Twins suffer familiar postseason fate
NEW YORK -- Two more seasons -- regular and post -- have ended for the Minnesota Twins. The results add up, once again, to a distinctly split decision.The Twins won their sixth American League Central title in nine years. And they won the gratitude of every visiting team by moving from the Metrodome, a facility never suited for the grand old game, to Target Field, one of the finest ballparks in North America. The Twins had been an admirable team for years, the result of an outstanding organization that could annually overcome limited financial resources. With the opening of Target Field, the Twins moved into baseball's middle class. They were able to sign catcher Joe Mauer, one of the game's best players by any reasonable standard, to one of the game's largest contracts. Even injuries to closer Joe Nathan and slugging first baseman Justin Morneau were overcome as the Twins won their division. And then came October, the second season. The Twins, otherwise indomitable, scrappy, aggressive, alert, became simply beaten -- again. They were swept in a Division Series for the second straight year by the New York Yankees, the shop closing for them Saturday night at Yankee Stadium in a 6-1 loss.
But the overall postseason picture is worse than that for the Twins. In four Division Series over the last seven years, the Twins are 2-12 against the Yankees. The Twins now have a postseason losing streak of nine games against the Yankees and 12 games overall. Perhaps the worst aspect of the nine-game losing streak against the Yankees, is that at some point in each of the first eight losses, the Twins held the lead.What happens to the Twins in the postseason, against the Yankees? As Yankee manager Joe Girardi was gracious enough to note, repeatedly, the vast majority of the games could have gone either way. That was certainly true, but in the end, the games all went in the direction of the Bronx Bombers. Twins manager Ron Gardenhire objected when the nine straight Yankee victories were referred to as domination.
"I think if you just look at the games, I don't think it's called domination," he said. "They find a way to win. ... But dominating, I think, is not the right word to use."What's the difference between these two teams, apart from the occasional $100 million in player payroll? The Twins, since the departure of Johan Santana, have not had a genuine No. 1 starter. This may be said of many teams, but to win in the postseason, somebody has to qualify for this role. Francisco Liriano has moments of greatness, but in Game 1, he was given a three-run lead and could not hold it through the sixth inning. The Twins had an opportunity to win Game 1 and beat the Yankees' ace, CC Sabathia, in the process. A golden opportunity was wasted and the Twins never recovered.
The Twins did a terrific job of compensating for the loss of Nathan, but in this series, that didn't much matter since they never created a save situation. The loss of Morneau, out since suffering a July 7 concussion, is something else. While it afforded more at-bats for Jim Thome at times, a team cannot lose a top-shelf run producer and not be the less for it. When Gardenhire was asked Saturday if this was the most talented lineup he's had in his nine years as Minnesota manager, he replied:"I think it was at one point, when we had Morneau. We had a lot of depth and we could run a lot of different lineups out there. When Morneau went down, it was a little thinner off the bench. Things like that, we don't have a guy that can come off the bench. We don't have a big pinch-hitter, all those things to run up there in situations." Gardenhire said he still liked his lineup and noted that it had produced big hits all year. But it didn't get the big hit in this series. The Twins missed numerous opportunities in the opener. As the series progressed, the opportunities became fewer and the margins of defeat grew larger -- two runs, three runs, five runs.
"Pretty much through the series we missed our opportunities to score runs," the manager said.For the future, the Twins don't need to start over. Gardenhire indicated a continuing belief in all facets of his club. The Twins believe that Liriano, and their other young pitchers, will improve. Whether Liriano improves to ace level is an open question, but that is what this club needs from him. The Twins will be a much-improved club the minute Morneau is fully recovered from his concussion. Around baseball, the positive perception of the Twins will remain intact despite another postseason reversal. They will be regarded as an intelligent, industrious baseball management. You do wish that various members of the Twins would stop referring to Carl Pavano as "a leader." This is an organization with a lot of hard-earned credibility, and that kind of statement raises not credibility, but eyebrows. As far as the postseason woes against New York, the Yankees are an indisputably better team. Still, they shouldn't be 12-2 against the Twins, or 9-0 in the last nine postseason games or 6-0 the last two years in the postseason. Those numbers would only be suitable if the Yankees were playing, perhaps, the Pirates. Once again the Twins get to feel justifiably proud about the six months of work from April through September. Their brief October appearance, though, will once more leave them and their loyal fans disappointed and dejected, although not necessarily demoralized. The core of their postseason problem: Over the last nine years, only one team has qualified for the postseason more often than the Twins. Tough break, that one team was the Yankees.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.