Sunday, September 29
Five questions: Twins vs. A's
By Tim Kurkjian
Special to ESPN.com
The American League Division Series has clear favorites, although they're mismatches. The Yankees and A's should win: they have experience, and pitching and power, which usually wins at this time of year. But to underestimate the Twins and Angels would be to ignore the last 162 games.
1. Can Minnesota hit Oakland's left-handers? The Twins are 22-29 when a left-hander has started against them this year. They have hit 30 points lower against lefties than right-handers, the biggest disparity in the league. Against, left-handers, David Ortiz is hitting .203, Jacque Jones has three home runs and Corey Koskie has 15 RBI. And these aren't ordinary lefties. Barry Zito and Mark Mulder are two of the best pitchers in the game.
2. How big is the Twins' home-field advantage? The biggest in the game. It takes at least one game for a visiting team to acclimate itself to the Metrodome. Groundballs get through holes much quicker there and balls in the gap get to the fence much easier there. It's hard to see the ball in the roof. And it's the loudest building in America when a packed house is screaming. The Twins went 54-27 at home this year. If they can win one of the first two in Oakland, they could win the series at home. The A's won't want to have to win a Game 4 at the Metrodome
3. Can the Twins win away from home? They went 40-40 on the road (only three teams in major-league history have won a World Series in a season in which they were under .500 on the road, but one of those teams was the 1987 Twins). The last time the Twins went to Oakland, they were swept in three games, losing one game in the eighth inning and another in the ninth. On the road against AL playoff teams, the Twins are 4-8. But the Twins aren't afraid. After being targeted for contraction in November, nothing bothers this team.
4. Is Billy Koch ready for this? Oakland's closer is a lunatic, he's loud, he's playful, he wants to pitch every game and he has great stuff. But he has never pitched in a pressure situation quite like he is going to face. He has been a little shaky lately (10 earned runs in 16 2/3 innings in September) Still, he has 11 wins and 44 saves, and he has the faith of his teammates.
5. Is Minnesota's rotation 100 percent? No. Their best starter, Eric Milton, pitched five shutout innings on Sunday, but hasn't pitched well since coming off the disabled list in early September. He might be their No. 4. But they have four quality starting pitchers, including their Game 1 starter, Brad Radke, who shut out the A's on Sept. 6 to end Oakland's 20-game winning streak. A lot may depend on Rick Reed, the only starter who has pitched in a postseason game.
Prediction: A's in four.