Koskie to Rivas to Mientkiewicz
Ahhh, good to be back from my summer vacation from simpleprop. I spent the last two months in the Caymans, recharging my creative side while sipping mixed rum drinks on a sun-soaked beach. That's the life I can afford as being one of three highly-paid creators of one of the most popular websites online, simpleprop.com!!!!!
I jest. I suspended writing due to a) laziness and b) looking for a new job. I've now accepted said new job and am a short-timer for the next three weeks... leaving me with nothing but ample time to make up for the last couple of months. What better way to start than talking about America's Team, your MINNESOTA TWINS!!!
The Twins begin their first American League Championship Series since 1991 tonight. I'm lucky enough to be going, although it's doubtful I'll be able to discern much of what's going on from the nosebleed seat that I'll be in. That's okay, though-- I wanted to "be there" for at least part of the Twins' 2002 postseason run. I was too young to go to any of the previous playoff games, and who knows if / when this might happen again.
Sooo.... I now present you with the top five reasons on why the Twins will beat the Angels and advance to the 2002 World Series.
1. Home Field Advantage
This has the potential to be one of the most important factors in the series. Anyone who saw Mark Ellis and Scott Hatteberg botch an easy popup during Game 3 of the ALDS is now aware of how the noise of the Dome can affect plays in the field. The springy turf (fuzzy cement, a la Hank Stram) also favors the Twins. Quick-scooting infield hits are what Corey Koskie, Christian Guzman, Luis Rivas and Doug Mientkiewicz thrive on. Anaheim's middle infielders (Adam Kennedy and David Eckstein) play decent glove, but cornermen Scott Spezio and Troy Glaus are in mostly for their offense. Although the Twins can no longer be thought of as invincible on their home field, 55,000 screaming fans definitely tips the scales in their direction.
And-- do we really want an outdoor stadium when it's 40 degrees out? Just thought I'd ask.
2. Strength vs. Righties
The Twins are blessed with five left-handed hitters in their starting lineup, six when Guzman switches to that side. I'm surprised that this fact is rarely mentioned when experts discuss the success the Twins have had this year. While Anaheim has one of the best lefties in the American League this year in Jarrod Washburn, the Twins will have to face him twice (at most.) The rest of their rotation is comprised of right-handers Kevin Appier, Ramon Ortiz, and John Lackey. Ortiz had a good year, Appier used to beat up the Twins pretty badly... but there's nothing there that makes my heart skip a beat, like it did with Zito and Mulder. Lackey and Joe Mays cancel themselves out as guys who really shouldn't be starting an ALCS game. Oh, and many thanks to Mike Scoscia for not starting Twins-killer Aaron Sele.
Somewhat related to the Dome-field advantage. The Twins have a strong defense to begin with, featuring '01 Golden Glovers Mientkiewicz, Guzman, and Torii Hunter. No one in the field is really a slouch, although baserunners seemed to have not many problems stealing on A.J. Pierzynski. Nonetheless, the Twins are clearly superior to Anaheim in defensive categories. The Angels do have some scrappy infielders who make the plays that should be made-- but the Twins have an uncanny knack to make the ones that seem improbable. Web gem, anyone?
4. Middle Relief
I must say that Troy Percival makes me more nervous than Eddie Guardado makes Angels fans nervous. Eddie led the A.L. in saves this year, but he rarely looked dominant. And Eddie's two save opportunities in the ALDS did little in the way of calming my fears. There are theories on this (nerves, especially since he's from the Oakland area)-- but I still believe Percival is the better closer. However, the Twins' middle relief staff was phenomenal this year. J.C. Romero became a flamethrower out of the bullpen, becoming Eddie's regular setup man. LaTroy Hawkins removed the goat head from around his neck by bouncing back from an awful '01 to being the dominant right-hander out of the pen this year. Johan Santana both started and relieved, and averaged over a strikeout an inning in the process. Even Tony Fiore (wasn't he the neighbor in Who's The Boss?) threw his 86 m.p.h. palmball by enough hitters to garner a 3.16 ERA. The Angels do have Ben Weber and rookie sensation Francisco Rodriguez (who, oh by the way, is averaging 2+ strikeouts per inning) who will keep tabs on batters, but the rest of their pen is filled with former starters who didn't stick (Scott Schoeneweis) and players who just aren't so good (Scott Shields.)
Let's face it-- it would have been very easy for the Twins to mail it in this season. The owner offered to sacrifice the team for cash. The commissioner happily complied, and no it had nothing to do with that "loan" that Uncle Carl gave Selig a few years back. The Twins players (and fans) were basically told that they were no longer needed by Major League Baseball, thank you very much. Thankfully, contraction was put off by a Hennepin County judge (if there were to be a new stadium, I vote for it being named Judge Harry Crump Park-- the man who truly may have saved baseball for the state.) However, the message was delivered. And the team could have stopped trying, or it could have gone out to prove that contraction was a mistake. They've done the latter, and then some. Sports columnists around the country have adopted the Twins as the team they want to win. The club is regularly referred to as "America's Team." Heck, there was an article on CNN/SI yesterday that compared the Twins to a soft, cuddly teddy bear. While this may be going a bit far, the team has to know that people are pulling for them, and the Twins can hopefully channel this into another series win.