Matt Capps and Danny Valencia atop list of Twins playoff unprovens
While the past two seasons offered the sweat of Game No. 163, the late-season focal point of this stellar campaign can instead be geared toward Game No. 153. Of course, the Twins (89-60) are still a Cleveland series shy of that seasonal mark, but with 13 games to play the only pertinence attached to the term "Magic Number" is that any semblance of Central competition has long disappeared.
Given that we can spare the cuticles an extend-or-expire addition to the regular season, our attentions can instead be directed to the following queries:
Should the club rest some field players (i.e., Cuddyer, Young, Span, and the banged-up Mauer) and threaten the home field advantage that comes with the league's top seed? Are the Twins better suited to face the Yanks or Rays in the ALDS? And the focus of today's post -- What will prove the club's name concerns two weeks from now?
Here are three ballers that could keep the Philip Morris trucks busy come the Twins eventual playoff berth:
Dubbed the "Corner Store" herein last season, Liriano's second half of 2010 has found "The Franchise" reopened for business. Before Sunday's flop appearance against the A's, Liriano was 8-0 with a 2.41 ERA since the All-Star Break. At 14-8 with a 3.44 ERA for the season, he's among the A.L. strikeout leaders and claims 20 Quality outings in his 29 starts (69 percent).
Yet there's some question about how Liriano will fare in what will eventually prove his first playoff start. He owns just one postseason appearance to date, that being a relief outing in Game 1 of last year's ALDS versus the Yanks when he promptly allowed a bomb to Godzilla Matsui.
For his career, Liriano has fared well against both New York and Tampa, and it's worthy of further note that he's dominated lefties this season (and both potential first round opponents no doubt sport ample offerings from said side of the plate). That Matsui bomb actually served as the last HR that Liriano has allowed to a left-handed hitter.
But there's a need for some pressure proof-of-purchase here. In addition to the playoff inexperience, Liriano has now gone almost 90 career starts without a complete game. So when his turn comes, we're basically expecting a six-and-fixed outing that finds those lefties flailing at Liriano's slider while we hope that the refreshed talent doesn't have a freak-out inning.
Not a pup at 26, Valencia has still had himself an exceptional rookie season. While he'll lose out in R.O.Y. voting to Detroit's Austin Jackson (and probably Texas' Neftali Feliz as well), Valencia has earned deserved kudos for playing one of baseball's most important positions for
one of baseball's best teams. For third basemen with a minimum of 250 at-bats, he owns the league's highest batting average (.335) and also ranks in the top-10 in both OBP and Slugging. Defensively, he may not classify as "spectacular," but his mere four errors in 70 games has been as solid as anyone could have hoped.
But will the rook be up for the pressures of postseason baseball? Only the future will tell as the past gives us little to go on. In Valencia's three minor league seasons, none of the teams he finished with owned a plus-.500 record, so there's no pro track record there.
Going further back into the hardball annals, Valencia's postseason NCAA line while at "The U" (does Miami say that for baseball, too?) gives us something to go on, should you subscribe to stats so dated and bats so metallic. In 14 postseason collegiate games, Valencia recorded a hit in all but three of those contests and was a major factor in Miami's 2005 College World Series run (ultimately going 3-for-13 in Omaha). That may mean little for the 2010 ALDS, but as W.C. Fields said:
"It ain't what they call you, it's what you answer to."
Once we get into October ball, I don't think Valencia need answer to "rook" for long.
Herein lays my biggest concern. In the last three calendar years, only nine men in baseball have more saves than Matt Capps. But having pitched for bunk teams prior to his July arrival in the T.C., 2010 will prove the closer's first postseason. In fact, going through Capps' history I find only one postseason save in his entire professional career (having notched one for the
AA-Altoona Curves back in 2005).
Since donning a Twins jersey, Capps has been sound, if not spectacular. He's appeared in 23 ballgames, having accrued a 14-for-16 save line. Yet just seven of those 23 outings have been totally "clean," meaning that he's allowed no hits or walks. Capps' line as a Twin offers a few numbers that are cause for some potential worry.
For his career, Capps claims a strong Walks-per-9 innings mark of 1.7. As a Twin, that number inflates to 2.7. His career K/9 innings is 3.97, but in his brief Minnesota stint that clip deflates to 2.29. Lastly, Capps actually has fared far better against lefties than righties -- which is to say that if he's in a jam versus a left-handed hitter, Gardy will have a really damn tough call about whether to leave Capps on the hill, or replace him with Brian Fuentes (if available at said hypothetical juncture), who just owns lefties.
I like Matt Capps. I think acquiring Matt Capps was a fine move. I'll believe in Matt Capps if and when he has opportunity to close out a playoff game.
But luminary stopper Mariano Rivera didn't become who he is because of his work in the regular season. He had to slice through an incalculable degree of tension to become the greatest closer ever. In two-plus weeks, we'll see what kind of blade Matt Capps truly wields.
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