Monday, October 12, 2009

K Is For Kubel

At the risk of not giving the Twins proper credit for their remarkable late season comeback, they were a relatively weak playoff team. The won baseball's poorest division, and needed an extra game to do so. Three clubs (Texas, Florida, and San Francisco) sit at home this post-season despite having better records than Minnesota. Atlanta had the same 162 game record as the Twins, while Seattle, Tampa Bay, and the Cubs - three teams never even considered contenders down the stretch - all finished within three games of the Twins' 162 game record.

None of which takes away from the fact that had a couple breaks gone the other way, this series could still be going, and could be going with Twins in the driver's seat (more on that later this week). But the point is that the Twins were a weak division champion, and in this instance the Yankees actually benefited from the pointless rule that the supposedly weak Wild Card team cannot play its own Division Champion in the DS.

That said, the Twins had a razor thin margin for error heading into the series. Their starting pitching was average at best and they were playing what amounted to replacement level offensive players at as many as five spots in their line up. What the Twins had on their side was the law of averages and a short series (again more on that later), momentum (which doesn't matter nearly as much as sports writers lead us to believe), and a heart of the order that's as good as any other in the league. In order to win the series the Twins needed to catch some breaks (so much for that Phil Cuzzi), do the "little things" well (ditto Gomez and Punto), and get production from their three big bats.

They did get production from Joe Mauer (.417/.500/.500 in 14 PA) and Michael Cuddyer (.429/.429/.429 in 14 PA), but the third man in that triumvirate, Jason Kubel, was ice cold. For the series, Kubel went 1 for 14 with no walks and nine strikeouts. After fanning twice in Game One, he took the Golden Sombrero in Game Two before getting a base hit off Damaso Marte in the 11th, then followed that with a Silver Sombrero last night. Over the course of the series he went 0 for 2 with RISP and left seven runners on base. Even when he seemingly caught a break - like when Robinson Cano missed his liner in the fifth last night - bad luck caught up with him, as the ball went straight to Nick Swisher in right, allowing him to force Cuddyer, who had rightly retreated towards first, at second base.

The nature of baseball is such that one player truly can't win or lose a series on his own. Just as Alex Rodriguez wasn't solely responsible for the 2004 ALCS or the ALDS in 2005, 2006, and 2007, Jason Kubel isn't entirely at fault for the Twins getting swept. A bad three game stretch doesn't make him a post-season choke artist either. But his failure to produce in this series is a huge contributing factor to the Twins' ouster given how reliant their club was on those three middle of the order bats.

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