By Matthew Curtis | Enzian Theater October 11, 2006 at 4:59AM
As we head into the opening night of the second round of the Major League Baseball playoffs, the insanity clearly continues. The St. Louis Cardinals, on the verge of the greatest collapse in history the last two weeks of the regular season, backed into the playoffs when Houston couldn't find a way to win every single game down the stretch. So what do the Cards proceed to do in the opening round? Win two in a row on the road at San Diego, get excellent starting pitching, and finish off the Padres in four games.
My Twins are the hottest team in baseball since the All-Star break, lead the league in hitting (.287), have the second best batting average with men in scoring position (.296), have the second best defensive fielding percentage in the AL, and the best home record in baseball. So what does Minnesota do against the pitching rich and almost equally hot Oakland A's? They play like dog crap, making physical and mental errors, execute poorly, and go 1-for-19 (!) with runners in scoring position. They also never had the lead in any of the three games for only the third time in playoff history, and of course they lost the first two at home (even with Santana pitching in Game 1) before going on to get swept in 3. Ouch!
But the upset heard round the world, and the series that will have the most off season repurcussions, is the incredible 3-games-to-1 beatdown that the slumping Detroit Tigers put on the best team money can buy, those powerhouse New York Yankees. Who could believe this? The Tigers lost their final 5 home games of the regular season, including 3 to lowly Kansas City, to allow the Twins to win the division. They got pummeled in game 1, giving up 8 runs and 18 hits, including 5 to Jeter alone. They were losing 3-to-1 in game 2, and then the roof caved in on the Bronx Bombers. The team with 13 All-Stars in the lineup and a batting order that could be flipped upside down without losing anything suddenly started sucking the tail pipe. These Yankees proceeded to go 20 innings in a row without scoring a single run, got blown away by 100+ MPH throwing pitchers the rest of game 2, got shut out by Kenny Rogers (who they've destroyed in the past) in game 3, and never had a chance with their lousy starting pitching in game 4. So where do they go from here?
Initial reaction from the press was that longtime Manager Joe Torre, he of the 9 (?) straight division titles and 4 World Series championships, must be fired. Since 2001 the Yankees were under .500 in the playoffs, and in the last three years they had perhaps the biggest choke in playoff history against the hated Red Sox and been eliminated in the first round by the Angels and now the Tigers. This despite the highest payroll in baseball (by a long shot) and a number of simply great ballplayers. But the fact is that this team is getting old and has lousy chemistry. Most fans are dying for them to get rid of A-Rod, who's been awful the last 2 + years in the playoffs and cannot hit in the clutch to save his life--NY even batted him 6th and 8th against Detroit to try and get his head straight. But it's really a lot more than just A-Rod, an inconsistent Randy Johnson, and a manager that juggles the egos of so many superstars. A new voice behind the bench would probably be a good idea (though I don't know how "new" Lou Piniella's would sound), but this team also needs to get some good young pitching and allow its young players like Cabrera, Phillips, and Cano to blossom alongside some veterans. Whatever it is, they have to shake it up and start getting a whole lot younger.
Too bad the Twins couldn't take advantage of the Yankees' collapse. It was all set up for them--they would've had home field advantage in both the AL Championship series and the World Series if they could've advanced. Oh well. C'est la vie. Sign Torii Hunter, get Liriano healthy again, and we'll see you in 2007.