Updated: October 15th, 2013 10:46pm
Mackey: October a reminder of just how wide pitching gap is for Twins

Mackey: October a reminder of just how wide pitching gap is for Twins

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by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com

The need for top-end starting pitching has always been, more or less, a prerequisite to achieve the highest levels of success in Major League Baseball, and it's hard to recall many Octobers with so many alpha starters mowing through lineups.

Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Adam Wainwright, Michael Wacha, Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Jon Lester, John Lackey... They're all pitching lights-out.

Verlander struck out 10 Red Sox hitters in eight innings on Tuesday, including tying a postseason record with six consecutive punch outs at one point - in a losing effort. That's because his opponent, Lackey, pitched 6 2/3 scoreless while fanning eight.

On Sunday, Scherzer sat down 13 Boston hitters in seven innings. And one night before that, Anibal Sanchez whiffed 12 in six no-hit innings.

In the NL, Wacha has struck out 17 while allowing only one run in his two postseason starts. Wainwright has allowed four runs in three playoff starts while fanning 20. Kershaw has allowed one run in three starts while fanning 23 in 19 innings. Greinke struck out 10 in Game 1 against St. Louis.

Alphas. And they're all delivering in the postseason.

All of this is to remind the Minnesota Twins just how far away the starting rotation is from being anywhere near the aforementioned levels.

To illustrate... In 162 games this season, Twins starters fanned three batters or fewer 110 times and completed seven innings or more only 27 times. The most strikeouts a Twins starter tallied in any outing this season was seven.

Since 2008 (call it the post-Johan era), Twins starting pitchers have the third-lowest average fastball velocity (per Fangraphs). The Tigers, Rays, Red Sox, Yankees, Dodgers, Rangers, Cardinals and Royals all rank in the top 10. Over that same time period, no collection of starting pitchers has struck out fewer batters (5.75 per nine innings) than the Twins.

Where will the Twins' next alpha starter(s) come from?

Well, the two most highly-touted pitchers in the organization are Alex Meyer and Kohl Stewart. Meyer, 23, is one of the top pitching prospects in baseball, and he has been mostly lights-out at every level, striking out more than 10 batters per nine innings in the minors with high velocity and downward movement. But he made only 13 starts for Double-A New Britain this year due to a shoulder injury.

Stewart, 19, projects as a possible alpha, but he has yet to reach Single-A.

Kyle Gibson, who turns 26 next week, has a lot of work to do just to prove he can be a viable mid-rotation guy. J.O. Berrios, 19, is one to keep an eye on, but he's probably two or three years away.

Free agency features a handful of starters who used to be alphas -- Dan Haren, Ubaldo Jimenez, Josh Johnson, Tim Lincecum, Johan Santana and Barry Zito. But all of them are now flawed in some way, be it injury or a drop-off in performance. Ervin Santana and Matt Garza are free agents who might get paid like top dogs, but their performance levels fit better in the middle of a good rotation.

The Rays might trade David Price, but at what cost? Miguel Sano or Byron Buxton?

The road to winning starts with top starting pitching. And the Twins need to look no further than their TV sets in October to see how far away they are on that road. 

Phil Mackey is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Phil | @PhilMackey | Mackey & Judd
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