Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Let's Play 163: Unexpected, Oddly Scheduled Baseball In The Daytime

Why hello there, disoriented day baseball fan! Just when you thought you'd been cast out for the winter by Bud Selig and his band of goons, along comes a surprise morsel of good times. It's a one-game playoff! In the middle of the afternoon! Sure, it's inside a building, so the only sunshine you'll see will be out your own window. Unless there's a blimp there--I love it when they bring a blimp to dome games. Hey look, there's the Metrodome. There's a game inside, we promise. This footage was most certainly not shot in 1986, swear.

So traipse past the jump, folks, to find everything you could ever imagine about this odd little baseball game. We'll even tell you who's going to win, and give you deep and insightful analysis about the ramifications on the remainder of the playoffs. Actually, that's crap--the Yankees will sweep whoever wins this contest.

Detroit @ Minnesota, 3:07 Mountain We'll get to the pitching and the lineups and the drunken wife-beating and all the other subplots in just a moment. First we have to set the scene. In the words of noted Scottish/Canadian/Rhode Islander poet David Byrne: "And you may ask yourself-well...how did I get here?"

First off, the Twins simply played their mother-loving asses off this month. On September 13 Minnesota was five and half games behind the Tigers in the AL Central. Since then they've gone a preposterous 16-4, and their only loss to a team other than the Tigers was at the hands of certain Cy Younger Zack Greinke. Over the same stretch Detroit has limped in at 11-10, with only a Justin Verlander win Sunday saving them from a sweep by the White Sox and lasting choke infamy.

Is the Tigers' gag job the worst ever? Of course not. It's not on the level of the 1964 Phillies (6 1/2 up with 12 to play), the '69 Cubs (9 1/2 up in mid-August), or the '78 Red Sox (14 up on July 19 before losing the one-game playoff on Bucky Dent's home run). Hell, it's not even as bad as the Met's collapse in 2007 (7 games up on September 12), although it's worse than what Los Mets did last year (giving up a 3 1/2-game lead with 17 to play). Detroit's gravest shame is blowing a three-game lead with four games to play, something only the 2008 Denver Broncos could identify with.

In the past, the home teams for these one-game playoffs have been determined by a coin toss, which is of course stupid (yet far less stupid than tying home field for the World Series to the All-Star Game). So for 2009 MLB instituted a sensible reform, one which gives the home field to the team with the better head-to-head record. Since Minnesota won the season series with the Tigers, they host. Yet since the Twins also share the Metrodome with the Vikings (for now, baseball-only Target Field opens in April) and the Vikings had Favrepalooza scheduled for last night, we play today. Got it? Got it.

PITCHING: Rick Porcello (14-9, 4.04 ERA, 4.42 K/9, 1.62 K/BB) v. Scott Baker (15-9, 4.36/5.37/2.29)

The Twins have a decided advantage here--Baker is unquestionably their ace and has been stellar in the second half with a 3.30 ERA. Porcello has been the Tigers' third-best starter in this his rookie campaign and has tired considerably as the season has gone on. He's 20 freakin' years old.

With the Favre-induced day off yesterday, both bullpens are at full strength. Plus, it's all-hands-on-deck time, so if either Jim Leyland or Ron Gardenhire need to throw a random starter in to advance they will. Like I said, the winner gets an automatic sweep at the hands of the Yankees, so who gives a shit?

HITTING

When Justin Morneau went down with a back injury September 14, it was presumed by many, including yours truly, that the team was toast. Of course, Morneau's convalescence almost exactly coincides with the Twins 16-4 season-ending hot streak, so it's possible that his teammates really, really dislike him. His is Canadian, and therefore surely a pompous asshole with a stupid accent and liberal ideas. Michael Cuddyer has stepped in at first and basically turned in to Lou Gehrig. Former deadbeats like Delmon Young, Jason Kubel and Orlando Cabrera have been ripping covers off baseballs recently, and Joe Mauer is as much of a lock for MVP as Greinke is for Cy Young.

Meanwhile, the Tigers have already decided to pack their bats away for winter. The once-deadly threesome of Curtis Granderson, Carlos Guillen and Brandon Inge is batting .189 over the last week, and then we have Miguel Cabrera. Cabrera, the heart of the Tiger lineup and on the books for $20 mil-plus a year for the next six, had a fun weekend. In the midst of going 0-for-11 with 12 men left on base in the series against the White Sox, Cabrera had the cops called to his house early Sunday morning following a 911 call from his wife. Turns out Cabrera had been out carousing with White Sox players and came home trashed. Tigers fans, as you might guess, are less than fired up about their best player's commitment to winning.

The Only Tiger who's swinging a hot bat is Magglio Ordonez. On the verge of being benched at midseason for extreme suckery, Maggs kicked it into high gear (the cynic in me says it was to vest an $18 million option for next season) and hasn't stopped. Ordonez hit .459 in September and is 9-for-15 with a 1.514 OPS in this brief month.

INTANGIBLES

Neither manager is crappy--everyone in the game admires the work Gardenhire does with his players, and Leyland has skippered three different clubs to the playoffs (we'll once again ignore his disastrous stint in Colorado). The biggest X-factor here is the Metrodome. Words cannot encapsulate how shitty this place is for a ballgame. The fans are raucous and right on top of the players. The roof is white, and so are baseballs. This makes fly balls a circus for visiting defenders, and it all adds up to the biggest home-field advantage in pro sports. In both 1987 and 1991, the Twins won the World Series despite losing every single road game--the Dome's quirks are that pronounced and that much of an edge for the hosts.

PREDICTION

Everything looks like it favors the Twins, so I was absolutely prepared to pick the Tigers. Not just to be a contrarian, but because big games almost never go the way we think they will--this is the main reason sports are awesome. Plus, the day off has to hamper the Twins' momentum a bit, Porcello's a very talented pitcher, and the fact that the Tigers are a veteran club with a veteran manager leads me to believe they'll be able to block out all the shenanigans. But then I heard Leyland bitching about the MNF-induced rescheduling, and I changed my tune. Look, having to play on Tuesday and then boogie to New York is no picnic, and you have a right to be steamed. But airing that grievance ahead of time sounds like making excuses for a predictably bad performance, and it causes me think the Tigers will not show up this afternoon. Let's say Twins 6, Tigers 3. Now let's go Play Ball!

1 comments:

bankmeister said...

They go how we think they will!