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Updated: October 10th, 2010 1:12am
Mackey: Twins postseason futility is unexplainable and inexplicable

Mackey: Twins postseason futility is unexplainable and inexplicable

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by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com

NEW YORK -- Over the last three months of the regular season, I couldn't stop thinking about the Minnesota Twins' two regular season series against the New York Yankees.

To be more specific, I couldn't stop thinking about how much unfinished business was left on the table for both teams.

Sure, the Yankees took two out of three in both series, like they are accustomed to doing against the Twins. But thanks to an 8-2 victory on May 27 at Target Field, and Jason Kubel's eighth-inning grand slam off Mariano Rivera on May 16 at Yankee Stadium, the Twins essentially toilet papered the Bronx Bombers' front yard and wrapped their SUV in plastic wrap on the way out.

The Twins entered this year's American League Division Series with a full understanding of their past struggles against New York, but they also entered with a strong sense of confidence, and perhaps the best overall team manager Ron Gardenhire has ever wielded.

They left New York, however, on the wrong end of a 6-1 beating with souvenir, Navy Blue brooms.

"It just sucks right now," Denard Span said. "To get swept two years in a row by the same team, I think we're better than that. It's just too bad we didn't show it."

The Twins' postseason struggles against the Yankees, and against the Oakland Athletics in 2006, are mind-boggling, and the team is now reaching low points in the postseason that it has never sniffed in the regular season over the past decade.

Minnesota has racked up 12 consecutive postseason losses dating back to the 2004 ALDS. Only the Boston Red Sox (13 straight losses from 1986 - 1995) had a longer drought.

Over that same stretch, the Twins' longest regular season losing streak is six games (once each in '05, '07, '08 and '09).

On top of that, the Twins haven't scored more than four runs in a postseason game since Game 4 of the 2004 ALDS -- a stretch that spans nine games.

To put that into perspective, since playoff appearances became commonplace in 2002, the Twins have endured no such regular season scoring drought.

(They had an eight-game stretch of four runs or fewer in late July of 2007, and an eight-game stretch in May of 2002.)

The Twins are also just 20-for-97 (.206) with runners in scoring position over their last four postseason series.

And it's not like we're talking about the same cast of characters from year to year.

This season the Twins added Jim Thome (1-for-8 with two walks in the ALDS), J.J. Hardy (1-for-10) and Orlando Hudson (4-for-12, HR) to the offense, plus Danny Valencia (2-for-9), who was called up from Rochester in June. They also added Matt Capps and Brian Fuentes to bolster the bullpen.

None of these men knew anything about the Twins' past postseason failures.

"I don't know," Capps said. "It's a good ballclub over there obviously, and I've heard a lot about our struggles that we've had, and maybe there is a little bit of pushing. But we believe in what we're capable of doing and our talents."

What about the lifers? Specifically Joe Mauer and Jason Kubel, who have experienced drastically different results in the postseason than in the regular season.

Mauer has played in nine career postseason games. He has exactly one extra-base hit and is hitting just .286/.359/.314, which is well below his career regular season line of .327/.407/.481.

The same for Kubel, who is hitting .069/.156/.134 in eight career postseason games, versus .271/.335/.463 in the regular season.

Derek Jeter, by comparison, hits .314/.385/.452 in the regular season and a nearly identical .311/.380/.475 in the playoffs.

Some folks might point out that the Twins play in a weaker division, thus aren't subject to the challenge of facing the Yankees, Red Sox and Rays 60 times per season. While partially true, the Twins are still a playoff-caliber team, and there is no such thing as a playoff caliber-team that should lose this often to anybody.

I don't care how sharp the pinstripes are.

The Twins will argue that many of these losses to the Yankees could have gone either way -- close games that are decided by one clutch hit, or one small mistake.

But that's baseball. Good teams average 4.5 or 5.0 runs per game. Bad teams average 4.0. All games, theoretically, could go either way.

In fact, Saturday night broke a stretch of eight straight postseason games where the Twins have taken a lead on the Yankees, only to eventually give it back.

"I think it has a lot to do with the strength of our club, the experience of our club, getting big hits in big situations, being able to come from behind," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said when asked why the Yankees always come out on top in these seesaw battles against Minnesota.

"I think about how Liriano was mowing us down and we were able to chip away and take the lead. Then they tied it up, and then we get a big home run by Tex. I think it says a lot about our club, that our club just keeps putting pressure on the other team."

And for those whose logic for the Twins getting swept revolves around them losing eight of their last 10 games down the stretch, go check out how the Yankees played in September. The Bombers lost eight of 11, and they finished 9-16 in their final 25 games.

In 2006 and 2009, the Twins played like their back pockets were on fire in September, yet they were swept clean in the playoffs regardless.

"No excuses," Gardenhire said. "We just didn't get it done. We haven't got it done. And we have to do some more searching here in trying to figure out how to get it done, because we definitely, definitely can do it. We know we can. We know we're a good baseball team. You just have to put it together at the right time. And we just haven't done it."

I don't know why the Twins can't beat the Yankees.

But I do know this: Orlando Hudson took a curtain call at Target Field after hitting a game-tying solo home run off Andy Pettitte in Game 2.

In the sixth inning.

Meanwhile, the Yankees waited for their next feast -- a go-ahead RBI double by Lance Berkman in the top of the seventh inning. They would go on to score two more runs for a 5-2 victory, never ceasing to take their foot off the gas pedal. Never feeling a sense of comfort or arrival.

Never taking curtain calls in the sixth inning.

They just get it done.

And the Twins don't.

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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