Eyeing the rest of the postseason

ALCS
Twins vs. Yankees

Whether or not the Twins need Johan Santana to close out the ALDS against the A’s will have a lot of bearing on this series. If Santana can go in Game 1 — and potentially give the Twins three starts, if they need them — the Twins can have a better shot at knocking off the Yankees.

New York, of course, has that formidable lineup, but the problem in the postseason — as Alex Rodriguez learned last year — is that slumps are magnified, and for good reason. A player can overcome a bad week or a 1-for-15 stretch and still have a good season, still be an All-Star, still win the MVP. Do that in the postseason, and your team could be going home. I think the Yankees will. Jason Giambi’s wrist injury will keep him from playing first base, meaning Gary Sheffield gets that assignment after playing about a week there in September. Giambi’s wrist could affect his hitting, and Sheffield’s defense will be a liability.

The Yankees are on the verge of becoming the Giants, a team of aging stars. GM Brian Cashman won’t let that happen, of course, but it could catch up to the Yankees in the postseason. From Randy Johnson’s back to Mike Mussina’s groin to Mariano Rivera’s forearm/elbow to the wrists on Giambi, Sheffield and Hideki Matsui, there are any number of potential injury time bombs.

If the Twins’ rotation lines up right — and I think it will — the Rangers’ Michael Young will have not only won the All-Star Game for the American League, but he’ll have put Game 1 of the World Series at the Metrodome on Oct. 21.

Twins in seven.

NLCS
Padres vs. Mets

The Shea Stadium fans will not cheer Mike Piazza as loudly this time around. And he certainly won’t get a curtain call after a home run, unless it’s a solo shot with two outs that cuts a Mets lead to 10-2 in the top of the ninth in Game 7.

Today’s news about Orlando Hernandez’s potential calf injury is a bigger blow than Pedro Martinez’s because the Mets were already preparing themselves for a postseason without Pedro. El Duque was the primary reason, Exhibit A of Plan B. If Hernandez cannot pitch in Game 1 of the NLDS tomorrow, that puts Steve Trachsel in Game 1 — Tom Glavine had already pitched his bullpen session and cannot take the spot — and puts John Maine (unless he gets Game 1) as the Game 3 starter in Dodger Stadium. And what the heck is a 44-year-old Hernandez doing running sprints the day before he’s to pitch in the postseason? He’s a veteran; he should just be left to pitch.

When I sat down earlier this afternoon to run through my thoughts for the postseason, I was all set to tab the Mets for their third world championship. Yes, it’s a bit of a homer call, a bit of a heart pick, but the Mets have the pieces and have had the good fortune — and talent, ability and depth — to get through the season with the best record in baseball (tied with the Yankees). Only the 1998 Yanks have won the World Series after compiling the best record in baseball during the regular season. A Subway Series would guarantee that one of the teams with this year’s best record would become just the second one to do so. With Hernandez’s injury muddling things, I’m going to have to amend my thoughts. I believe the Mets can overcome the loss of one starter, but I’m not sure about two.

I hope I’m wrong.

Padres in six.

World Series
Padres vs. Twins

The idiocy of awarding Games 1, 2, 6 and 7 of the World Series to the representative from the league that wins the All-Star Game is, as I’ve said, insane. It’s no different from awarding home-field advantage to the team with the best spring-training record, because both are exhibition games largely decided by players who will not benefit from that which they helped to win. None of the American League’s seven hits, three runs or three RBIs in the Midsummer Clunker came from a player in the postseason. At least Trevor Hoffman, who took the loss for the National League, may get to see what his ineffectiveness has wrought.

The Twins would’ve had home-field advantage anyway — the American League team had it in even-numbered years under the old alternating system — but their home crowds at the Metrodome surpass all but a few in baseball, and probably match up evenly with the likes of Boston and the two New York stadiums. In a Twins-Padres series, I see the Minnesota pitching edging out that of San Diego — not a bad staff in itself — and doing more to neutralize the opposing offense. If the Mets manage to find their way to the Series, I give them as good a chance as any team to win it. Without them representing the National League, I think the AL retains the crown … for this year.

Twins in six.

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