Minnesota Twins: How They Rank in the American League
Last night the Minnesota Twins became the first team in 2010 to clinch a playoff berth.
The Chicago White Sox and the Detroit Tigers were competitive in the AL Central through the first half of the season, but the Twins used a fantastic August and September to pull away from the pack.
Despite the loss of Justin Morneau for the last two months and Joe Nathan's Tommy John surgery at the start of the year, Minnesota has won yet another AL Central title.
The Twins have won six out of the last nine division titles and have earned a reputation as one of the most consistent teams in the American League.
However, they have also gained a reputation as playoff disappointments. They have not won a playoff series since 2002, with a 2-12 postseason record in their last four appearances.
So is this year any different? Do the Twins have a legitimate shot at not only winning a playoff series, but representing the AL in the World Series?
Let's see how they match up with the other likely AL playoff squads.
4. Texas Rangers
Despite a poor second half, the Rangers have run away with the AL West, due to a lack of real competition. Their 83-67 record is the worst of any of the American League playoff contenders.
Still, the Rangers remain dangerous.
Ace Cliff Lee has disappointed since donning the Rangers' uniform, but his 4.10 ERA has been more of a result of bad luck than poor pitching performance. He actually has a better K/9 as a Rangers than he did as a Seattle Mariner.
If Lee can put together a playoff run like he did in Philadelphia in 2009, the Rangers will be tough to top.
However, the Rangers have some serious issues entering the postseason.
MVP-favorite Josh Hamilton is currently battling a rib injury, and although he is expected to be back for the postseason, he could be affected by the pain.
Without Hamilton at 100%, the Rangers could struggle to score runs. Ian Kinsler's power has disappeared in 2010, as the former 30 HR hitter has only nine. Michael Young has struggled in the second half, and Elvis Andrus has not had a month with an OPS over .700 since May. The Rangers also get little to no production from their first base platoon of Jorge Cantu and Mitch Moreland.
In addition, no. 2 starter Colby Lewis has had a disappointing finish to a great comeback season. He has a 4.62 ERA in August and September.
The Rangers are a good team, but they appear to be the weakest of the four AL playoff squads.
3. New York Yankees
Placing the defending champions as the third most likely team to win the American League pennant? Controversial, to say the least. The Yankees have scored the most runs in baseball, and have the best run differential. And they've destroyed the Twins, in particular, in past playoff matchups.
However, they are placed third for one reason: starting pitching.
Last year, the Yankees rode their three-headed monster of Sabathia-Burnett-Pettitte to a World Series title.
This year, the Yankees' starting pitching can be legitimately called a mess.
CC Sabathia is still a bona fide ace. He has a case for a Cy Young, even if he actually should finish third or fourth.
But beyond Sabathia, the Yankees only have question marks.
A.J. Burnett is really earning that $16.5 million this season, with an atrocious 5.08 ERA. His K/9 rate is at 7.03, his lowest since 2001. Phil Hughes, after a stellar start to 2010, has regressed, posting a 5.11 ERA since the start of June.
The Yankees have placed their hope in Pettitte, who has recently returned from a groin injury. Pettitte was having a stellar season before the injury, with an 11-2 record and a 2.81 ERA.
However, much of Pettitte's early season success was luck-driven. His FIP of 3.91 is over a run higher than his actual ERA, a result of a .268 BABIP. It's likely that Pettitte was simply injured before he could be hit with the usual bad luck of a long season.
The Yankees still have a ridiculous offense. But their starting pitching beyond Sabathia will prove to be their Achilles heel in the postseason.
2. Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays are only two years removed from an American League title, and they may have the team in 2010 to win another.
The Rays are similar to the Yankees, though. They have strong hitting, and a good bullpen, but may lack the rotation necessary to win the league.
Both Carl Crawford and Evan Longoria have WARs over 6.0, according to Fangraphs. Only the Cardinals (Pujols and Holliday) also have two position players with that kind of value.
The Rays' bullpen is also strong. Their 3.60 ERA is good for fifth-best in the American League.
But just like the Yankees, their flaw is starting pitching.
David Price is a legitimate ace, as his 2.79 ERA, 3.50 FIP, and 4.0 WAR prove. But beyond Price, the Rays are inconsistent.
Both James Shields and Matt Garza have been reliable in the past. But in 2010, neither has a FIP under 4.00.
So why are the Rays ranked higher than the Yankees on this list? Defense.
According to UZR, the Rays have the fourth-best defense in baseball, with a team number of 37.0.
The Yankees? 12th, with only an 8.0 UZR.
The defenses could prove the difference between these two squads in the postseason.
1. Minnesota Twins
So is this the season that the Twins finally make a playoff run?
It very well could be. The Twins have a balanced squad in 2010 with very few holes.
Francisco Liriano has proven to be a legitimate ace. His 3.44 ERA is extremely solid, but likely should be even lower. It has been elevated due to an abnormally-high .341 BABIP.
The Twins have exceptional rotation depth. Brian Duensing, Carl Pavano, Kevin Slowey and Scott Baker all have FIPs below 4.00. While some teams may be forced to use their starters on short rest, the Twins have five pitchers that they theoretically can rely upon.
Despite the loss of Joe Nathan in spring training, the Twins possess a great bullpen. Their 3.19 ERA is good for fourth-best in all of baseball, and best in the American League.
And even with the loss of Justin Morneau, the Twins have a solid offense. The addition of Jim Thome and his 1.043 OPS has proven pivotal to the offense's success. Delmon Young's breakout adds another bat to a lineup that already includes reigning AL MVP Joe Mauer (.880 OPS).
Danny Valencia has taken hold of the third base spot, and has a done a stellar job at the plate and in the field.
The Twins do have a few underachievers on offense, however, with Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kubel and Orlando Hudson all performing under their career norms. If the Twins have a flaw, it is likely their offensive depth throughout the lineup.
But right now, it looks like they have the fewest glaring weaknesses.