PB View: The Twins don’t stack up badly, except...
As you’ve been watching the Major League Baseball playoffs and World Series, maybe like me you’ve been using the teams and their level of play as a yardstick by which to measure the Twins.
To me, it looks like the Twins have hitting that belongs with the likes of the teams that got beyond the wild-card round in which Minnesota was eliminated.
And in the field, they rank very favorably in comparison. The Twins have two Gold Glove finalists (Byron Buxton and Brian Dozier) and another who should have been (Joe Mauer). We saw some Little League stuff in the field in the deeper rounds of the playoffs by some teams.
But pitching is where the Twins don’t stack up so well. OK, I didn’t really need to watch eight other teams in the three rounds of post-wild-card playoffs to know that. But doing so underscores the point.
The Twins don’t have an ace anything close to Clayton Kershaw, or Justin Verlander. Or a No. 2 starter like Dallas Keuchel or Rich Hill. Or a dominating closer like Aroldis Chapman or Kenley Jansen. Or setup guys like Brandon Morrow or Andrew Miller.
The task of general manager Thad Levine and president of baseball operations Derek Falvey is clear: Beef up the pitching in all areas.
SPEAKING OF PITCHING
Why did so many teams in this year’s playoffs use the desperate move of inserting a starting pitcher into a middle- or late-inning relief situation?
I’m not talking about using your No. 5 starter (who isn’t going to get a playoff start) as a long reliever, or even later in the game.
We saw aces like Chris Sale and Justin Verlander used in relief roles. And the Cubs had John Lackey, their No. 5 starter, in a crucial ninth-inning situation instead of one of their usual late-inning guys.
I’m all for breaking down the rigid rules that have evolved. Like “you can’t bring your closer in in the middle of an inning,” or “don’t ever use a starter as a reliever.”
But to observe those self-imposed rules during the regular season, then switch in those ultra-important playoff games.
Starters have a particular routine on days they pitch. At best, it’s a different process if they are alerted they should be ready to go in as a reliever. If you’re going to ask that of a starter, management should look ahead and give him a couple of whirls at it during the regular season.
At least Sale spent his first two major league seasons (2010 and 2011) strictly as a reliever. Nevertheless in his 4 2/3 inning stretch in Game 4 of the ALDS with Houston, he gave up two runs including a home run by Alex Bregman that put the Astros ahead to stay.
Verlander’s three-inning stint in the fifth through seventh innings of that same Game 4 of the ALDS was the first relief appearance of his 13-year major league career.
He gave up two walks and a homer in 2 2/3 innings, getting the win in a performance that was nothing like his Game 2 ALCS start five days later (13 strikeouts, one walk and five hits in a complete game win over the Yankees).
I can’t blame Cubs manager Joe Madden for using Lackey in Game 2 of the NLCS. In the NLDS against Washington, Cubs middle and setup relievers gave up 10 runs in eight innings pitched. Lackey — after a 13-day inactive stretch — was OK in 1 2/3 innings mopping up the 5-2 series opener loss. The next night, Madden brought Lackey in in the ninth and he gave up a walk-off three-run homer to Justin Turner.
Sure Lackey had thrown in relief the game before, and it went all right, but that was the third relief appearance in 449 MLB outings for Lackey. And to put him in in a real close situation — ninth inning, tie game, men on base — was a desperate move.