9.11.2004

Contender Analysis: The Twins

DISCLAIMER: I am, and always have been a Twins fan. Since every sportswriter or commentator has biases I see no conflict of interest in profiling the Twins.

Rotation:

The most important factor in determining playoff success (aside from just being red hot) is starting pitching. The Twins have an excellent one two punch with Brad Radke and Johan Santana. I have already read from the gospel of Johan Santana pretty throughly. Johan started twice last year againist the Yankees with one excellent start, and one bad one. This is a different Santana now, having gained complete control over his stellar changeup and he hasn't given up more than three earned runs since June 3rd (only allowing 3 ER once in that stretch). Radke has also improved over last year, currently tied for the MLB lead in quality starts (3 ER or less) with 22. Brad usually takes it up a step in the post season; last year he had a 2.84 ERA in the Yankees series, and a 1.96 ERA in the 2002 playoffs. Brad is a gamer.

The problems are with the Twins 3-5 starters. They're not paticuarly good. Terry Mullholland (4-8, 5.06 ERA) has pitched very well at times, but not well enough to obscure his age(41). Carlos Silva (10-8, 4.56 ERA) is my pick for the number three starter. GM Terry Ryan and manager Ron Gardenhire have wisely decided to use a three man rotation in the first round. Silva has pitched badly againist the Yankees (12.60 ERA) but very well againist Boston (2.84 ERA) and effectively againist Oakland (3.86 ERA). However, Silva is in his first year as a starting pitcher and sometimes has trouble pitching deep into ballgames. Even with these difficulties, is the bullpen stays true to form the Twins should be alright with a 5-6 inning effort. Unfortunately, the likes of Carlos Silva scares no one, which leaves the spot for the number three starter up in the air.

Kyle Lohse is working his hardest to make sure that the Twins leave him out of any possible playoff rotation. With an ERA of 5.56, his inability to get hitters out with either bases empty (.322 opponent BA) or with men on (.297 opponent BA) and his utter lack of control, Lohse is increasingly looking like he will not be pitching in any kind of meaningful postseason situation.

The Twins starters should hold up over a five game series. However, in a seven game series they would have to rely on the strength of their bullpen in order to win.

Relief:

The Twins pen is their greatest strength. They have picked up the starters, bolstering team ERA to lead the AL. The most impressive dimension of the Twins pen is the depth of talent available. The Twins have five pitchers (Rincon, Balfour, Crain, Romero and Nathan) out of relief who are trustworthy in high pressure situations. Joe Nathan has made an unexpectedly smooth transition into the closer role, becoming almost unhittable at times. With 39 saves and a K/9 of 10.97 Joe has become one of the elite closers in the AL. Setting Nathan up are four hard throwing relievers in Juan Rincon, Grant Balfour, Jesse Crain and JC Romero. Juan Rincon has been one of the primary arms coming out of the pen, and his pitched very well this year with a 2.86 ERA. JC Romero has not given up a run since June 1st and is 4-0 with a 0.00 ERA over 34 and 2/3 innings since then. That's a club record for consecutive scoreless innings. Grant Balfour has been another solid power arm out of the pen, with a 3.56 ERA (with a 2.63 ERA after the break in 13.2 innings). Balfour was injured recently but shoud be healthy in time for the ALDS. Jeese Crain has only been up for a month, with only 16 innings on the season. Gardenhire is crazy about Crain, who will likely see playing time in the postseason.

The pen also includes Joe Roa and Aaron Fultz. Roa has been adaquate; Fultz has been sent down to AAA and only recenly recalled. These two do not perform well under pressure.

Lineup:

This is the area of greatest concern. The Twins' offense has not kept up with other contenders this season. The Twins rank 10th in AL in RBI's and runs scored, in team BA (.263) and eleventh in OBP.

The Twins have made several roster shuffles in an attempt to remedy their hitting woes. The most effective was giving Justin Morneau everyday starts at first. Since Morneau took hold at first base (July 31), the Twins have improved to 8th in the AL in RBI. The return of Shannon Stewart as a true leadoff hitter has also helped, but still does not address other problems, such as the power deficiency. The Twins, as a team, are slugging .428. This doesn't look too bad against an opponents SLG of .405, but the Yankees, Boston and even the light-hitting A's (compared to the Sox and Yanks) are slugging at much higher percentages. The Twins are still, despite the addition of Morneau and return of Stewart, a subpar offensive team and the worst offense of any contender in the AL, and really of any division winner. They must pitch well in order to survive. The Twins also lack a veteran presence on the bench, which could hurt them as they progress into the playoffs.

Prediction:

In order for the Twins to win in the postseason they have to pitch well. The Twins will need clutch hitting to make up for a lack of consistent power. The other big question is if Silva/Mullholland can pitch well enough to give the Twins a shot in a later rounds. The Twins are as likely as anyone to advance past the ALDS, but a seven game series would prove a considerable challenge.

1 comment :

Anonymous said...

732.


nice writing johnny, really interesting, seriously u know what you're taking about. find a girl that likes baseball.

go sioux.