Wednesday, August 25, 2010

No Place Like Home

With the Twins nursing a 3.5 game lead in the AL Central and with the White Sox looking ahead at a more imposing final stretch (10 of Chicago's 37 remaining games come against the Yankees and Red Sox), some Twins fans are cautiously beginning to shift their attention toward potential postseason match-ups.

It's a question that has been posed to me often: Who would you rather face in the first round of the playoffs, the Yankees or Rays? Since those two teams have pulled away in the AL East and there's very little chance that the wild card will be coming from any other division, it's almost inevitable that the Twins would face one of those two clubs in the first round should they secure a postseason berth.

Determining which team the Twins would face is simple. If they maintain their slim lead over the Rangers in the win/loss column, the Twins would face whichever team finishes second in the East and enters the postseason as wild card. If the Twins finish with a worse record than the Rangers but still edge the White Sox and win the AL Central, they'd face the AL East champs in the Division Series.

Determining which team the Twins would want to face is a little more complicated.

Most fans would opt for a match-up against the Rays without a second thought. The Twins have played Tampa Bay very competitively this year, both at home and on the road, and let's face it: the Rays just don't have that same intimidating aura surrounding them as the Yankees. Given the Twins' hideous track record against New York over the past decade, it's almost impossible to believe there's not some sort of mental block at work.

But it's no coincidence that the Rays are tied with the Yankees atop baseball's best division; they are a really good team that would pose several match-up problems for the Twins. For one thing, the Rays possess an outstanding rotation led by an ace southpaw who wreaks havoc on left-handed hitters. They also lead the league in stolen bases, which could make them a nightmare for a Twins team whose likely Game One starter is abysmal at controlling the running game.

All things being even, yeah, I'd probably rather see the Twins face the Rays than the Yankees in the first round. New York's powerful lineup and the prospect of trying to win a game in Yankee Stadium are daunting enough. But all things are not even. Because, while both the Yankees and Rays are near-locks to make the playoffs, it's completely unclear at this point which team will do so as division champ and which will do so as the wild card. That's an important distinction, because the latter will have to go on the road for the first two games of the ALDS.

If they finish the year with a better record than the AL West champs, the Twins will hold home field advantage in the first round of the playoffs. Without question, that's more important than which team they match up against. Despite switching ballparks, the Twins have been as reliant as ever on their home field advantage this season, posting a tremendous 40-22 record at Target Field as opposed to a pedestrian 32-32 mark on the road. Throughout the history of the franchise, the Twins have traditionally leaned on winning in their home park to advance through the postseason, and while they no longer play in the quirky Metrodome, they would hold a distinct October advantage over opposing clubs (especially a warm weather/dome team like Texas/Tampa Bay) who aren't accustomed to the chilly outdoor conditions that the Twins will be able to acclimate to in September.

I learned first-hand last year in Game 163 how a team can feed off the emotions of a packed house in a pivotal ballgame. Target Field in September won't be the deafening, raucuous spectacle that the Metrodome was, but opposing teams will be none too comfortable trying to compete in that small space packed to the brim with, for my money, the best fans in baseball.

Of course, gaining that home field edge is completely dependent on the Twins finishing with a better record than the Rangers. So as long as the White Sox don't make a September surge, it could turn out that these last two games in Texas, along with the three-game set between the Twins and Rangers next weekend in Minnesota, may prove to be the most important ones on the remaining schedule.

Whether it's against the Yankees or Rays, the Twins will be in much better position in the playoffs if they force their opponent to beat them in Target Field.


Ed Bast said...

Both TB and NYY are very good teams with stellar pitching. Getting them at home might be our only chance to win. Bottom line, the Twins need to keep winning, even if the Sox keep tumbling.

Which is why batting Matt Tolbert with 2 outs in the bottom of the 9th against the team you're chasing is just wholly, completely, totally, perfectly idiotic - no, it's embarrassing. We're supposed to be a contender, and that's who we're going to send up in a crucial situation? Shocker: the kid lets the game end with his bat on his shoulder.

Just when Gardy's in-game management deficiencies start to fade into the background, he drops his latest turd. Dumb, dumb, dumb.

If I'm the Yanks or Rays, I'm praying to see the Twins in Round 1. Poor defense, unsound fundamentals, shaky starting pitching, inept in-game management, Matt Tolbert with the game on the line. What's not to love?

rghrbek said...


I tend to agree with you. Seth Stohs points out that the twins really had 4 options.

I think the best option would've been to let Casilla bat and then pinch hit Thome. any other option means they don't give Jimbo anything to hit.

I think the real elephants in the room for this team, that the media is just starting to talk about, is the terrible outfield play, and terrible base running.

Young is much maligned, but we all new this out there. He should be in right field, end of story (but we have no CF and can't play repko everyday). But Span's inability to take charge and be that "guy" in center field has really hurt this team. He doesn't have to be Torii or Kirby, or heck even GoGo out there. Just make all the easy to good plays. If you miss an all out spectacular play, big deal. What we have seen is him not making good catches and he flat out looks bad out there.

Between Span, Punto and Cuddy, there have been tons of baserunning blunders, but the Twins insistence on the contact play with the infield playing in, well, unless that ball is going up the middle, they might want to rethink that. They have been burned lots this year on that. Sending Thome? Really? Yes, last night was a great throw by their 1st baseman, and Danny was probably safe, but still, hit right at the corner and you go? That's an out almost all the time.

This team, unless at home, will not win a series...if it makes the playoffs.

Ed Bast said...

To me the best option is JJ Hardy. If the guy's too hurt to make one at bat, what the hell is he doing on the bench? Is he going to be miraculously recovered by tonight? Would that one at-bat have shattered his wrist? I can understand the occasional day off (which is more like every other day for him), but if you can't muster the strength to take a couple swings late in the game, you're dead weight on that bench. Put him on the DL and put a useful body on the bench just in case, I don't know, you need a competent major league hitter to help you win a ball game.

Plan B = Repko.

I don't like letting Casilla hit because you can't risk ending the game with Thome on the bench.

Under no circumstances do Butera or F-ing Tolbert come up to the plate. It's just inexcusable.

Anonymous said...

not that i think butera is a good option even a decent option at the plate he did have the pinch hit home run against the phillies

Nick N. said...

I think you guys are wasting your breath complaining about who pinch hit for the No. 9 hitter with two outs in the ninth. The Twins had lost the game well before that.

To me, the goat from last night's game is Denard Span for failing to get the go-ahead run in from third with one out in seventh. Another in a long line of instances in which the Twins' center fielder has come up short this season.

Ed Bast said...


I was mercifully spared all of that game except for the top of the 9th. Caught it on the radio with 2 buddies on the way back from a rousing softball game. The 3 of us started yelling at the radio when we heard Tolbert was coming to the plate. Our respective predictions: strikeout, strikeout, strikeout.

Our chances weren't great, sure, but I've thought it over and over and I cannot figure out why Gardy sent him up there. It makes absolutely zero sense.

Something's up with Span, though. He's been sleepwalking through the entire season.

Ryan said...


How can you blame Denard Span for not getting a run in with 1 out and runners on 2nd or 3rd, but not blame Drew Butera? Butera batted right before Span with no one out.

Nick N. said...

Because Butera is a terrible hitter with minimal offensive expectations. Span is a regular player and leadoff man who's already having a very disappointing year -- last night's game represents another blip.

Anonymous said...


I am in total agreement with you on Span. The Twins seem very enamored with him in spite of little or no power, waning defensive skills and low OBP (certainly, for a lead-off guy).

It's like they are prepared to pencil him in for the next decade because they foolishly rewarded him monetarily too early in his career and needlessly, I might add.

You look at Span's face of bewilderment and wonder where he lands on an IQ exam.

Anonymous said...

don't forget kubel, he has made a ton of baserunning mistakes this year.

Anonymous said...

they may have lost the game earlier, but there is no reason to wave the white flag with 1 out left and the go-ahead run at the plate.

Dan Gausman said...

IF the Twins HAVE home field in the ALDS, it's a toss up between wanting to face Tampa or New York. However, New York in their first three game series at Target Field did win the first two games. In the playoff it's a near fact that being down 0-2 is death (especially if games 3 and 4 are scheduled in the Bronx). When Tampa visited we split the first two, and it seems entirely more probable the Twins could pick up a "W" at Tropicana, with the catwalk or without. So the slight advantage goes to Tampa here.

IF the Twins DON'T HAVE home field, Tropicana, please! Last year when I went to Game 1 of the ALDS at Yankee Stadium I encountered 1 fellow Twins Fan, 1. That place is brutal. No thanks.

Now, what do I WANT to see? Yankees at Twins. Game 1-- Pavano throwing out that first postseason pitch at Target Field against #2 Derek Jeter... pure awesomeness... but for now let's just win the central.