ED: It’s going to be a busy couple of weeks for me and my family, and finding time to keep daily posts here is going to be difficult. I thought this would be a great time to bring in a pinch hitter, and frequent commenter Beau was gracious enough to accept the invitation. His series will run into next week, and hopefully I can talk him into other contributions down the road.
With the entire core of their ’87 World Championship team intact (and in the prime of their careers), the Twins were expecting to build upon their success from the year past. And indeed, they did. In a year where league scoring plummeted by almost ninety runs per team, the Twins scored only thirty fewer runs. Additionally, the pitching staff allowed 134 fewer runs, marking a dramatic improvement for the hometown nine on both sides of the diamond. All this added up to an eleven win Pythagorean improvement and six actual wins in the standings. Unfortunately, those pesky A’s improved their Pythagorean by a whopping seventeen games, obliterating the AL West and wrapping up the division with two weeks yet to play.
The year before, the Twins were fairly lucky to be in the playoffs, sporting only the fifth best record in the American League. This year, the Twins finished second in the league and were not even granted a suspenseful finish. Meanwhile, the AL East Champion Red Sox had the league’s third best record, and only three and a half games separated them and the fifth place Yankees. The Sox were a solid but underwhelming team, and the Athletics proved it by destroying them in four games on their way to the World Series. But what if the Twins’ fortunes had been reversed and the A’s had finished with just ninety wins?
To answer this question, I have asked our Diamond Mind simulator to run this ALCS 100 times. Over the next four to seven days, you will see the results of this series. But first, I have to set up the teams. The Red Sox are easy. I simply plugged in their real playoff roster, rotation, and usual platooned lineups. Other than an injured Oil Can Boyd (who had suffered a terrible year), the Sox were healthy and rested. Surprisingly, John McNamara decided to pitch Bruce Hurst in game one, despite Roger Clemens being even more rested. Perhaps he was looking at his hurler’s 3-0 record in the ’86 playoffs as a barometer, but Clemens had a far superior season and was right-handed (the A’s were not very heavy on the lefties). Whatever the reason, ’tis none of my business to question the manager’s decision, so I left the rotation as is, with Clemens pitching game two and Mike Boddicker game three in his three-man rotation.
Meanwhile, what to do with the Twins? One would guess Kelly would stay with the three-man rotation he employed in ’87, but after Sweet Music and E.R.A. title holder *cough cough* Allan Anderson, who would have pitched third? I can’t believe he would have sent Blyleven out there given how dreadful a season he had. The only other Twins’ starter who had a good E.R.A. was Les Straker. Given he had pitched quite well in the World Series, I gave the nod to him.
Setting the 25 man roster is tough as well, as the Twins have several options. I left Blyleven in as a reliever, as I believe history and sentiment would have kept him with the club. That leaves Charlie Lea headed for home, but I gather neither will be that crucial to the series anyway. Filling out the bullpen are German Gonzalez and Roy Smith, sending Mark Portugal packing as well. Unfortunately, the only decent southpaw reliever is Dan Schatzeder (1.74 E.R.A.), who joined the team on September 1st and is not eligible. When all is said and done, the Twins begin the series with fifteen hitters (including lefty masher John Christensen and the embittered Steve Lombardozzi) and ten pitchers.
Deciding the Twins’ lineups is practically impossible, as Kelly juggled players around all season, but I tried to stay consistent with his managerial tendencies. For example, the Twins would benefit from starting both Tim Laudner and Brian Harper against lefties (with a Hrbek/Larkin platoon at first), but Kelly never left the bench without a catcher and wouldn’t dare sit Hrbek at all. Additionally, Gary Gaetti was struggling with injuries, and mostly DH’d or pinch-hit in September. Would he start at third with the playoffs on the line? I am guessing so, leaving Larkin to handle DH duties.
The Twins will be traveling to Beantown, as home field advantage goes to the AL East this year, regardless of record. Come back tomorrow to see Viola and Hurst face off in game one of this exciting series that finally gets a chance to happen.