Thursday, October 14, 2010

For Postseason Success the Twins Need Better Starting Pitching

Frank Viola has shown firsthand what 
what great starting pitching can for a
team's post season run.
(By the way this is best Frank Viola card of
all-time. I own multiple copies of it, one
of which was autographed by the man himself.)

Tom Kelly managed the Twins to a 16-8 post season record. The Twins won World Championships in 1987 and 1991 under his command winning all four post season series they played in. Rod Gardenhire has managed the Twins to a post season record of 6-21. His teams are 1-6 in post season series. Both men have managed roughly the same amount post season games yet the have almost totally opposite win-lost records. Why?

It comes down to elite starting pitching. In his 24 post season games Tom Kelly had a starting pitcher who pitched seven or more innings in a game 9 times. The Twins won all nine of those games. In his 27 post season games Ron Gardenhire has a starting pitcher who pitched seven or more innings in game 5 times. The Twins won only 3 of those games.

What if Gardenhire’s Twins could have got just 4 more starts of 7 innings or more? It might have turned a couple of those lost series (four of which were best of 5 ALDS’s) into series wins. Then again Gardenhire’s teams did a poor job of winning the 7 + inning outings they did get. Still it likely would have lead to at least a couple more wins and a series or two going the Twins way.

What Kelly had that it seems Gardenhire does not is elite pitchers to toss those 7 + inning games. Below is the list of all the pitchers to pitch 7 + innings in a postseason game:

Tom Kelly’s Twins:

Frank Voila (87 ALCS Game 1, 87 WS Game1, 87 WS Game 7)

Bert Blyleven (87 ALCS Game 2, 87 WS Game 2)

Jack Morris (91 ALCS Game 4, 91 WS Game 1, 91 WS Game 7)

Kevin Tapani (91 WS Game 2)

Ron Gardenhire’s Twins:

Eric Milton (2002 ALDS Game 4)

Joe Mays (2002 ALCS Game 1)

Johan Santana (2004 ALDS Game 1, 2006 ALDS Game 1 which was a loss)

Carl Pavano (2009 ALDS Game 3 which was a loss)

Three pitchers (Viola, Blyleven, and Morris) accounted for 8 of Kelly's Twins 9 7+ plus inning games. It was by no accident that they did. Bert Blyleven is likely going to be a Hall of Famer. Jack Morris might make the Hall of Fame as well, and he has a history of pitching well in big games. Frank Voila was regarded as one of the best pitchers in baseball during his time with the Twins, and rightfully won the Cy Young Award in 1988. Viola and Morris were the World Series MVP in 87 and 91 respectfully.

You can rightly point out that the Twins again exited the playoffs again in 2010 because they did not hit, but they lead Game 1 3-0 at one point. A strong pitching performance would have made that lead hold up against any lineup. The Twins failed to get that pitching performance and they are out of the playoffs again because of it.

The Twins pitching rotation for 2011 likely looks to be Francisco Liriano, Scott Baker, Brian Duensing, Nick Blackburn & Kevin Slowey. Liriano has the potential to be a Viola, Blyleven, and Morris, but the Twins need more. Baker has always had the talent, but has not delivered the results. Herald prospect Kyle Gibson is showing promise, but has yet to see action in the big leagues.

The Twins need some starting pitchers to step up. If not, the Twins are likely to be swept out of the first round of the playoffs again in 2011 if they make the playoffs at all.