ALDS Series: A's 2, Twins 0
From: G.R. Anderson Jr.
To: Britt Robson; Chuck Terhark
I honestly have never seen a team come out in a playoff series flatter at the plate than this one. It's reminiscent of the final 2004 game against the Yankees, except this has gone on for two games. The number of first pitches taken has to be obscene; conversely nearly every Twins hitter looks impatient swinging at bad pitches because he is constantly behind in the counts. How many hits combined for Mauer, Cuddyer, Morneau, Hunter thus far?
Everyone is going to blame Torii for losing that game--and from where I sat, just to first base side of home plate, I'll be charitable and say that ball was tailing away from him rather quickly--but the fact of the matter is you can't leave that many runners in scoring position over two games and expect to win. (By the way, in his subsequent effort to make up for the missed play with a pitiful strikeout, Hunter was actually booed at the Dome for the first time I can ever recall.)
What is it with Gardy's teams in the playoffs? They consistently churn out paralytic performances at the plate.
I will say that the A's advance scouting has been phenomenal--their players are in the exact right spot in the field for every batter, and they have been diligent about putting shifts on people like Cuddyer. It's not just luck and coincidence that has the Twins hitting so many line-drive outs when they do make contact.
And that's because they aren't seasoned enough, apparently, to make crucial adjustments at the plate. The sad reality is that Santana pitched good enough to win yesterday, they got more out of Boof than they should have with no run production--do they really expect seven scoreless innings from their starters?--and the lingering memory at the Dome of Torii Hunter's fine career as a Twin will be a misplayed liner that put a rather sour end on a terrific season.
From: Britt Robson
To: G.R. Anderson Jr.; Chuck Terhark
I was actually pleased to see all the first-pitch takes for strikes, in marked contrast to the early flailing that characterized Game One. The television announcers revealed that Twins hitting coach Joe Vavra had instructed his players not to swing early unless the ball was headed for the heart of the plate; the reason being that Loaiza's pitches tend to have a lot of movement, especially his sinker. This was a smart strategy that had Loaiza over 90 pitches after five innings despite twirling a shutout at that point. A's manager Ken Macha knew he was wearing out and had Kiki Calero up and throwing even before the back-to-back jobs by Cuddyer and Morneau that accounted for Minnesota's only runs.
Here's what I think the deal is: The Twins are young, the Twins are tight, and despite all their hardy bravado, the Twins are as surprised as the rest of us that they won 96 games this season. That is undeniably 20-20 hindsight on my part--I called for the Twins to take it in 5--but watching Jason Bartlett run the bases yesterday or seeing Nick Punto at the plate this entire series, what other explanation makes sense? Barry Zito is the type of pitcher who can shut you down. Esteban Loaiza circa 2006 is not.
I'm not sure about advance scouting, but I do think, as always, team defense is woefully underrated, and Oakland plays hellacious D. The key play of the day for me was Eric Chavez spearing Mauer's grounder with two out and two men on. How many times has Mauer shot that gap in the regular season? This time, a reigning five-time Gold Glover cheating toward that hole took at least one ribbie--and a boatload of momentum--away from him and the Twins.
And now I am going to pile on Torii Hunter. The missed catch on Kotsay's "homer" wasn't even close for taking that kind of risk, but that was an aberration. Far more typical was Hunter seeing Cuddyer and Morneau jack the ball over the fence and attacking the first pitch from reliever Calero as if it were a home run derby. The guy let the spirit of the moment get inside his head, and it wasn't the first time, especially at the plate. Torii Hunter has deserved all those Gold Gloves (although not the one he'll get this year) and he was the Twins best and most productive hitter during the last seven weeks of the season--Minnesota would be playing the Yankees or watching the games at home without his contribution from August 1 on. But he has choked the past two games, by which I mean that the intensity of the situation has affected his play in a negative way. I'm sad to see it.
From: Chuck Terhark
To: Britt Robson; G.R. Anderson Jr.
Blame the Twins' youth all you want, but you can say the same thing about the A's. I say it's these noon games (who's awake enough to cheer, much less play, at that time of day?) coupled with Hunter's misguided belief that he needs to become an October hero (call it the Jeter-complex) that's sinking these piranhas. Whatever. All I know is I'm going to spend the off day tomorrow removing all of the sharp objects from my house. Go Twins...and here's hoping that's not the last time I say that this season.