After Yankees’ playoff sweep, don’t buy all the ‘instant analysis’ you’re sure to see about Twins’ woes

The grounds crew digs up home plate at the conclusion of the final Twins game in the Metrodome, Sunday, Oct. 11, 2009.

The grounds crew digs up home plate at the conclusion Sunday of the final Twins game in the Metrodome.

This series had to be awfully confusing for the baseball-watching public, who for years have been assured by every announcer, columnist and talking head that Alex Rodriguez is incapable of coming through in the clutch and the Twins win by “doing the little things.” Neither of those prepackaged storylines proved accurate in New York’s sweep, but then again they weren’t entirely accurate coming into the American League Division Series either.

Rodriguez going 5-for-11 with two homers and six RBIs in the three-game series is certainly a big change from his recent playoff struggles, but for all the criticism that he’s taken for wilting under pressure, he has a higher lifetime postseason OPS than Derek Jeter and has hit extremely well in “close and late” situations during the regular season throughout his career.

And while fans and media members who don’t actually see Minnesota play all that much tend to blindly repeat the various mantras about “playing the right way,” the Twins’ focus on fundamentals and execution has steadily eroded since Tom Kelly stepped down as manager in 2001. Both positive and negative, reputations can be difficult to shake once established.

A few big hits in the ALDS aren’t going to keep Rodriguez from being labeled a choker again after his next strikeout in a crucial situation, just as a few bone-headed mistakes aren’t going to keep non-Minnesotans from believing that the Twins are a well-oiled, small-ball machine. However, both reputations took a major hit over the past three games, and because of it, the Yankees are headed for an American League Championship Series matchup with the Angels and the Twins are done until next spring.

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.

Wait ’til next year.

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Comments (13)

  1. Submitted by Rod Loper on 10/12/2009 - 09:42 am.

    Think of them sweeping snow off Target Field
    seats and turf today if they had won. I will miss the HHH Dome as much as this team. I grind my teeth when I look at my sales tax slip. Players on the caliber that beat us this easily are not going to come cheap.

  2. Submitted by Tad Bornhoft on 10/12/2009 - 10:23 am.

    Jason Kubel’s capable bat was 1 for 14 with 9 K’s. I think he has one more year to become a more consistent presence at the plate.

  3. Submitted by myles spicer on 10/12/2009 - 11:24 am.

    Two quick comments. What is lost in the rush for outdoor baseball is the fact that this was a condition started when “the boys of summer” played the game. Now, the season is longer, and in those days, there were not teams in such places as Minnesota and Denver.

    Second, the “holes” in the Twins lineup are evident with the men left on base. When the bases are loaded with one out, the last (or perhaps second to the last) person you wnat batting is Gomez. And our inability to hold leads shows weaknesses in our pitching. Smith will have to be smart, aggressive, and open his wallet if this team is to get any further in the future.

  4. Submitted by Francis Ferrell on 10/12/2009 - 11:49 am.

    There may be no joy in Snowville, today, regarding the Twins but wait until next year. If the Twins have a winning season again so be it.

    We the fans can stop being hyperactive over the numbers and prognostications of the incessant soothsayers and have fun in our new outdoor ball-park. I can’t wait.

    The Twins will have their good years and bad years. The Twins will never be the Yankees or some other over priced ball team but they will be our team, our hometown boys of summer.

    So let’s get with the Boys of 2010 and cheer them onward. Win or lose they are our team and we must support them.

    So to those in Snowville who always are naysayers about the Twins, remember the great Casey of Mudville had his down years and disappointments! Does anyone remember Casey’s next year? He helped his team win the championship! We can hope, dream, and be poetic toward the Twins upcoming future. That’s baseball!!!

  5. Submitted by Bill Coleman on 10/12/2009 - 01:37 pm.

    It is hard to believe that anyone will miss the metrodome next year. It can snow/sleet/rain in any northern city like NYC, Boston, Detroit and Cleveland. The dome has poor layout and sightlines and it smells funny in there.

    As someone with a Gopher football ticket who sat in the 32 degree weather on Saturday, I did not hear one person who wanted to be back in the dome. They might be out buying some warmer shoes though!

    The Twins are a slightly above average team with a handful of exceptional players. To win at playoff time, they will have to make some bold moves. It will be interesting to see if they will keep Morneau, Mauer, Cuddyer, Kubel (who did have a terrible series after a great season). Their depth is terrible as the lack of anyone off the bench was apparent. There was no one who could be called on to pinch hit with the expectation that they would get more than a single.

    All in all, an exciting end to the season and a happy farewell to the worst baseball facility ever.

  6. Submitted by Dan Hoxworth on 10/12/2009 - 02:59 pm.

    Learnings from the playoffs for the Twins:
    1) You need bench strength. The Twins had no one to come off the bench and pinch hit in crucial situations. The injuries this year revealed just how little depth they had. No National League team would ever have this limited about of pinch-hitters on their bench. We need to put people like Redmond as coaches now rather than having them fill up a roster spot or say good-bye.
    2) Coaching decisions. Gardy made some really questionable calls. Having Nathan come in to pitch to two batters on Friday night (Tex & ARod) that batted .600 and .500 lifetime against him was not sound judgment and the Twins paid for it.
    3) Clearly the new ballpark means additional revenue for the Twins. Hopefully, they will invest it wisely in some additional bench depth, a starter at 3B, and some starting pitching. Pavano, Baker and Blackburn all have a roll to play. It is whether Liriano or Slowey can comeback from injuries that remains the question. HOpefully, one of the two will make it.

  7. Submitted by Michael Hunt on 10/12/2009 - 03:02 pm.

    Mr. Farrell, I’m going to respectfully disagree 1000%. I, for one, am bored with this whole “boys of summer”, David vs. Goliath, Little Engine That Could notions of the Twins.

    Quite honestly, while the end of the season was exciting and the play-in game nerve-wracking, if you’re honest it was merely a battle of two slightly better than mediocre teams, with the winner earning the right to be slaughtered by a team superior in every aspect of the game. As Gleeman points out, all these romantic notions you long for are from a bygone day and are kept alive by slick MLB marketing. Until baseball agrees to a level playing field, it will continue to pale in popularity to football.

  8. Submitted by Jeremy Powers on 10/12/2009 - 04:20 pm.

    The problem with all outdoor baseball is this: I didn’t evolve over a millennia to “rough it.” Sure, for a playoff game and the opener, people will put up with some discomfort. But two days after the opener, we’ll be back to people contemplating sitting around – you know how cold you get just sitting there – and decide it’s a bust. And people forget that Minnesota summers are not all like this last one. I can still remember a Knot Hole game I went to in 1965 where the whole bus load of kids came home the color of a boiled lobster. Attendance will be down next year. The only people who would be willing to sit through a 34-degree game are already there. And next year they won’t be joined by the fair-weather fans.

    My hard-core friends call me a fair-weather fan. I say better that than stupid.

  9. Submitted by mike buchholz on 10/12/2009 - 07:18 pm.

    the twins are a great franchise. however they need to up the payroll to $80 million range. that would get you a legit #1 starter and another bat in the line up. we get those two and trade gomez and we will win the central again next year and get farther in the playoffs.

  10. Submitted by Dave Eldred on 10/12/2009 - 08:10 pm.

    As I type this, I’m watching a game in Colorado where the temperature is not much above feezing. Yet the game is sold out and the fans appear to be enjoying themselves immensely in a park that is much friendlier to them than the Metrodome ever was to any baseball fan.

    The argument that the fair weather fans will stay away is just silly. I’m a die hard and cannot count the amount of times I’ve chosen against heading down to the Metrodome for a game because it was simply to nice of a day to waste sitting inside. There is no question I’ll be seeing many more Twins games in person starting next year.

    None of this is to mention the fact that there are undoubtedly fair weather fans who avoided the Dome because it is a lousy place to watch baseball. Anyone who has ever been to a game in a stadium actually built for baseball knows the experience is incomparable. If you can’t tell the difference, you weren’t going to many games in the Dome anyway; your presence will not be missed.

    If you don’t like it, don’t go. It’s that simple.

  11. Submitted by Paul Gustafson on 10/13/2009 - 09:55 am.

    The good thing about an early Twins exit from the playoffs is that the Hot-Stove League season in Minnesota has begun – and we even have snow in October to kick it off!

    Things I wonder about:

    1. Can the Twins sign Mauer to an extension now? Pat Reusse in his column today made it sound like it will happen because It Must Happen.

    I agree it is crucial. But I wonder if Joe will wait until he sees if the Twins make moves to upgrade.

    2. Is Morneau’s back really going to be OK? So far, this gets passed over. But the Twins have to be at least mildly concerned. Not that they can do much about it….

    3. Still looking for an infield. I’m tired of wondering if Casilla can be a good Major League 2B. The Twins can’t count on it. So, then they go with Punto. But then, they need a very good hitting (a number two hitter) and fielding SS. Maybe Cabrera for a year – or not. He was a very good Number Two hitter. But, he’d be 35. And playing on a grass home field.

    4. Looking for a 3B. The perennial story. It won’t be Crede, will it? Tried that. Guess the Twins put their hopes on the Minor League prospects and low-paid fill-ins on the current roster. Sound familar?

    5. What to do with Young and Gomez. Potential-laden head cases. Reusse thinks Gomez needs a year in AAA. He may be right. Young is the tougher call. Can he become a disciplined hitter with power? Is he coachable? Sadly, I don’t think either of them has much trade value.

    6. Getting a veteran starting pitcher. And a decision about Perkins. Seems like he’s pissing off the Twins Brain-Trust, including Gardenhire. Maybe trade bait. Is Duensing ready to go a full season? Will Slowey fully recover from surgery?

    7. Trade Nathan as Reusse suggests? He showed severe cracks at the end of the season. Was it overwork? Who would take over?

    8. Bullpen outside the closer spot. A huge mystery. Can Neshek come back? Nobody knows. Liriano? Nobody knows. Pick up Rauch? Not cheap.
    Guerrier seems like the only solid guy. If they havn’t already blown his arm out. And some guys in the minors…and Mijares, who seems clueless at times.

  12. Submitted by Howard Miller on 10/17/2009 - 12:05 pm.

    I’m constantly impressed with Twins management and players – they compete with 1/3 of the resources of a Yankees or Red Sox club.

    Competitive balance is broken in baseball. It’s just not that fun to watch every year to see who plays the NYY or BRS for the league championship.

    It would be a more entertaining pro sport to watch if revenue sharing worked, and if the league would quit whip-sawing stadium construction money out of local taxpayers

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