Indian Summer In Minnesota

Here in Minnesota, we are enjoying a few days of unseasonable warmth–a classic Indian Summer. I took this photo off my deck this morning; it illustrates how beautiful an autumn we are enjoying. Click to enlarge:
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Unfortunately, October also features the baseball post-season. It has been a long time since October was kind to the Minnesota Twins. 2010 was a great year for baseball in Minnesota, as Target Field was inaugurated. Every game was a sellout, and the Twins compiled the best home record in baseball while strolling to an easy pennant in the American League Central.
For the Twins in recent years, however, the post-season has been the hard part. You can look up the numbers, but during the Gardenhire era they are just about winless in the post-season, and their chief nemesis has been the New York (“Damn”) Yankees. This year they drew the Yanks again, as Tampa Bay won the AL East. The Twins enjoyed home-field advantage over the wild-card Yankees, but that didn’t do them much good. The Yanks won both games in Minneapolis.
Tonight the third and last game of the series is being played at Yankee Stadium. As I write, the Yanks are up 5-0. They will complete the sweep tonight. Some Minnesotans argue that the current Twins team lacks “heart,” unlike that of the late ’80s and early ’90s. That could be, but I think the problem is explainable by more objective factors: the Twins simply aren’t built for the post-season.
The team’s virtues are depth and competence, especially in the field. Those are wonderful qualities for a 162-game regular season. You can win 90 to 95 games a year by having players in reserve to replace those who get hurt and by not throwing the ball away against teams like the Kansas City Royals. Unfortunately, when the Twins get to the post-season, depth doesn’t mean much–they can only play nine players at once, and starters are irrelevant after the top three–and the Yankees and other teams in the post-season don’t throw the ball away, either.
So, year after year, the Twins’ strengths are neutralized in October, and their weaknesses become glaring. They have no dominant starting pitchers, and hardly any power. This year, once Justin Morneau was sidelined by a concussion shortly before the All-Star break, their only legitimate home run hitter was Jim Thome, age 40. Against mediocre or lousy teams you can string together four or five singles and errors and score some runs. Against the teams that make the post-season, that rarely happens.
So, once again, the Twins make an early exit. Manager Ron Gardenhire got himself ejected from Game 2, as if to demonstrate to the team and its fans that he isn’t satisfied with another playoff failure. That’s fine, but the team will have to be restructured if it is to do any better next year.
Still, 2010 was a great year for Minnesota’s baseball fans. Target Field may be the best baseball venue in America, and it was unquestionably the place to be in Minneapolis this year. So, a fond farewell.
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Wait ’til next year!

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