Twins' postseason hopes disappear in an instant
There's nothing crueler in American sports than a 162-game season followed by a three-and-out playoff series. Just ask the Minnesota Twins. You work all year to get a chance at the World Series, yet a great summer can turn into a nightmare winter...
There's nothing crueler in American sports than a 162-game season followed by a three-and-out playoff series. Just ask the Minnesota Twins.
You work all year to get a chance at the World Series, yet a great summer can turn into a nightmare winter in the span of 75 hours, sometimes a few less, with a best-of-five playoff format. The Rays avoided that scenario over the weekend in Texas, rallying to a pair of elimination-game victories.
But no one will feel the squeeze more than Ron Gardenhire did Saturday night at Yankee Stadium -- and the knot in his stomach just kept growing bigger and bigger until an anticlimactic 6-1 loss was in the books.
This was the 12th straight postseason loss for Gardenhire, whose playoff record dropped to 6-21.
"It's tough," Twins first baseman Michael Cuddyer said. "It's not what we set out in spring training to do. (But) we had a good season."
Sure, in a sense. But will they remember the 94 victories or the last three losses?
When do pitchers and catchers report, anyway? The October that the Twins and their fans had anticipated with such relish was over.
If anyone should want the first round expanded to baseball's traditional best-of-seven format, Gardenhire would be the guy. But his mind was racing too fast before Game 3 to consider such a broad question.
"I'm trying to figure out how to win tonight," Gardenhire said. "I can't worry about that right now."
Then he did.
"These short series are different, for sure," Gardenhire said. "We've all talked about that. We have to figure out how to win tonight and go from there. ... If they want to (make changes) like that, it would be fine."
Since MLB went to the current playoff format in 1995, 24 teams have been swept in the first round. Few of them could have felt much better about themselves entering the playoffs than Gardenhire's Twins this year.
The 2008 Cubs? Probably. For sure Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling and the 98-victory Diamondbacks in 2002. But like them, the Twins weren't being delusional when they figured to have a long October. A run of 45-17 from July 16 to
Sept. 21, when they clinched the Central title, made the Twins look like a team with staying power.
Uh, not so much.
For whatever reason -- catcher Joe Mauer's knee injury and Jim Thome's aching back are two some will cite -- the Twins took their foot off the throttle after eliminating the White Sox. They had a shot to be the American League's No. 1 seed but settled for No. 2, then got labeled as fraudulent by the wild-card Yankees, miscast as the No. 4 seed in MLB's format.
As quickly as the memory of a strong season can change in the current format, the pace could pick up next season.
MLB is considering ways to expand the playoff format from eight teams to 10, adding a second wild card in both leagues.
If it follows through on the idea -- and Commissioner Bud Selig seems intrigued by the possibility of cutting the MLB Network in on playoff action -- it will choose between one of two scenarios: a best-of-three series between the wild-card teams, or a one-game showdown between them, essentially guaranteeing a Game 163, like the ones that were so dramatic in 2007, '08 and '09.
Imagine how quickly life would flash before a team's eyes then.
The guess here is that a best-of-three is going to happen, most likely in 2011. MLB already has announced it is starting the regular season on April 1, a Friday rather than the traditional Monday opener.
This season, the 10-team format would have eliminated the drama of the season's final week, when the Giants, Braves and Padres jockeyed for the National League's last two playoff spots. But it would have given us the crazy drama of the defending champ Yanks having to defend their arrogance against the flawed Red Sox with the pitching to prevail.
Would it be unfair? Sure. Would it be exciting? Absolutely. Count me in.
Phil Rogers is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune.