Tagged: AL central

So Endeth the Season

I guess it was never meant to be. The Twins scraped into the ALDS play-offs and were swept by the mighty Yankees. I’m sure the folks at FOX and TBS must be wetting themselves with glee now that the two smallest franchises (Twins and Rockies) are out of the running, but evidently someone didn’t get the memo about the Boston Red Sox, whose three-game sweep at the hands of the Angels was probably even more of a disappointment considering their mammoth payroll and failure to show up until the final game, which they then proceeded to blow in the ninth inning.

It’s so strange that three of the best closers in baseball, Joe Nathan, Huston Street, and Jonathan Papelbon all failed in critical save situations, and just goes to show how much pressure and emphasis the game places on these guys. Yet it was Mariano Rivera, nearing 40, who showed everyone how it should be done, as the Yankees rolled over the Twins.

In all three games, the Twins led at one point, but couldn’t hold those leads. To some extent the Twins almost beat themselves with some horrible base-running antics that made them look like amateurs out there. But the Yankees were relentless, and that’s how they should be, yet still looked frail at some points. There’s probably an enormous amount of pressure on them to succeed, but I’m thinking it might be tougher for them against an Angels team who appear to be a little more ‘loose’ and enjoying themselves.

The Minnesota Twins had a great run. Another AL Central title, their fifth in eight years is certainly an achievement, but they’re still unable to convert these to championship victories which is obviously disappointing. The last few weeks of the regular season made for exciting viewing as a fan, and that game #163 was the icing on the cake. Despite injuries to some of their major starters and best hitters, despite playing in a weak division where they barely kept themselves above .500, this team showed a lot of guts and determination to grab the title, but also demonstrated a lot of problems and issues along the way.

With the move to Target Field in April, what will the 2010 season bring?

Advertisements

Your 2009 Minnesota Twins: AL Central Winners

Alexi Casilla singles to right field, Carlos Gomez scores.

I’m not sure what else I can add to the already salient commentaries out there on yesterday’s epic tie-breaker victory for the Twins over Detroit in 12 innings. Just check my “Minnesota Gurus” section in the margin to read them.

gomezjump.jpg

photo: Brian Peterson, Star Tribune

All in all it was a tremendous, exciting, nerve-wracking, roller coaster of a game that in some ways pretty much mirrored both the Twins’ and Tigers’ up-and-down seasons. Rick Porcello pitched beautifully and silenced the 54,088 very lucky people who got to watch in the Metrodome, and with a 3-1 lead and Miguel Cabrera putting all his off-field troubles behind him, I must admit I was a little worried that the Twins had finally found their match.

But, like so often this year, Minnesota somehow found a way to fight back, and everyone seemed to contribute somehow, whether in the right way or the wrong way. The game was exciting because it had a little bit of everything: some bad umpire calls (but some great ones too), some sensational fielding but some errors of judgment, base-running mistakes by both teams, patient at-bats (yes, you Nick Punto — that was quite a job you did out there) and some absurd first-pitch impatient ground-outs (sorry Delmon Young, you’re back in the doghouse despite your recent heroics). The teams looked nervous out there, like they were fighting for their lives, and it pretty much made for the most exciting game I’ve ever seen at the Metrodome (and maybe beyond), and probably up there with the 1987 and 1991 World Series games in terms of historic victories. It was a game for the ages, and everyone who saw it will no doubt always remember it.

gomezflying.jpg

photo: AP/Yahoo!

I know Tigers fans will blame some of the loss on missed calls and the crazy Metrodome but seriously, some calls also went against the Twins too (and many more earlier this year). The so-called ‘plunking’ of Aubrey Huff was a very close call which looked like it merely brushed his leg, Brandon Inge should really start to wear a tighter-fitting shirt instead of that Tellytubbie-sized thing he puts on before every game, and Ryan Raburn diving for a ball which he could have just played on the bounce instead of trying for the Sportscenter web gem probably turned Michael Cuddyer’s single into a triple: but of course that was because of the Metrodome lights…

So many excuses, but really, Detroit played an incredible game, were a little unlucky, and didn’t win this division because they failed to hold a lead both in this actual tiebreaker, but more costly, over the entire month of September. This time last month, the Twins were seven games back. Entering the final games of the year, they were three back with four to play. Minnesota went an outstanding 17-4 over the last 21 games and finally found the team spirit and battling nature that had somewhat eluded them previously. Detroit fans should be well aware that even though it didn’t happen for them this year, some time in the future they will have an opportunity to turn the tables at the Twins’ expense: it’s just how this game works sometimes.

So, the Yankees huh? The Twins are totally over matched, to be honest, I don’t think they stand a chance. Then again, Minnesota’s odds of winning even the AL Central a week or so ago were something absurd like 5%. Anything could happen, and I’m just delighted to have been following this scrappy, crazy, small-market team for the past few years and seeing what they can achieve. It’s David & Goliath for sure in the play-offs, but if the Twins can keep things competitive (and that’s really all you can ask), it could be an interesting few games ahead.

stats.jpg

One final note before I go though. What the hell was with FOX and their AL play-off promos the past few weeks? As many of you probably saw, these promos featured the Yankees, the Red Sox, the Angels, and, you guessed it, the Tigers. I know the major networks just hate it when the small franchise clubs make it to the post-season, but you’d think by now they’d be smart enough to never second guess the game of baseball. If I was a Tigers fan, I’d be a little pissed about these, it’s almost like it jinxed them. I talked to a buddy of mine who told me that FOX were guilty of the same crime with the ’07 and ’08 Mets, so I’m thinking they might need to stop with their stupid promos preempting events in a sport that is notorious for its “anything can happen” mentality.

#163

Who’d have thunk it eh? For the second season in a row, the Twins face a final single-game play-off to decide who will reach the postseason this year. In 2008, the Twins narrowly missed out on that privilege to the White Sox who beat them 1-0 in game #163. This year, Minnesota gets to play at home against the Tigers, so they’ll be hoping this time that things go their way.

I’m not sure what the odds are, after 162 games, of two teams being tied. Just goes to show how tight this game can be. I’ve been quick to dismiss the Twins this year, but rightly I believe. For the great majority of the year they’ve barely kept themselves around the .500 mark and they’ve failed to take competitive advantage of what has been one of the poorest divisions in years. Remember, this was the team that was sitting 5.5 games back on September 14, when it was announced that Justin Morneau would be out for the rest of the year, as fans groaned that Michael Cuddyer would be his replacement at first base. Even the usually astute Aaron Gleeman was prepared to write an entry entitled “The End” just last week (which, he has rather nicely, followed up with one called “The Beginning?” today).

No doubt, everyone has been taken by surprise, yet all that counts for nothing when it comes down to just this single game. Remarkably, the Twins were three games back with just four games to play. No team has ever overcome such a deficit in MLB history, so it’ll be even sweeter if they can beat Detroit and get into the play-offs to face the Yankees.

We’ll all be looking forward to Tuesday’s game. It’s going to be a tense affair for sure, but how ever things pan out, it’s been a fascinating end to what was once a fairly frustrating season for the Minnesota Twins and their fans. I, for one, feel less aggrieved than last year where the Twins had the chance to wrap things up earlier but failed to do so. This year, instead, they’ve been fighting their tails off from behind, and with expectations not being as high as they once were, even if they don’t make it, it’s all been a lot of fun.

Yikes

Did you see what I did there?

“The simple fact is, that if the Twins don’t win more than three of the
four games upcoming at Comerica Park between Monday and Thursday, they
can pretty much kiss their play-off hopes goodbye.”

Of course, I was utterly wrong as usual. Instead, with just a single game to go tomorrow the Twins and the Tigers are tied in the AL Central. If one team wins and the other loses, it’s game over for the team that goes down. If both win or both lose, we’ll be, ahem, “enjoying” yet another game #163 at the Metrodome on Tuesday.

cuddyerfisthomer.jpg

photo: AP/Yahoo!

I’m stunned the season has ended like this. I admit I was guilty of writing off the Twins a couple of weeks ago, and you’d be hard pressed to find any fans out there who were still optimistic. Sure, we all knew mathematically that Minnesota could still reach the play-offs, but also, a few days ago, after splitting that four game series with Detroit, the Twins’ chances of reaching the post-season had dwindled to about 7% or something absurdly low.

Instead, somehow, the Twins staved off a valiant Kansas City fightback on Friday night (squandering a ten run lead as usual). Then, on Saturday, Minnesota managed the impossible by scoring four runs off Zack Greinke, and seemed to be coasting, but the bullpen once again screwed up Nick Blackburn’s incredible pitching effort as the Royals tied it up at 4-4 before “Mr September” Michael Cuddyer (.342 with seven homers and 22 RBIs in 19 games at first base since taking over there from injured Justin Morneau) hit his 31st home run of the year and Joe Nathan closed out the Royals again.

Meanwhile, the Tigers have been floundering against the White Sox who are “playing loose” with no pressure on them, and have already taken two out of three at Comerica Park. An epic choke for sure, but tomorrow could be a different matter for Detroit with Justin Verlander on the mound for them.

The Twins will bring back Carl Pavano on three-days rest to pitch against Luke Hochevar. It’s going to be a crazy final game at the Metrodome, how ever things pan out for the Twins, and it’s been a thoroughly exciting way to end the season.

Of course it’ll be saddening if the Twins don’t make it, but unlike last year, where they squandered their lead and could have clinched things sooner, this time they’ve been battling all the way from behind, and it’s been a fantastic effort regardless of the outcome tomorrow.

“We’re in This?”

As a Bay Area resident, I’ve been plagued for the past few weeks with commercials on Comcast claiming, quite rightly, that the San Francisco Giants are still “in this thing”. To some extent they are. Despite a painful loss to the Rockies the other evening, their hopes of making the play-offs are still alive, and perhaps better than the Twins’ chances seeing as how good their starting pitching can be.

But the Twins? Baseball, being the unusual game it is, has thrown us yet another curve-ball, and it’s amazing how quickly things can change in a few days. Minnesota is now four games behind Detroit, after the Tigers failed to take advantage yet again of their lead and lost three of four to the Royals, who once again seem to be taking delight in playing spoiler. Note to Twins fans: despite the fact that everyone is harping on about the upcoming crucial series against Detroit this weekend and then four more games later, Minnesota also has to play the Royals six more times, including the final three games of the season at the Metrodome. Just sayin’.

But yes. This weekend’s series against Detroit is, truly, the most crucial three games of the year so far. A sweep would see the Twins just a single game back. Even two out of three wouldn’t be a disaster. But losing two (and especially three) could be fatal. It’s worth noting too, that even if Minnesota was to sweep the Tigers, there would still be a lot more work to be done, and they’d still be relying on results going their way. It’s not a mathematical impossibility for the Twins to win the AL Central, but it’s going to require a massive meltdown by Detroit to make it happen.

And we all know, this kind of thing can happen. Witness the Mets of 2007. See how Tampa Bay lost 11 straight this month and completely ruled themselves out of contention. Notice how Boston’s seven-game winning streak while Texas faltered at Oakland may be just enough to clinch that AL wild-card berth.

Baseball can be exciting and exhilarating, but it can also be cruel. I quite like the predicament the Twins find themselves in: They have everything to gain, and nothing to lose, whereas the Tigers are really the ones under pressure. I’m not betting on the Twins clinching the division this year, and the prospect of facing the Yankees in the play-offs would be downright scary, but you never know, anything could happen.

Cleaved by Cleveland

With the home series tied at one apiece, Cleveland and Minnesota face off today in the rubber match. Scott Baker (2-6) will be up against Fausto Carmino (2-5), both of whom have had less than stellar starts to the season, so it’s really anyone’s game.

Game one saw the Twins earning a 4-3 victory, but it was a closely contested affair, despite the home team being 4-0 up at one point. Joe Mauer was the big hero again going 3-3 with yet another home run in the fifth inning, but the Indians fought back valiantly, and it took Joe Nathan actually being allowed by Gardy to pitch in the eighth to get an out, before closing the ninth completely to secure the win.

Notable from this particular game were two excellent defensive plays which probably saved runs from scoring. In the top of the third with two outs and a man at first, Victor Martinez hit a huge fly ball to center, and Carlos Gomez completed an incredibly athletic catch to end the inning. To me, this just shows that even a poor-hitting Carlos Gomez is much less of a liability than a poor-hitting Delmon Young, and probably why the former should be playing more regularly than the latter. There’s very few folks in the Twins line-up who could make that catch, let alone the league! Earlier that same inning, Brendan Harris and Justin Morneau also combined for a great play that saved a probable hit. I’m sure Nick Punto might have got that one too, but while Harris has shown to still be a little nervy playing short-stop, he looks to be improving, and offensively he’s certainly more productive than Nick Punto.

Game two wasn’t such a good one for the Twins though, losing 10-1. Anthony Swarzak, after making two great starts, was humbly brought back down to earth with a thud. I think we all knew this was likely to happen eventually. This doesn’t mean he’s a bad pitcher by any means, but it does mean he’ll learn that leaving the ball up in the strike zone in the Majors is going to be trouble. I think he’ll rebound just fine because in baseball there’s just some days when things work out, and others where it seems everything sucks.

RA Dickey had to come in again for some relief pitching, while the comedy bullpen clowns of Ayala and Crain later gave up four runs. When are you going to do something about this pitiful pen, Gardy?

Minnesota’s bats barely even got started against Cliff Lee last night, and there was some silly tiff between him and Carlos Gomez which barely warrants discussion, but I think I know who would win in a fist-fight, what with Carlos once being a boxer back home in the Dominican Republic! Thankfully, Victor Martinez did a good job playing peacemaker.

gomez.jpg

photo: AP/Yahoo!

Something interesting about both days’ results though was that Minnesota pretty much gained a game on everyone by winning the first one, as the Royals, White Sox, Tigers (and of course Cleveland) all found themselves losing. By giving up the second game however, only the Indians got any real leverage, because the Royals, White Sox, and Tigers all lost again. I hope this series doesn’t prove to be a lost opportunity for Minnesota, if the other teams in the AL Central are showing signs of weakness.

Road Woes Continue

Man, these guys shouldn’t even be allowed to leave the Twin Cities! Another poor road trip, this time in Tampa Bay, saw the Twins only win one of three. Minnesota is still a fairly embarrassing 6-16 on the road, and this was just their second win in 13 games away from the Metrodome. Their Sunday performance was a nail biter, but the win was a very welcome one after two poor showings on Friday and Saturday. Nick Blackburn pitched a good game, only giving up a couple of solo home runs, and the Twins hustled home a few runs to claim a scrappy 3-2 victory.

road.jpg

On Friday night, Scott Baker started well enough, but yet again had one of his mental breakdowns in the sixth inning, giving up a three-run homer to Evan Longoria. The Twins rallied a bit later on, but couldn’t get enough going and ended up losing 5-3. When Brian Buscher (.183) has to pinch hit for Carlos Gomez (.219), as happened in the ninth inning, you know there’s definitely something wrong with your line-up, even if that was the right move in the circumstances.

Saturday’s game was even more pitiful. There’s definitely something odd going on with Francisco Liriano, who only lasted four innings for the third straight time. He threw 47 (yes, 47) pitches in the third inning and gave up four runs, after which, I gave up watching. The Twins organization need to do something with poor Frankie, I’m not confident the whole “working out his issues on the mound” thing is really going to pan out if Minnesota wants to remain competitive. Saturday’s game also featured a woeful base-running decision by Scott Ulger, stopping Joe Crede at third after an overthrow instead of waving him home. Sure, it may have been a risky play to send Crede home, but with the way David Price was pitching, the Twins weren’t going to get many chances to score runs, and we blew one right there. Naturally, Alexi Casilla failed to get the run home the next at-bat.

Talking of which, Alexi is back. Nick Punto is on the DL with a groin injury, so the Twins brought back Alexi Casilla who they’d sent down a few weeks ago. The lack of batting production of players like Nick Punto, Alexi Casilla, Delmon Young, and Matt Tolbert is really beginning to hurt Minnesota’s chances of success this year. But it’s not just sucky performances, injury woes continue to mount for the Twins. Jason Kubel had a dodgy knee that kept him out of a couple of games, Joe Crede has had a few unlucky niggles here and there, Michael Cuddyer left Sunday’s game with a finger injury, and we’ve already mentioned Nick Punto who the Twins probably miss more in the field than with the bat.

Usually, I like to end each posting with a positive note, but today I’m just cranky. Even excuses like “it’s still early in the season” are starting to sound a little hollow now we’re almost one-third of the way through. Still, the AL Central doesn’t have a team storming away uncontested like the Dodgers in the NL West, so yes, OK, “there’s still plenty of time to go”. Checking the standings again though, Detroit are the only team who are over the .500 mark in the division, and Minnesota are 4.5 games back, certainly not cause for panic, but nevertheless a little disconcerting.

After three games at home entertaining the steadily improving Indians, the Twins upcoming 10-game extended road trip with stops in Oakland, Seattle, and Chicago (Cubs) could prove to be vital to their hopes this year.