Sunday, October 08, 2006

Reviewing the ALDS Debacle

Right now, I think it's pretty clear that Twins fans don't want to think too much more about what just happened. It was awfully hard to sit and watch Brad Radke emotionally torn at the end of his career without a win to show for it. A lot of things went wrong over the course of the series and I'd like to go over those. But first, let's look at what went right:

1) Starting Pitching

There is simply no way you can blame Johan Santana, Boof Bonser, or even Radke for what happened against the A's. In Santana and Bonser's cases, they pitched very well, both only giving up two runs, only to lose to the A's thank to non-existent offensive support. In the case of Radke, he wasn't paricularly great, but his defense gave him no help, he had to watch the Twins fumble away two great scoring chances early in the game. Oh yes, there is another reason: the man had a broken shoulder!

In total, the starting pitchers gave the Twins eighteen innings, giving up eight runs (seven earned), allowing seventeen hits, walking three, and striking out 13 (thanks mostly to Johan). That adds up to a 3.50 ERA, which is not too shabby at all. I realize the Oakland A's offense wasn't good at all during the regular season, but they certainly appeared to have picked that up in the playoffs and you have to give them credit for that.

In general, the staff had a 3.81 ERA for the postseason, but we will get to the bullpen later.

2) Justin Morneau and Rondell White's bats

In fairness, Torii Hunter and Michael Cuddyer did decent, each having a home run and a couple of hits, but the only real offensive production came from Morneau and White. White went 5-for-12, with a home run, two RBI, and a double. He had the Twins only two-out RBI hit in the entire series, with the offense failing the other 18 times.

Morneau didn't have a two-out RBI hit himself, but he hit the ball hard all series, didn't strike out a single time, and hit two home runs. Morneau looked great at the plate, but because of not having runners on the basepaths and the great Oakland defense, he didn't have anymore RBI than his two solo shots.

Of course, both their defensive "contributions" are a little more questionable, but we'll get to that in just a moment.

3) Nick Punto's glove

Nick Punto was absolutely putrid offensively, going 2-for-12 with no walks and numerous frustratingly unproductive at-bats in the series. If anything, he proved why it would be useful to move him to second and replace him at third with a more productive hitter.

However, his defense was spectacular. In fact, he was probably the only Twin who played good defense for the whole series. His Game 1 highlight play was incredible, but he made plays like that all series. Unfortunately, his teammates didn't seem to notice and everyone else had a score of defensive issues. (Ok, to be fair, Luis Castillo and Joe Mauer didn't do anything wrong, but neither was great either.)

And now, what went wrong...

1) The Defense

I just discussed Punto's defense, which was spectacular, and mentioned White and Morneau's lack of it in passing. So, let's get to the core of the Twins playoff failure. Jason Bartlett, Morneau, White, Hunter and Cuddyer all made huge mistakes in the field.

To be fair to Morneau, he did make a good play early in the series, but his mistake in Game 3 was just as detrimental to any chance of a Twins win as Torii Hunter's misplay in Game 2 was. Both allowed several runs (in Justin's case, four, in Torii's, two) to score that should not have and gave Oakland the cushion they needed to cruise towards victory.

Bartlett was consistently bad over at shortstop, missing numerous plays, muffing a probable double-play in Game 1, and showing none of the great defensive ability he displayed during the regular season. Who knows if this will adversely affect his place in the Twins future, but it certainly hurt the Twins in the Oakland series.

As for the outfield, no one played well. White made a misplay on the Marco Scutaro (by the way, what is a .258 career hitter with no power doing the Twins in the playoffs? Is this the Revenge of the Castro?) double in Game One, helping lead to a key run that would mean a Twins loss. Cuddyer had an error of his own and also showed a lack of range in right field. Hunter, of course, made a costly error in Game 2 and I doubt Twins fans will forget that for a long time. Good thing it wasn't in the World Series, or poor Torii would have Bill Buckner Syndrome for the next 20 or 30 years.

2) The Offense

I already talked about this briefly, but that only scratches the surface of the problem. Amazingly, as a team, the Twins hit better than Oakland did over the series (.257 to .245) but that's nothing new. The Twins hit .287 during the regular season, but that didn't exactly make them a potent offense.

What was the problem? Of course, going 1-for-19 in RBI situations is huge, but that is one of many problems. For one, Jason Tyner should never EVER be a DH in a major league playoff game. Naturally, that isn't Tyner's fault, but a fault of the organization in never finding a decent bat to put in that slot and Phil Nevin never doing anything since he came to the club other than drinking some beer in the postgame celebrations and hitting a home run in a rout of Baltimore.

But a noticable issue was that all the Twins potential rallies started with two-out hits. The Twins had a total of six walks all series, three of them by Luis Castillo, two amazingly by Tyner, and one by Mauer. What that equates to is a .257 average and a very ugly .299 OBP. You can't win games if the only time you get on base is with two-out hits. That puts too much pressure on what is largely a young ballclub.

Also, the piranhas did nothing all series. Castillo did have those walks and a couple hits, but he didn't do the "little things" and was caught stealing in his only attempt. But he was the best of the piranha boys. Collectively, between Castillo, Bartlett, Punto, and Tyner, they went 8-for-40 (.200) and stole only one base. They also scored exactly zero runs.

If four of the hitters in your lineup are that unproductive, there is a clear reason why the Twins managed to score just seven runs all series. It wasn't so much that the Oakland starters were good (they were all decent, all showing some nerves and lack of control but great stuff at times) but that the Twins offense ended up being based solely on five solo home runs, an RBI groundout, and one RBI hit. There couldn't be a better recipe for failure.

3) The Bullpen

This is a subject I don't want to harp on as much as the others. This unit was not terrible, as its clear that the defense did them no favors as half the eight runs they gave up in eight innings were unearned.

Part of it was management. The Twins best reliever, Joe Nathan, threw only 2/3 of an inning, and that's pretty unacceptable. I'ts true that the Twins never had a lead all series, but it's the playoffs and that means changing strategies. If it's clear that your team has issues getting a lead, you need to try to preserve the score the best you can, especially when your starters leave with close scores (2-1 in Game 1, 2-2 in Game 2).

Jesse Crain should have never came into Game 1. It wasn't a bad pitch he threw that Frank Thomas took out, but that is a situation that calls for Nathan. Nathan should have pitched at least an inning, if not more, in both the first and second games. Game 3 got away from the Twins in a hurry and there was no reason for it, but Nathan's presence might have given the Twins at chance in Game 1 or 2.

4) The Oakland A's

Last and not least, the competition was good. The A's weren't given a chance by the national media or many people. I think here and on many blog sites, at least, it seemed that the A's should give the Twins a competitive series, but the Twins would win out because, after all, they had Santana and Nathan (clearly, that didn't matter, since Santana pitched well and loss and Nathan was hardly used).

In all of this we shouldn't overlook the fact that Oakland played well. All the things the Twins did poorly, the A's did well. They played incredible defense, especially in the outfield, taking numerous line drives that should have been hits away from Twins hitters. Their bullpen was fantastic, with Huston Street having no problems closing the door on the Twins.

Their hitters weren't great overall, but Thomas hit two huge home runs, they got situational hitting when they needed to, and they played with a swagger that didn't exist in the Twins' play.
Overall, there were many reasons for the Twins demise in the playoffs, but its our jobs as Twins fans not to forget the wonderful regular season. There were many great stories and numerous reasons to feel great about what happened.

Coming up next on this site, we'll review the regular season, give out the big rewards, look to the offseason and possible moves, and of course, keep updates coming on the playoffs as they move on. Tigers vs. A's, who ya got?