Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Missing Lee

Cliff Lee shut down the Rays twice in the ALDS, including Monday night's series-clinching Game 5 victory. Since the Twins were reportedly one team that was outbid by the Rangers for Lee's services at the trade deadline, his dominant postseason performances have prompted some local fans to complain about the team's lack of willingness to put the chips on the table and do what it takes to succeed in October.

I know people are frustrated with another three-and-out in the postseason, but let's employ some common sense here.

For one thing, there's no saying the Twins had any shot at acquiring Lee regardless of what they were willing to offer. It seems evident that Bill Smith at least made an effort to bring in Seattle's ace, but the Mariners clearly desired a premium, major-league ready power-hitting prospect and the Twins had none to speak of. Even if they'd been willing to part with top prospect Aaron Hicks, there's plenty of room to question whether the M's would be interested in giving up their best trade chip for a kid with no track record who's still three or four years away from the big leagues.

Even if the Twins could have acquired Lee by bundling up all of their top prospects, I'm absolutely flabbergasted by the notion that his presence would have somehow guaranteed advancement in the postseason.

The Twins were swept out of the playoffs in three games by the Yankees, and in those three games they averaged barely over two runs. If they had Lee, sure, there's a much better chance they win Game 1. A lot of people have asserted that if the Twins win Game 1, the series proceeds much differently.

But since when are the Yankees a team that gets down on themselves and unravels after losing a playoff game? The Twins took Game 1 of the ALDS in both 2003 and 2004 with Johan Santana toeing the rubber, and in both instances New York took the next three games to end the series.

As much as we want to talk about how adding Lee or Roy Oswalt (or getting back Justin Morneau) might have made the difference in this series, those theories don't really hold water. It takes a full team effort to succeed against baseball's best clubs in the playoffs, and the Twins didn't get much production from anyone in this series.

Lee just wasn't going to make the difference. Much time will be spent talking about what kind of changes the Twins need to make this offseason to beat the Yankees. The fact is that none of those changes will matter unless the guys already on the roster step up and play better when push comes to shove.


Anonymous said...

I could not disagree more, that Lee would not have made much of a difference.

Most teams that win world series have a true ace; we did in '87 and '91. In fact, other than the
'02 Angels, I cannot think of a single world champion that did not have a bona fide ace.

Having an ace certainly does not guarantee post-season success. The Braves had three of them for more than a decade, and only truly succeeded once ('95).

It may well be that we just did not have the package Seattle was looking for. Even though the Twins front-office is notoriously tight lipped, it never seemed like we were were close, or that we held back and said "Revere or Hicks are off-limits." So much of this conversation is largely academic.

But Twins fans have every right, and a legitimate gripe, to say, as they see Lee pitch October gem after gem after gem, that "we could sure use a horse like that."

One thing is indisputable: Lee is not intimidated by the Yankees. The same cannot be said for our players, or manager.

Anonymous said...

After last night's game, Lee said, "I cannot wait to play the Yankees."

I have never heard a Twin say that.

Nick N. said...

Would Lee have made a difference? Yes. I conceded he very well might have pushed them to a victory in Game 1.

Would he have made up for the lack of good pitching performances from any other starter and the complete lack of offense team-wide? No.

Anonymous said...

Pitching wasn't the problem in the playoffs, dead bats were a problem and some kind of weird quitter's mentality was at play. Cliff Lee would not have solved any of that. I heard that Wilson Ramos was the main trade bait and he ended up not being worth as much as the Twins hoped. Clearly not enough to get Cliff Lee. All the best to the Rangers, hope they stick it to the Yankees.

Anonymous said...

yes we didn't hit for shit in the last game. Where Hughes threw the ball right down the middle of the plate to every player. It was a pathetic show by the Twins.

Ben said...

When you can have an ace pitcher who can absolutely dominate in October, it would definitely make a difference. He could have helped propel the Twins to a Game 1victory which would have helped the entire teams confidence. That also would have allowed the Twins to push every other starter back a game and change the pitching matchups in the series. Then you would have had Lee to dominate again in a possible Game 5. If Cliff Lee is not a difference maker in the postseason as a pitcher, then you would have to argue that no starting pitcher is a difference maker and that argument does not hold any water. Your offense does not have to do very much when the starting pitcher holds the opposing team to one run.

Nick N. said...

People: I didn't say Lee was not a difference-maker. I said he would not have been THE difference between going to the World Series and getting swept in the first round.

Ed Bast said...

The notion that Lee wouldn't have made a difference is absolutely laughable. A game 1 win gets the proverbial monkey off the Twins' back, they don't have to listen to all the "here we go again" BS, maybe the hitters loosen up, Frankie has more margin for error, Duensing doesn't have to pitch at all.

You can't simply project the Twins' performance as it was onto some hypothetical series with Cliff Lee. It was be totally naive to think that the series would play the exact same way after a Game 1 win (and sandwiching a potential Game 4 start for Lee in there as well). The Twins played the entire series like they knew they couldn't beat the Yankees. A Game 1 win would have proved otherwise.

Cliff Lee beat the Yankees twice last postseason. The Twins have beaten the Yankees twice in the last 50 years in the postseason.

I can't even believe this is up for debate.

Laches said...

Well of course you can't guarantee the Twins would have advanced with Lee and/or Oswalt and/or Morneau on the playoff roster. But they certainly would have improved the Twins chances dramatically. You can tell that the Yankees are in their heads. One big hit or one shutdown pitching performance may be all that's needed to turn the tide. The Twins are not as good as the Yankees, but clearly they are better than they've played the last 2 postseasons.

Beau said...

If you can't project the Twins performance like Nick did, how you can project Cliff Lee making a difference? Maybe he comes to Minnesota, hates the town, dislikes Rick Anderson, goes into a funk, and the Yankees bomb him in game 1.

We can speculate that one player may help a team. C.C. Sabathia surely didn't bring a World Series to Milwaukee. Lee may have helped; he may not have. All we can do is evaluate facts and try not to talk with hyperbole all the time.

Nick N. said...

Great comment, Beau.

me said...

i still don't understand why we didn't try to get lee before the season started from the phillies.

Anonymous said...

Speculating that an ace pitcher with a 6-0 October record would have helped is hardly hyperbole.

Postulating that a 1-0 series lead (with Lee), coupled with the prospect of Lee pitching one more time, would have helped, is hardly the domain of the subjective, emotional, irrational.

Guessing that Liriano would fare better without the burden of being THE GUY (which he has never been; during his breakout year he was shielded by Santana, who won the Cy Young) is far from a fool's bet.

Remarking that with Lee, Duensing would not have to pitch is not irresponsible. It is fact.

And so surmising that Cliff Lee just MAY have helped us beat the Yankees, 3 games to 2, is precisely what I, and thousands of Twins fan, will continue to do.

jack torse said...

You have "aces" and you have "playoff aces" and Lee is both of these. He's been brilliant these playoffs beating the Rays twice on the road. Oh yeah, he's a Yankee killer too. Not to mention twice in last year's world series. A true playoff ace, which Lee is, takes a lot of pressure off the hitters. (We sure do hear a lot of snippets about "pressure" from Gardy and the players)

You compare Santana's game 1victories in 02 and 03 as evidence Lee's presence would have little to do with this years a.l.d.s. Surely your not comparing this year's squad to the 02 and 03 squad? So that argument is preposterous on its face and your dismissal of Lee and his potential effects for the Twins in the playoffs is simply naive.

USAFChief said...

"I said he would not have been THE difference between going to the World Series and getting swept in the first round."

If one can't know he would have been THE difference in getting to the WS, then one can't know he WOULDN'T be the difference either.

Seems you're taking others to task for doing the exact same thing you're doing.

Nobody knows how much difference Cliff Lee would have made.

BTW, take it for what it's worth, but in today's PP Shooter posits that Hicks was the sticking point with the Mariners.

Anonymous said...

People who distinguish between "true aces" and other kinds of aces are stupid. That qualification is sooo stupid.

Its impossible to speculate as to how lee would have impacted the twins. Theres no guarantee he would have won game one because the twins only scored 3 runs. The way the twins played there no chance lee carries them to a series win. Speculating about how the team might have played if they had won is pointless.

To the claim that the 87 and 91 teams had aces, i dont think they did. Lets not confusing pitching well in a post season to actually being one of the most dominate pitchers in the league. Viola and morris certainly didnt blow people away (especially true in morris' case). Those guys were every bit the pitch to contact pitchers the current group of twins are, and morris had bad control on top of that. I think both the 87 and 91 teams are examples of very lucky world champions. The 87 team is a strong contender for worst world champion ever, and if you look at their run differential they were probably the 9th or 10th best team in baseball that year. This current group of twins was undoubtedly more talented than that group, and had better players at every position except 2 maybe 3 places. The 87 team is one of the best examples of how random the playoffs are. No team is one player away, no team can be built to be a guarantee in the playoffs. The 87 team played well in the playoffs, probably played teams that didnt play to their potential, this years team didnt play well and played a team that played very well. Thats it.

Nick N. said...

BTW, take it for what it's worth, but in today's PP Shooter posits that Hicks was the sticking point with the Mariners.

Not worth anything to me. Shooter says a lot of dumb things. There's no way the Mariners valued Hicks over Smoak.

Ed Bast said...

Shooter lost me a few years ago when he "speculated" the Twins might be interested in A-Rod. But I have read some national guys who said the same thing: the M's wanted Hicks and Ramos and the Twins wouldn't budge.

Nick said...

The Twins getting Cliff Lee would have made a tremendous difference. IF you believe some national writers who say the Yankees tanked their last 10 games in order to draw the Twins in the first round and avoid facing Cliff Lee in a best of 5 series. I think that's laughable, but it would have been a whole different ballgame facing the Rays with Cliff Lee.... Although with our hitting performance, I don't think we'd fare any better.

Steve said...

Are you kidding me? Maybe the offense was bad because EVERY time the hitters gave their pitcher a lead, he handed it right back. Liriano was the only one who held a lead for more than an inning. Lee is the guy that knows that 3 runs should win you a playoff game, and he would've done it in Game 1. Pushing Liriano back to Game 2, they had a shot there as well. Pavano in NY would have scared me, but who knows. You bring Lee back on three days' rest for Game 4, and the series is over!

Anonymous said...

Lee gives up 2 ER and the twins lose 4-3 in game 1. Liriano gives up 3 er and the twins lose 4-2 in game 2. Pavano is smoked in game 3. Speculating on how the series goes with cliff lee is dumb. Theres no point. I think if we had lee to cold weather would have tightened his elbow ligaments leading to a blown out elbow. Who knows. But assuming a game 1 victory the way the twins played is a stretch. Speculating that a game 1 win spurs the team to a series victory is baseless.

Nick N. said...

Lee is the guy that knows that 3 runs should win you a playoff game, and he would've done it in Game 1.

Um, maybe in the NL. Between both ALDS series, not one game was won by a team that scored less than five runs.

Ed Bast said...

Weak, Nick. Cliff Lee gave up 1 ER in each of his starts. Pettitte: 2. Hughes: 0. Wilson: 0. Wade Davis: 2. Three runs would have won all but 1 ALDS game with another being tied.

We get that you weren't in favor of the Cliff Lee trade at the time, but you're grasping for straws, dude.

Anonymous said...

Because lee gave up 1 run to the rays doesnt mean hed give up one run to the yankees.

Nick N. said...

We get that you weren't in favor of the Cliff Lee trade at the time, but you're grasping for straws, dude.

That's not an accurate characterization of my position. I was very much in favor of acquiring Lee:

"There comes a time, though, when a team has to put the chips on the table and go for it. This seems like an appropriate time to do so. "

In retrospect, though, I think it's pretty unlikely that Lee would have singlehandedly lifted the Twins past the Yankees considering the roundly underwhelming effort from everyone else on the team, and I'm glad Aaron Hicks is still here.

USAFChief said...

Lee gives up 2 ER and the twins lose 4-3 in game 1

In the ALDS Game 1 that I watched, the Twins scored 4 runs, not three.

And back when I was in school 4>2.

Ed Bast said...

But Nick, you didn't want to offer up Hicks, which is what it would have taken (since confirmed). So you didn't really advocate "going all in", instead you advocated the Twins do what they do every time a big deal comes their way - refuse to go all in.

Anonymous said...

The hypothetical about cliff lee losing game 1 was an example of where maybe the bullpen gave up some runs. The example was not meant to represent anything real, more to illustrate how stupid speculating on the topic was because you can say anything you want would have happened and draw worthless conclusions about lees value from that.

Im glad youve finally come around on deadline deal topic. I think i commented on that post that i wouldnt have givin up much for cliff lee because he didnt improve their chances of winning the world series and as soon as they dont win the world series, a trade involving multiple good prospects become very lopsided. I said the same thing about the capps deal but i hated that deal for a lot more reasons than just this.

The go all in mentality is a bad way to try and win, advocates of this method are either not thinking critically about the odd or are in a fairy world about how good any playoff teams chances of winning are. Say the twins had a 12% chance of winning the WS this year. The best way to win a world series is to consistently make the playoffs. As much as people seem to think you can be built for the playoffs, you cant.

Nick N. said...

But Nick, you didn't want to offer up Hicks, which is what it would have taken (since confirmed)

I said I'd be extremely hesitant to give up Hicks. I stand by that. And what do you mean "since confirmed"? Please direct me to a quote from a member of either organization confirming that the deal would have happened if the Twins had included Hicks.

It seems to me that you like to craft your narrative by selectively believing rumors that support your case.

The hypothetical about cliff lee losing game 1 was an example of where maybe the bullpen gave up some runs.

Well if Lee had pitched Game 1, Jesse Crain would have fed off his awesomeness and thrown better sliders. Also, the offense would have scored 100 runs. Duh.

Ed Bast said...


Provide me an example, any example, of a member of any front office in the history of baseball spilling the beans on trades that didn't happen. I read that from - Verducci or Heyman, I don't recall, and they cited anonymous sources.

Also, it's safe to say Cliff Lee would have gone more than 6 innings, as he has in every postseason start he's ever made. Part of the value of an ace is that you don't have use lesser pitchers in key situations. Again, you're selectively projecting performances and dismissing others to support your case.

Anonymous said...

2011 is the pivotal year. Twins did not really expect to do it all their first year in the new park.
Now we really find out their intentions. They have revenue from sellouts, expectations of better performance, no real ace starter, Joe Mauer as a question mark as a team leader and significant worries that Morneau may never play a full season at the level we expect.
Huge decisions on free agency/arbitration loom.
Will we become the Brewers (who took the head to head from us this year) or a legitimate contender.
Is Target Field just a fun place to hang out or the home of a perpetual contender?
Wish I knew!