Yankees cream of the crop

Healthy Sheffield, Matsui give New York playoff muscle

Twins have momentum

Division Series Analysis

October 03, 2006|By Dan Connolly | Dan Connolly,Sun Reporter

An American League general manager has a theory.

If the Minnesota Twins had been the American League wild-card representative, they'd be World Series favorites.

Instead, the Twins captured the American League Central Division on the final day of the season and secured home-field advantage in the first round. And now the same GM predicts the Twins won't make it to the World Series.

Confused? Here's the reasoning: As the wild card, the Twins would have had to play the New York Yankees in the first round. But it would have been a best-of-five series with all-planet starter Johan Santana pitching twice -- or 40 percent of the series.

Instead, the Twins get the slightly dangerous Oakland Athletics in the first round. Santana still might have to start twice, meaning he might pitch just one game -- on full rest, at least -- in the best-of-seven American League Championship Series, which likely will be against the Yankees.

So the GM is going with the conventional wisdom: the Yankees to the World Series and beyond. As for their possible opponent from the National League? "I'm not smart enough to be able to figure out that mess," he joked.

The NL is again no match for the AL. In fact, with the loss of Pedro Martinez and subsequent shakiness of the Mets' pitching staff, the GM believes that the best four teams in the playoffs are all in the AL. Rules dictate, though, that someone has to show up from the NL in the World Series.

Here's a quick look at each playoff team and a prediction for each division series.

Tigers vs Yankees

It's hard to believe that Jim Leyland's team could get this far and then wither in the first round. But the Detroit Tigers look like a classic case of young pitchers hitting the late-season wall. How else can you explain a collapse against the Kansas City Royals? The Tigers' strength is pitching. They had the best overall ERA and starters' ERA in the majors and were fourth in bullpen ERA. But their league-leading 3.46 mark in the first half dropped to 4.29 (13th) in the second.

That's not encouraging, considering what they must face starting today. The Yankees scored a major league-leading 930 runs. The next closest team, the Cleveland Indians, scored 870. No other playoff team scored more than 835.

And now the Yankees have Hideki Matsui, Gary Sheffield and Bobby Abreu in the lineup full-time. The order's weakest link might be catcher Jorge Posada, who had 23 homers, 93 RBIs and a .374 on-base percentage. Ouch.

Since the Yankees' pitching can be mediocre, they aren't invincible. Their 4.41 collective ERA was 12th overall and seventh worst of the eight playoff teams. And their 4.18 bullpen ERA was worst among those in the playoffs. Plus, closer Mariano Rivera, battling a muscle strain, pitched just four innings in September.

Still, they're the Yankees, and they've beaten the Tigers five out of seven already.

Prediction: Yankees in four.

A's vs. Twins

No team played better at home than the Twins did at the Metrodome (54-27). They have baseball's best bullpen (2.91 ERA) and a solid lineup led by batting champion Joe Mauer and potential league Most Valuable Player Justin Morneau. And they have Santana, who may be the most important player in this postseason.

The Twins perhaps have more momentum, but the A's haven't been slouches in the second half, either. They went 48-26 after the All-Star break and, with a balanced pitching staff, are dangerous. They also have a loose clubhouse led by veterans Mark Kotsay and Jason Kendall, who are making their first postseason appearances.

But Oakland's offense is less than intimidating. Its .260 batting average was second to last in the American League and only the San Diego Padres scored fewer runs of the eight playoff teams. Besides resurgent slugger Frank Thomas, who hit 39 homers and had 114 RBIs, no other A's player drove in 100 runs, and just Nick Swisher (35) and Eric Chavez (22) hit more than 15 homers this season. Thomas may get pitched around, so the other guys will have to step up to advance to the ALCS.

Prediction: Twins in four.

Dodgers vs. Mets

This may end up being more competitive than it should be. Pedro Martinez isn't the Pedro of old, but he had a playoff aura. With him shelved, the Mets have to count on Tom Glavine, 40, Orlando Hernandez, 36 at least, and Steve Trachsel, 35. Their best starter right now might be former Oriole John Maine. The rotation was 16th in the majors with a 4.67 ERA, second worst among playoff teams.

But it might not matter. Because, like their AL counterpart in New York, the Mets can bash. No NL playoff team hit more homers or scored more runs than the Mets. An upset could be brewing, but it's unlikely that Carlos Beltran, Carlos Delgado and company will let that happen. And eventually the rotation can turn the game over to the NL's best bullpen, which went 32-15 and compiled a 3.25 ERA this year.

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