Minnesota Twins Should Have Been There

As I sit here watching the Detroit Tigers and St. Louis Cardinals open the 2006 World Series, I cannot help but think what might have been for the Twins. Nobody will remember that the Twins won the AL Central Division again this year. Well, they did not so much win it at the end, so much as the Tigers lost it in extra innings on the last game of the season. This may have been a crucial difference. Instead of travelling to New York and attempting to exercise the demons that have bedevilled them in the post season against the Yankees, the Twins as division winners hosted the A’s.

I had a sense of foreboding when they sat Johan Santana on what would have been his final start of the season so he could start game 1 of the division series. What would happen if they lost that game, I wondered? They did and then of course went on to lose the next two and they were done. The amazing winning streaks and Division win for naught before anyone could even catch their breath.

Why? The answer is best understood against the backdrop of how it was they won 96 games and the division after starting the season 12 under and being 10 and more games back of the Tigers late in the season.

Game after game from June on, the twins won because offensively, they took pitches, wore down the opposing starter and made good on their chances by being aggressive on the bases, getting men on base and getting clutch hits. Ozzie Guillen gave them a name, which could prove to be short-lived; the pirrhanas. It helped that they had Santana and Liriano pitching brilliantly. Radke also came back strong in the second half after a weak start. Add to that a solid defense and you have the ingredients for a lot of wins.

So what do they do in game 1 of the division series? First, they started Phil Nevin instead of Jason Tyner in the 8 spot. What? A former Cub who really did not have any hand in getting them the Division. Who strikes out a lot. Nevin is not a pirrhana, he is a pariah. For some reason, all the Twins hitters came out swinging against Zito in Game 1. Bartlett, who is one of the Pirrhanas, was swinging at first pitches and making outs early in the count. So too Punto. Tyner wasnt in the game. The only one who played true to Pirrhana form was Castillo.

The predictable result? Zito goes 8 innings on 92 pitches. At one point in the 4th inning he had pitched fewer than 10 pitches per inning. To make matters worse, he threw only 50% strikes, so the Twins had on completely the wrong strategy. The Twins lose 3-2 in Game 1. They lost because they changed their style of play from the Pirrhana style to one that did not fit the team. They played like the Cubs, not the Twins.

After that it was basically all over. They tried to change their style back midway through Game 2, but by then it was too late. Ultimately this was Gardenhires error. I see he just got a 2 year extension. That is fitting. He is a great manager. I just wonder whether he was possessed by some Demon right before the series, because he did not manage it the way he managed what was an excellent season.

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