American League Division Series

October 01, 2002|By Joe Christensen

Minnesota Twins vs. Oakland Athletics

Schedule (best of five)

Today: Minnesota (Brad Radke 9-5) at Oakland (Tim Hudson 15-9), 4:08 p.m. (ABC Family)

Tomorrow: Minnesota (Joe Mays 4-8) at Oakland (Mark Mulder 19-7), 4:06 p.m. (ABC Family)

Friday: Oakland (Barry Zito 23-5) at Minnesota (Rick Reed 15-7), 4:06 p.m. (ABC Family)

Saturday*: Oakland (Hudson) at Minnesota (Eric Milton 13-9)

Sunday*: Minnesota (Radke) at Oakland (Mulder)

*-if necessary; times TBA

Matchups

Starting lineup: Minnesota's biggest strength is its defense. First baseman Doug Mientkiewicz and center fielder Torii Hunter won Gold Glove awards last season, and third baseman Corey Koskie has made a case for the award this year. The Twins struggled against left-handed pitching this season, hitting .252, and they'll need a big series from Hunter, especially against Mulder and Zito. Minnesota might be faster, but Oakland has more muscle. The A's hit 205 home runs this season, and the Twins hit 167. Oakland's MVP candidate, Miguel Tejada, had three game-winning hits in September and hit .412 with three homers in nine games against the Twins this season.

Starting pitching: Hudson, Mulder and Zito combined to go 57-21 this season, but Oakland manager Art Howe has left himself open to some second-guessing by going with a three-man starting rotation. The A's lost to the Yankees in the Division Series the past two years using a four-man rotation, but this could potentially force Hudson and Mulder to pitch on three days' rest. The Twins have had an injury-riddled starting pitching staff all season. Former Maryland Terrapin Milton, who missed a month with a left knee injury, is scheduled to start Game 4 for Minnesota.

Bullpen: Neither team enters this series with overwhelming confidence in its closer. Oakland's Billy Koch posted a 5.40 ERA in September and is showing signs of fatigue after making 84 appearances and pitching 93 2/3 innings. Everyday Eddie Guardado made the All-Star team this season for the Twins, but he's not overpowering. Minnesota's starters might not pitch as deep into the games, so they will have to rely on their superior middle relievers.

Bench: The Twins have interchangeable rookie right fielders in Mike Cuddyer and Dustan Mohr. Cuddyer hit .259 and Mohr hit .269. John Mabry, acquired from the Philadelphia Phillies for Jeremy Giambi in May, gives Oakland a valuable left-handed bat to use off the bench.

Outlook: No matter who wins, the American League will send a small-market team to the championship series, which is a story unto itself. After losing those two heartbreakers against the Yankees, Oakland is happy to see the fresh-faced Twins, and the smart money has the A's winning in four games. But if Minnesota can win one of the first two in Oakland, it can return home to the Metrodome, where the noise will be ear-splitting and the Twins went 11-1 during the 1987 and 1991 postseasons.

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