10/02/06 12:31 AM ET
Twins-A's: Position analysis
By Jim Molony / MLB.com
Jason Kendall's batting average and on-base percentage are both more than 50 points higher after the break than before. The Oakland backstop has very little power, but he does get on base, doesn't strike out much and at 32 years old is still more than adequate defensively. Many players Kendall's age look worn down at this point in the season, especially catchers, but not Kendall, who still runs well enough to bat leadoff.
But Minnesota's Joe Mauer had a season so good offensively that he is basically off the charts for catchers as hitters for average. And he is already an established defensive catcher.
Oakland's Nick Swisher, when he isn't in the outfield, and Dan Johnson have shared the position almost equally and together the two form a very good tandem offensively and defensively. Swisher strikes out a lot, but he also draws a lot of walks and has tremendous power. Johnson, who can also hit the ball out of the park, fills in nicely when Swisher is in left field.
Neither had a better year than Minnesota's Justin Morneau, a genuine MVP candidate, who busted out for his first 30-homer and 100-RBI seasons.
Mark Ellis has the range and defensive skills one would expect from a converted shortstop, and while a broken thumb limited Ellis to one game in June, he has come back strong and was one of Oakland's hottest hitters in September. Ellis has a little power and gets on base often enough to make the bottom of the Oakland lineup better than most.
Luis Castillo has been a very nice addition for the Twins, both in the lineup and in the field. He's regained his edge on the basepath and has shown why he was such a dangerous hitter with the Marlins.
Oakland's Marco Scutaro has been doing an adequate job filling in for the injured Bobby Crosby. Scutaro is a streaky hitter with limited power, and his best asset is his defensive ability. Scutaro is not the offensive and defensive weapon Crosby is, but he catches what he gets to and is better than average with runners in scoring position.
Jason Bartlett has helped solidify the Twins infield and has had a productive season. He has speed on the basepaths and appears to have a bright future in the Majors.
Oakland's Eric Chavez is having a disappointing year by his usual lofty standards, and his batting average is significantly below his career level, but he has come up with big hits in the clutch and has provided power and RBIs the club needs from the position. Defensively, Chavez remains among the best in the league.
Minnesota's Nick Punto, a very nice little player, plays the game the right way. He's a solid baserunner and a scrappy hitter, and has allowed the Twins to move Michael Cuddyer to the outfield. However, he's not on the All-Star level of Chavez.
Oakland's Jay Payton is enjoying one of the best years of his career. A contact hitter with excellent speed, Payton is more patient at the plate than he was a few years ago. Payton is an excellent center fielder, but Mark Kotsay's presence makes Payton one of the better defensive left fielders in the league.
Minnesota's Rondell White staged something of a revival late in the season. Early on, he was unable to get anything going, but began to look like the White the Twins were expecting as the year rolled on.
Oakland's Kotsay is one of the best center fielders in the game. He covers a lot of ground, has a strong arm and takes excellent routes to the ball. Offensively, he is a first rate leadoff man who doesn't strike out too much and hits the ball on a line to all fields. He wears out right-handers and has been among the hottest hitters on the team since the break.
Minnesota's Torii Hunter is the best defensive center fielder in the game today, and he has more potential, particularly demonstrated this season, for pop at a crucial juncture.
Oakland's Milton Bradley is a versatile talent who does many things well but has trouble playing well on a consistent basis. He has some power but doesn't hit a lot of homers, has some speed but doesn't steal a lot of bases. A line-drive hitter who uses all fields, Bradley adds to his value with his good strike-zone judgment. He is also an above-average fielder who can play all three outfield positions.
Michael Cuddyer had a very productive season for the Twins, showing the ability to hit around 25 homers that the Twins had been waiting to see. Cuddyer is versatile to fill in at several infield positions if the situation dictates.
Oakland's Frank Thomas is not only a strong candidate for Comeback Player of the Year, he is also deserving of Most Valuable Player consideration. The Big Hurt came back big in 2006 and is once again the power-hitting force he was before a spate of injuries curtailed his production in recent years. Thomas crushes inside pitches and also does a good job driving pitches off the plate.
The Twins use the combo of Phil Nevin against lefties and Jason Tyner against righties. Tyner gets points for being one of the reasons that Ozzie Guillen called the Twins, "the little piranhas," but still, the A's have the advantage here.
Oakland's deep bullpen has youngster Huston Street at closer, and he's preceded by an above-average group, including right-handers Justin Duchscherer, Kiko Calero, Jay Witasick and Chad Gaudin and lefties Scott Sauerbeck and Brad Halsey. Assuming sometimes starter Kirk Saarloos is in the bullpen for the playoffs, Ken Macha will have a varied and deep 'pen at his disposal.
Top to bottom, the Twins have as good a bullpen as anybody in baseball. Sidewinder Pat Neshek has been a revelation. Juan Rincon has established himself as one of the premier setup men in the game, even though his first half was better than his second. And Joe Nathan has quietly moved into the elite ranks of closers.
Call them interchangeable. Not only can starters Bradley and Payton play all three outfield spots for Oakland, so can Hiram Bocachica. Bobby Kielty, an above-average pinch-hitter, can handle either corner outfield spot and has also filled in on the infield. Swisher can play first base or either corner outfield spot. Antonio Perez and D'Angelo Jimenez can play three infield positions. The A's also have five switch-hitters, which gives Macha all kinds of matchup possibilities.
The Twins have capable bench players. Lew Ford is a particularly versatile outfielder. There may not be much of a role for a backup catcher in the postseason, but Mike Redmond was terrific in that role for the Twins, as well as being a valuable clubhouse presence.
Macha has proven to be one of the most capable managers in the game. It seems like every year the A's lose frontline free agents yet still find a way to plug the holes and win more often than they lose. Macha and his staff deserve a lot of the credit for that.
Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire doesn't have to take a back seat to anybody. He's led his team to the postseason four times in five seasons and he's the embodiment of the scrappy, intelligent approach of the entire Minnesota franchise.
The A's have been a disappointment in recent playoffs, but this time they are coming in as the underdog and, with the exception of Bobby Crosby, healthier than they've been all season.
But the Twins have the underdog mentality. They are a typically alert, aggressive Minnesota team, and they have been on a roll since mid-June.
Jim Molony is a writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.