Time to Tinker
Having clinched the AL Central, the Twins try to work out two kinks that could stymie their World Series hopes
Which pitching duo could play a major role in how far the Twins go in the postseason? How about former manager Tom Kelly, 52, who retired after last season but has returned to help scout potential playoff opponents, and Gary Lucas, 47, pitching coach for Minnesota's Class A Quad City ( Davenport, Iowa) River Bandits—both of whom are lefthanders and have been throwing batting practice for Minnesota. At week's end the Twins had lost a major league-high 28 times when facing a lefthanded starter (they had won 21 times), and their .245 batting average against lefties was the fifth worst in the American League.
"[ Kelly's] actually pretty good," says first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz. "You can't open up too quickly on him or he'll cut you up inside."
Minnesota could afford to spend the last month of the season addressing its struggles against southpaws as well as other concerns, because its AL Central lead has been 10 or more games since July 17 (The Twins wrapped up their first division title since 1991 by beating the Indians 5-0 on Sunday afternoon.) But there's still work to be done. Last Friday the club lost 12-5 to another lefty—a 39-year-old journeyman to boot—as the Indians' Terry Mulholland got his first win as a starter in more than two years.
The postseason field will be littered with nasty lefthanders like Oakland's Barry Zito and Mark Mulder, Anaheim's Jarrod Washburn and the Yankees' David Wells and Andy Pettitte. "In order to win a playoff series," says Minnesota utilityman Denny Hocking, "we're going to have to beat a top-notch lefty somewhere along the line."
In addition to bringing in old southpaws to pitch BP, first-year manager Ron Gardenhire has been giving some of his left-handed hitters an increased number of at bats against lefties. For example, at week's end leftfielder Jacque Jones (.324 average against righthanders, .214 against lefthanders) had been in the lineup for eight straight Twins games against lefty starters.
Another issue Minnesota has to resolve is its postseason rotation. In Friday's game lefthander Eric Milton, who has struggled after having arthroscopic surgery on his left knee last month, was hammered for nine runs in 1? innings of his third start since returning from the disabled list. Milton's slow return to form has muddied plans for a staff that has no clear-cut ace. "We're trying to figure this out and get ourselves set up," says Gardenhire. "We're taking the best people we can to the playoffs. If [ Milton] is one of them, that's great."
Before he was injured, Milton (13-9, 5.14 ERA) probably would have been the pick to start Game 1 of the Division Series; now he needs to pitch well in his final three starts just to ready himself for the playoffs. Gardenhire, who plans to use four starters, can choose among righthanders Brad Radke (8-4, 4.44 ERA), Rick Reed (15-7, 3.74) and Joe Mays (3-7, 5.56) for Game 1. "We'll go with whoever our best pitcher is," he says.
Lately that's been Radke, who, after missing 2� months in the middle of the season with a groin injury, had won four of his last five starts through Sunday. But Radke has been far more effective at home (5-1, 3-02) than on the road (3-3, 6.17). Because the Twins will likely open the playoffs on the road, Gardenhire could tap the 37-year-old Reed, the only Twins starter with postseason experience (four starts for the Mets in 1999 and 2000), for the opening-game assignment and save Radke for Game 3 at the Metrodome.
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