Twin Killing

It's really a shame that Ron Gardenhire doesn't understand the post-season.  His team matches up reasonably well against the Red Sox and he would have had a decent shot at the NL contender in the World Series if they made it.  But because he doesn't understand that he needs to manage to his team's strength, he cost his team two wins against the Yankees and thus a potential trip to the ALCS.

Before the series began, it was pretty well understood that the Twins had three advantages over the Yankees and that they would have to make the most of them to emerge from the first round.  The advantages were team speed, a deeper bullpen and Johan Santana, not necessarily in that order. 

Santana took care of the decision-making in Game 1 by battling through seven tough but shutout innings despite not having any feel for his change-up, arguably his most effective pitch.

In Game 2, Gardenhire failed to use his bullpen depth and overextended his closer unnecessarily, costing the Twins a win. 

Game 3 was pretty much out of his hands as the Yanks picked apart Carlos Silva.  Of course, it didn't help that Torii Hunter and Corey Koskie foolishly tried to take extra bases and got thrown out instead of helping chip away the Yankee lead.  But the series still should have been in the Twins favor with a chance to close the Yankees out in four games.  Instead, the loss forced him to use his ace to stay in the series, although he was scheduled to go regardless. 

Game 4 was another winnable contest for the Twins but Gardenhire inexplicably refused to get all he could out of his ace, and it ended up costing the Twins again.  The Yanks worked Santana's pitch count pretty well through the first 3 innings, but by the fifth inning, he was only up to 87 pitches, well below his season average (100.8).  Maybe he thought JS was laboring in the 5th, but the play-by-play certainly didn't reveal any weaknesses in Santana's armor: a walk on a full-count pitch to ARod, a three-pitch strikeout of Sheffield (swinging), a strikeout of Matsui on a 2-2 pitch (swinging) and a one-pitch ground out from Bernie Williams. What exactly in that series of pitches made Gardy think the guy was losing effectiveness?  Wouldn't it have been a good idea to have the Twins best pitcher (by far) pitch as many innings as he's effective?  The next three hitters were a collective one-for-five with two strikeouts against Santana in this game and the one hit was a single by Sierra.  Lifetime, they were a collective 5-for-24 with only one extra base hit, a double.  Was there any realistic chance that the Yankees could have come back to score 4 runs against Santana with that portion of the order?  The last time a team scored 4 runs on him, the NHL was still playing hockey.  It's been 5 months since it happened last.  Was he trying to save him for Game 2 of the next round?  Did he not realize that this was a win-or-go-home scenario?  One more inning from Santana would have allowed him to use as many pitchers as he needed for 2 innings to get to Joe Nathan.  Looking at today's line scores, that would have been just Grant Balfour. 

Gardenhire did try to use his bullpen, and the Twins did try to run in this game, so in that aspect he succeeded in trying to take advantage of his team's strength.  But going to the bullpen when he did meant that he was not getting all he could from arguably his team's most devastating advantage: Santana.  One inning too early meant that he had to use lesser pitchers than the one he had on the mound to start with. 

And maybe Jesse Crain was hurt and couldn't be used.  But if not, why not use their "closer of the future" in the 10 or 11th inning instead of a starter who had struggled with ineffectiveness since July?  Crain only faced two batters in the entire series.  Did Gardenhire not realize that the batters Lohse would potentially face in the 11th inning had a pretty impressive resume against him: Jeter (1.000 OPS career), ARod (1.089 OPS career), Sheffield (1.167 OPS career), Matsui (1.133 OPS career), Williams (1.333 OPS career) and Posada (1.400 OPS career).  Regardless if he did or not, he'll have the whole winter to reflect on that and what might have been.