Twins/A's preview: Hey, those aren't the Yankees!
From: Steve Perry
To: Britt Robson
I can't imagine we'll ever see another finish like that one. On top of the Twins' miracle second half, we got to see an almost-as-historic collapse by Detroit in the last week. I tuned in the Twins game around 1:30 today, but I actually spent most of the afternoon watching the Tigers and Royals on Extra Innings--a much more remarkable game, as it turned out. The Tigers scored five in the third to take a 6-0 lead into the fourth inning, but the Royals came right back in the top of the fourth to score three, and from that moment on, you could feel the doom wafting off the field and through the television. And sure enough, the Tigers found a way to lose: After they loaded the bases with 1 out in the bottom of the 11th, Brandon Inge and Curtis Granderson struck out, and the Royals scored twice in the 12th to finish a three-game sweep.
Now this is a Kansas City team that came to town already having lost 100 games, with a team ERA over 6.00 and exactly one legitimate major league hitter--David DeJesus--in a lineup larded with September callups. And the Tigers, needing to win only one game against this blighted crew, couldn't pull it off. I've never particularly believed in "clutch performers," but I certainly believe in chokers, and the Tigers are turning blue at this point. I can't remember ever seeing any team limp into the playoffs as snake-bitten as Detroit is now. (St. Louis stumbled badly down the stretch as well, but it's harder to call that a choke--the Cardinals pretty much suck this year, and they'd be nowhere near the playoffs if they weren't in the weakest division in baseball.) I'll be surprised if the Tigers win more than one game against the Yankees.
And though it's a moot point now, I'm one of those people who thought the Twins would have been better off facing the Yankees in the best-of-five Wild Card round. Simple reason: The Yankees are the only team in either league that's better than the Twins. If you put the two head-to-head for 162 games, there isn't much doubt who'd come out on top. The shorter the series, the better, because it improves the chances that a few lucky bounces and one or two dominant performances could skew results the Twins' way.
But for that matter, I think the Twins are capable of winning a seven-game series against the Yankees. (Not favorites, mind you--but I'd give 'em a 35-40 percent chance.) And they certainly ought to beat Oakland. Yeah, the A's have the best starting pitching in the playoffs--but they've also got a shit lineup featuring only two hitters who were productive in the second half, Frank Thomas and Milton Bradley, and Bradley's a risk to trip and break something every time he crosses a chalk line. The A's would need strong series from a couple of other hitters--Eric Chavez and Nick Swisher are the guys to watch--to hang in with the Twins, and I just don't see it.
So I say we'll get our Twins/Yankees matchup in the end. This round goes 3-1 to the Twins. Their main worry should be the one Dan Cole was fretting about on KFAN the other day--what happens if Radke's arm flies off in the middle of his start, and the fan or player who catches it doesn't want to give it back?
From: Britt Robson
To: Steve Perry
I agree with you that the Tigers are now toast against the Yankees unless Verlander and Bonderman are lights out on the hill against that superhuman NYY lineup. Kenny Rogers is, shall we say, suspect. Those who don't remember that Rogers was one of the original poster boys for not being able to handle the Big Apple pressure cooker during his stint as a Yank a decade ago will still probably recall him going ballastic on a camera guy more recently. And who was it who choked in extra innings against KC today? Rogers, the guy who is supposed to anchor their staff.
I'd love to argue with you about the Twins versus Oakland, but the best I can do is say that I give the hometown boys only a slight edge here. Actually the teams are very similar, relying on defense and pitching, in that order. If you want to know how the Twins managed to keep winning with a collection of peachfuzz and mediocrities filling out their rotation for most of the year, consider that the left side of their infield was better than in the days of Gagne and Gaetti after Punto and Bartlett settled in. In Oakland, third baseman Eric Chavez has deservedly won four or five Gold Gloves in a row (and will add to that this year, Joe Crede be damned), and second baseman Mark Ellis has committed five errors all season. And the bullpens of both teams are deep and talented. Twins fans know and love their crazy crew, but let's not forget that Kiko Calero, Justin Duchscherer, Brad Halsey, and Scott Sauerbeck combined for 13 2/3 innings without yielding an earned run versus the Twins this year. And then there's closer Huston Street, who picked up a pair of saves in three appearances, allowing just two baserunners and no runs in four innings. Whichever team is ahead by the fifth or sixth inning holds a huge advantage.
That's why I've got to go with the Twins. On paper, Santana against Zito is a classic matchup, and Zito's postseason numbers are pretty good: 3-2 with a 2.76 ERA. But the A's have taken the gas pipe in all four series that he's pitched, and that's back when Hudson and Mulder were beside him in the rotation. Zito is a fine pitcher, but he's also thrown more pitches than anyone in the American League this season, and has allowed a whopping 310 baserunners (not counting errors) which is probably at or near the top of the league as well. Meanwhile, he'll be going agains the best pitcher in baseball over the past three years. You've got to like the Twins in Game One. The key contest is Game Two and this is where all the blab about the A's and Beane and Moneyball come up short. It's the key to their season and who do they throw out there? An unreliable journeyman for whom they overpaid on the free agent market, Esteban Loaiza. The Twins counter with Boof Bonser. This will be the highest scoring game of the series, and I'll call it for the Twins.
Like most cantankerous sportswriters, I've flipped on Brad Radke. Remembering the days when he had it written into his contract that the team had to be competitive and then watching him serve even more than his customarily plentiful quotient of gopher balls for most of the spring, I was ready to see the squad unload his ass for whatever choice bit part the team's crackerjack scouting staff had discovered in the Double-A realm of an unsuspecting Radke-liker. Then the guy is revealed to have a broken shoulder in addition to usual arm woes, and keeps pitching. His arm falls off. He waits a month and then tosses that five-inning gem the other night.
Who doesn't love Brad Radke now? Me, in Game Three. The A's have their own sore-armed marvel who's younger and more talented, in Rich Harden. He got hammered in the season finale today, but he'll be ready to stave off elimination for the A's, no matter how well Radke pitches (and I suspect it will be pretty well). That leaves a decent Dan Haren up against whatever name stops on Gardy's intuitive roulette wheel. I wouldn't mind if the Glen Perkins rumors were true, and I'd take Silva over Garza. But I'd give the edge to the A's in Game Four anyway.
Which brings us to the clincher. See my Game One comments and hand the ALDS MVP trophy to Johan Santana.
From: Steve Perry
To: Britt Robson
Baseball Prospectus (paid-sub site) pointed out earlier this season that both Radke and Silva have pitched better in the last couple of years when they were pitching hurt. If you squint, it sort of makes sense to suppose a sinkerball pitcher might be better off when his arm was less than 100 percent or his delivery was hampered by a leg injury; they always say that a sinkerball guy is most vulnerable in the early innings, before his arm has tired enough to get the sinker working. I'll go with that theory for this playoff--I'm not scared to see Radke go out there, but here's hoping Silva stays far from the action. I've just seen him get derailed in too many second-half starts.
Not a lot was made of it when Francisco Liriano left his September 13 comeback start with a re-injury, because the team just went on winning. But you can see now how huge it was. If the Twins were entering the playoffs with a 1-2 of Santana and Liriano, they would be the rightful favorite in a short series against anybody--even the Yankees. As it stands, I think either the Yankees or the Twins will win the World Series. (I'm guessing you still think the Mets are better than the Twins, but I don't. They won 97 games to the Twins' 96, and they did it in a National League that has never been this weak vis a vis the American League in your lifetime or mine.)
From: Britt Robson
To: Steve Perry
Maybe we're destined to agree for two whole exchanges--there's got to be some sort of congeniality award in it for one of us (like me). All I can do is insert caveats. Silva is totally unreliable, but I think Matt Garza is reliably apt to give up more than a run per inning if they start him in the postseason. And as you pointed out before, the A's are hardly a murderer's row. If Gardy goes with Silva, just walk the Big Hurt every time up (he can't run the bases anyway), and nibble the corners with Chavez, who's nursing all sorts of injuries. But again, it wouldn't bother me at all to continue this improbably marvelous Twins season by tossing Perkins into the fray in Game Four and seeing if he can clinch.
Of course if it's an elimination game for the Twins, you've got to think about Santana on short rest in Game Four.
And yes, Liriano is a huge loss. I watched him absolutely smoke the Brewers for eight shutout innings at the Dome this year and then chat easily with reporters, Mr. Charisma. If he ever regains his health, he'll top Hunter on the endorsement market. And he'll be dearly missed, not against Oakland but against those big bad Yanks and then, if they get to the Fall Classic, the big bad Mets.
On that subject, I was a big Mets booster when they had Pedro throwing alongside Glavine. Now it's Glavine and Trachsel and who, John Maine? I haven't checked. But I do know that lineup is second only to their cross-city rivals in all of baseball. Reyes-LoDuca-Beltran-Delgado-Wright is an even better top five than the Yankees throw at you.
But determining a Twins-Mets winner is a debate long in the future. Let's hope we get a chance to have it.