Twins

Minnesota Twins starting pitcher Randy Dobnak (68) hands the ball to manager Rocco Baldelli as he leaves the game during the third inning of Game 2 of an American League Division Series baseball game against the New York Yankees, Saturday, Oct. 5, in New York. The Twins now head home to face the Yankees in Game 3 on Monday, Oct. 7. Frank Franklin II / AP photo

Baseball is entertainment.

I get that, and I can't deny that for six months, the Minnesota Twins entertained me.

I watched a lot of games this year, and I saw a lot of home runs. I watched with great interest on the last day of the regular season as the Twins lost a meaningless game in Kansas City but topped the Yankees for the single-season home run record. They're going to fix the baseball before next season, so I'm optimistic that this is one record that will never be broken. 

But I digress. 

Now that the Twins have been summarily dismissed by the Yankees yet again, we're supposed to cling to the positives. Minnesota won 101 games, falling one short of the team record. Rocco Baldelli had a wonderful first year as a big-league manager. Luis Arraez looks like a future perennial all-star. Jorge Polanco has established himself as a top-five shortstop. Max Kepler, when healthy, is among the more dangerous left-handed hitters in the American League.

In other words, the Twins appear to have a strong core of young talent that should keep them in contention for division titles for at least the next two or three years.  And, as we are told every season, "Get to the playoffs and anything can happen."

If only that were true.

Back in '87 and '91, it was true. Teams didn't have one-tenth of the "opposition research" that they do now, and upsets happened. The Twins won two World Series championships using guts, guile and a collection of "What, me worry?" characters like Kirby Puckett, Kent Hrbek, Frank Viola, Dan Gladden, Jack Morris and Randy Bush.

Was this the most talented team in baseball at that time? Probably not. But they were fearless, and that was enough. 

Today's game is different. With mountains of film and data available regarding every player's strengths, weaknesses and tendencies, I'd argue that the cream has never been more likely to rise to the top. 

A championship contender needs hitters who can succeed against the game's best pitchers, even though those pitchers have total knowledge of which pitch will get them out and are backed by fielders who've been positioned by computers. Likewise, a contender needs pitchers who can succeed despite a minuscule strike zone, a ball that flies like a Titleist and opposing coaches who spend hours dissecting every twitch in their delivery.

Simply put, to win championships in the age of analytics, you need a solid handful of the best players money can buy. 

The Minnesota Twins don't have enough of those guys on their roster, and they won't until their ownership group and management team decide to go all-in on top-tier starting pitchers.

Unfortunately, there's no guarantee that will happen anytime soon, in part because Twins fans have been trained to enjoy the mere appearance of excellence. 

Divisional championships are relatively easy to get in the American League Central. This year the White Sox, Royals and Tigers combined for 306 losses, and the Twins played 57 games against those teams. Yes, the Yankees played 19 games against the wretched Orioles, but no playoff team played a schedule as soft as the Twins did this year. 

So Twins fans got to celebrate the fact that our club was better than four other teams, three of which were awful. Local stores are well-stocked with T-shirts commemorating the 2019 AL Central Divisional Championship. I've been to New York eight times, and I've never seen such a shirt in a store or on a fan, because New Yorkers demand the ultimate prize.  

Champions don't set their sights on divisional titles and then hope for the best. Champions build and plan for the postseason, and hope is not a plan.

When you have a "bullpen game" in the second game of a playoff series, you're crossing your fingers. When a rookie with a sprained ankle is your most reliable postseason hitter, you're leaning on luck. When you start the playoffs with a  first baseman who has an injured thumb and can't swing without pain, you're grasping at straws. And when your postseason roster includes a pitcher who has a chronic stomach condition and hasn't pitched well in months, you're putting loyalty ahead of reality. 

The Yankees swept the Twins not because of a curse or because the Twins were afraid of them. The Yankees won because they have better pitchers, hitters and fielders. The only way Minnesota could have won was for New York to make mistakes and play down to the Twins' level. 

Instead, it was the Twins who fell apart on the mound, in the field and especially at the plate. When Twins hitters got hanging sliders with the bases loaded, they missed them. The Yankees didn't. End of story. 

I'd like to believe that next year's story will have a different ending, but the past two decades haven't given me much reason to hope.

Eric Atherton is a Post Bulletin sports reporter and a lifelong Twins fan. Contact him at eatherton@postbulletin.com

What's your reaction?

0
0
0
0
0