming up empty offensively in crucial spots is a tough way for things to end after the late-season charge that the Twins made just to grab a playoff spot, but ultimately a mediocre, injury-wrecked 87-win team with a $65 million payroll dropping three straight to a dominant, star-studded 103-win team with a $200 million payroll is no shock. The better team won even if the worse team helped them too much.

Every year fans and media members draw wide-ranging conclusions about teams that get swept out of the playoffs and that temptation is particularly strong in the Twins' case because they went 0-10 versus the Yankees this season, are 16-48 against New York over Ron Gardenhire's eight years as manager, and are now just 6-18 in the playoffs during that same time. However, history has shown that anything can happen in the playoffs, and losing three straight games to a clearly better team certainly qualifies.

You'll no doubt read articles this week about how Joe Nathan is washed up or Gardenhire needs to be fired or various impact players need to be traded or all kinds of other sweeping changes based on how the team performed in a few games against a superior opponent, but don't buy it. Sure, the Twins have lots of issues to address and lots of holes to fill, but that was just as true last week when everyone was giddy about sneaking into the playoffs as it is this week when everyone is sad about being swept out.

At the end of the day the Twins simply need to improve, not because they lost a best-of-five series, but because they won 87 games in baseball's worst division after going 88-75 in 2008 and 79-83 in 2007. They need to surround Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Jason Kubel, Denard Span, and Michael Cuddyer with other capable bats, they need to make decisions on Delmon Young and Carlos Gomez, they need to sort out the rotation, and they need to pull off some significant moves without getting fleeced again.

Whether you view the Twins' season as a success or a disappointment and whether you think that they ended on a high note with Game 163 or a sour note with the postseason sweep, the same strengths, weaknesses, and issues are present heading into what is an extremely important winter for Bill Smith and the front office. My guess is that the roster that closed down the Metrodome will look much different than the group that opens Target Field, and that should be both exciting and frightening for Twins fans.

I'm going to take a few days off before diving into full-on offseason mode, but before any of that I want to thank everyone who stopped by here over the past 166 games. This was my eighth season blogging about the Twins and the site's traffic was at an all-time high with almost one million visitors between pitchers and catchers reporting to Fort Myers and last night's loss. Whether you read this every day or just stumbled on the site, love me or hate me, come for Twins analysis or Link-O-Ramas, thank you.

Oh, and wait 'til next year.

Once you're done here, check out my NBCSports.com blog and Twitter updates.

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