Can We Get Excited Yet?

According to that fancy computer over at Baseball Prospectus that spits out the odds concerning each team’s playoff chances every morning, the Twins now have a 99.99645% chance of winning the AL Central. That’s pretty good, right? So why do I feel like I’m not allowed to get excited yet?

I realize there is a certain group of Twins fans who consistently feel the need to look for the negative side to everything, so there’s something here for them, too. According to the BP computer, the Twins have no chance… zero, zip, nada… of winning getting the AL Wild Card spot. Ah well, I can live with that.

The next two weeks will be filled with discussions about the probable pitching rotation, the make up of the bullpen and the bench options for position players. We’ll be looking for every morsel of information we can get about Jason Kubel’s wrist, Denard Span’s shoulder, Joe Mauer’s knee and, of course, Justin Morneau’s noggin. In all, there’s plenty of stuff out there for us to fret over.

But considering that Twinsdom has spent the last two weeks of most seasons lately fretting over whether there would even BE a postseason that any of us cared about, having that minor little detail wrapped up this early with 99.99645% certainty is kinda cool for a change.

I am just a little bit amused by how quickly some “fans” have pretty much already dismissed the Twins chances of winning anything once the postseason arrives, however. Do they REALLY believe everything John Kruk says? Yes, I realize Kruk isn’t the only media “talking head” that’s ready to make this week’s Rays/Yankees series a preview of the ALCS, but the fact that his history of being right about anything is about as good as the White Sox’ remaining playoff chances (less than 6 out of 100,000, if you’re counting) should make people wonder whether they really want to agree with him.

I already posted my views on what the Twins need to focus on down the stretch so I won’t repeat all of that here. I’ll say it appears Gardy is in agreement with my suggestion to use a 6-man rotation, with Scott Baker healthy. He has adjusted the order of his rotation to set things up for Francisco Liriano to start Game 1 of the playoffs, followed by Carl Pavano and Brian Duensing in Games 2 and 3. I still think Pavano is the better idea for Game 1, but I can see that separating your two lefties has some benefits and Liriano, if he’s “on”, would provide the best chance of matching up with either the Yankees’ or Rays’ top pitcher. Someone please just slip the man a valium before the game.

If you are one of those people who really think this year’s Twins are pre-destined to roadkill status in the playoffs, I ask you to simply compare the Twins current roster to some of the names who not only have been on the Twins rosters for their last two playoff series, but started playoff games for the Twins!

In the six playoff game losses (3 to the A’s in 2006 and 3 to the Yankees last year), here are the names of Gardy’s DHs: Phil Nevin, Jason Tyner (2 games), Brendan Harris, Jose Morales (2 games). Imean… can we all at least agree that, all other things being equal, a team with Jim Thome DHing has a better shot to advance in the playoffs than one with these guys:

Phil Nevin, here's his face even.

Jason Tyner

Brendan Harris

Jose Morales

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But let’s not stop at the DH position.

In 2006, Luis Castillo led off for the Twins and Nick Punto hit 2nd. The 7-8-9 hitters were Rondell White, Nevin/Tyner, and Jason Bartlett. Last year, Span and Cabrera hit 1 and 2, but the 7-8-9 spots were taken with various combinations of Harris, Morales, Matt Tolbert and Punto. Brian Buscher replaced Tolbert on the roster (though he did not play) after the 2nd game due to an injury to Tolbert.

As for pitching, Bobby Keppel had a spot on the postseason roster last year. In 2006, Gardy followed up Johan’s Game 1 start with Boof Bonser in Game 2 and a version of Brad Radke in Game 3 who had a shoulder held together by duct tape.

Yes, as unpleasant as it may, there are worse things than having to tell good players that they won’t be on the ALDS active roster. But let’s take a quick look at the decisions Gardy is going to have to make by the end of the regular season.

In the absence of injury, I think 22 of the 25 ALDS roster spots are pretty much locked up.

Starting pitchers: Liriano, Pavano, Duensing

Bullpen: Capps, Rauch, Fuentes, Crain, Guerrier, Mijares

Catchers: Mauer, Butera

Infielders: Cuddyer, Hudson, Hardy, Valencia, Casilla, Punto

Outfielders: Young, Span, Kubel, Repko

DH: Thome

Those final three spots will be filled based on pitching performances the next two weeks and the health of Justin Morneau.

The fourth starting pitcher spot is Nick Blackburn’s to lose. If he continues pitching well, it belongs to him.

That leaves Kevin Slowey and Scott Baker auditioning for the “long relief” spot in the bullpen (or to replace Blackburn in the rotation if he falters before the playoffs). One of these three pitchers will not be on the ALDS roster… but could still be added to replace an injured pitcher or if/when the Twins move on to the ALCS.

That also leaves just one more position player to be added from among the following choices: Justin Morneau, Matt Tolbert and Jose Morales.

I suspect Matt Tolbert is the odd man out. With Casilla and Punto available for pinch running and backup duty in the infield, Tolbert is redundent. If Justin can play, he’ll be on the roster. If he can’t, I suspect Jose Morales will be added, not only because he gives Gardy more flexibility and a safety net at the catching position, but because he also fills that ‘emergency’ role at 1B behind Cuddyer, which would be necessary if Morneau is not available.

In the end, if everyone can get healthy, it’s really hard not to like the Twins chances to perform much better in the playoffs this season than they have in their most recent appearances, unless, of course, you’re a member of the national media or… or so it seems… the local media  as well.

I won’t pretend to speak for everyone else, but yes… I’m EXCITED! – JC

6 thoughts on “Can We Get Excited Yet?

  1. That picture you put of ‘Phil Nevin’ is a left handed batter wearing number 27. I think it is really JC-Romero-Era Justin Morneau.

  2. Well, I am excited. I bought playoff tickets today.

    And yet, I can’t help but think the Tigers thought they had the division sewn up in 2006, being ahead by three with four games to go. (To be fair, the Twins’ magic number versus their division lead means it would take a true miracle, not just a hot streak/cold streak by the two teams).

  3. Dood, that’s what I get for just going “fishing” on the web for “Phil Nevin pictures”. I’ll fix that… assuming I can find one of the “real” Phil Nevin!

  4. The question is if we need an extra OF or an extra IF?

    Or do we take the best hitter because of NL parks?

    If Morneau comes along, moving Cuddy back to the OF, does Repko make the team? He’s a mediocre hitter, and becomes the 5th OF.

    Or if we need 5 OF, does Revere make the team over Morales if we don’t get Morneau?

    Or do we want an extra pitcher, and take both Baker and Slowey? Could they switch between rounds, even without an injury, if one is overused in the first round?

  5. Some good questions, Brian, but I can answer the last one. Teams can make changes for each round of the playoffs and World Series. The 25 they activate for the ALDS can be changed for the ALCS, etc. You can also replace anyone who gets hurt with someone else… but has to be the same type of player (pitcher for pitcher, position player for position player, etc.)