How Good are the Twins?

I mentioned in an earlier post that the Yankees and Rays are, by far, the best teams in baseball this year. I strongly believe that the Red Sox and Phillies, if healthy, would have been in that group, and that the Phillies have a chance to get healthy enough (and Roy Oswalty enough) to win the World Series.

I spent an hour today talking to a friend about baseball. We talked about the Red Sox’s miniscule playoff chances, our feelings about Derek Jeter, the future of the Rays and Orioles, the Mets’ history of awful personnel decisions, and everything else dueling streams of baseball consciousness can dream up. Bill and I agree on just about everything baseball, but he said one thing that surprised me. He thinks the Twins are as formidable a playoff team as New York or Tampa.

While I do believe anyone who makes the postseason has a reasonable chance to win three short series, for most of the season, I’ve thought of the Twins as the same team of gritty overachievers that has picked on the weak AL Central for most of the last decade. After further reflection upon Bill’s comment, it occurred to me that this year’s Twins aren’t all that different from the Yankees.

Even without Justin Morneau, the heart of the Twins’ order- Joe Mauer, Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kubel, and Jim Thome- are all veteran hitters with patience and power, not unlike Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez, Robinson Cano, and Jorge Posada (with the exception of their paychecks). On the defensive side, each team has a bona fide ace in Francisco Liriano and CC Sabathia, a pleasant surprise in Carl Pavano and Phil Hughes, and a whole bunch of question marks in the rotation after those two.

Both teams play in hitters’ parks and both expected more out of their veteran starting pitching this year. Beyond that, the Yankees have a few advantages, including lineup depth and Mariano Rivera, but the Twins have better infield defense and a deeper bullpen.

If the playoffs started today, these two teams would meet in the first round, with home field advantage going to Minnesota. We don’t know yet whether Target Field will have the same impact as the Metrodome, where the Twins won two World Series without dropping a game at home. But we do know that, with a lineup fit for the AL East and a comparable rotation to the Yankees’, the Twins have no reason to be afraid this year.

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