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Pitching, Defense Are Key For Twins’ Prospects

By Yong-yi Zhu

COLUMNIST

The clear choice for the Division Series winner between the New York Yankees and the Minnesota Twins is the Twins and the reason is pitching.

Pitching in the regular season can win you a playoff spot, but pitching in the post season will win you the World Series. Just look at Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling in 2001 and Josh Beckett in 2003. (And did you notice that both of these teams beat the Yankees by silencing all their big bad bats?)

As a pitching staff, Minnesota has the lowest ERA of any team in the American League. They held opposing teams to 4.09 earned runs per nine innings. The next closest team was the Oakland A’s at 4.19.

With a starting rotation of Johan Santana, Brad Radke and Carlos Silva, they send three of the best pitchers in the AL into a short series. Not only do their big three have low ERA’s but they also eat up a lot of innings, meaning that Ron Gardenhire can rely on them for the majority of any game. It also means that they will keep the bullpen fresh and get to Joe Nathan to save the game, who has the third most saves in the American League with 44.

However, if a starter does leave early, the bullpen can hold up with pitchers like J.C. Romero, Juan Rincon and Jesse Crain.

In fact, just sending Santana would be enough for a five game series. Consider: he has the lowest ERA of all American League pitchers at 2.61. The next closest pitcher is Curt Schilling in a distant second of an ERA of 3.26. Santana also leads AL pitchers with 265 strikeouts, 38 ahead of Pedro Martinez. (Man, the Red Sox love finishing second in everything.) Santana will win both of his starts, meaning that Radke and Silva need to just win one of theirs.

With catcher Henry Blanco calling the game and holding runners on, the pitchers will have lots of confidence to just throw their best stuff. Also, with great defense behind those terrific starters, the Twins will not make mental mistakes on the field. Torii Hunter is one of the best, if not the best center fielder in the game. Shannan Stewart is coming back from injury. Lew Ford is playing well offensively.

The only knock on the Twins is that they have not been winning recently. But they can get away with not playing intensely considering they are already in the playoffs. They would rather rest physically and mentally after winning the division and reheat at the very end of the season. They may not seem hot now, but just wait until Santana makes that first pitch this week.

It’s time to stop saying the Twins are cold and it’s time to start hailing them as the Marlins of the 2004. With those three starters on the mound and their consistent closer, the Twins will go at least to the ALCS. But I guess you can’t hail them as the newfound Marlins unless they win the World Series.

I believe they will.