NEW YORK -- The question came up for Twins manager Ron Gardenhire before the American League Division Series was even over. The question was whether pitchers that can get swings and misses have more success in the playoffs.It could have doubled as a question as to whether the Twins need a pitcher like that in the playoffs. Gardenhire's answer quickly headed in that direction. "Sure, the dominating guys that blow people away, everybody would like to have them," Gardenhire said. "There's just not that many of them out there. As we say, you go with what got you here. There's consistency through our pitching staff. Our pitching staff has done a good job here. ... They're hanging in there pretty doggone good against a lineup like this." That answer came before the Yankees roughed up Brian Duensing for five runs on seven hits over 3 1/3 innings, finishing off the series sweep with a runaway that didn't nearly reflect the closeness of the first two games. The question was more direct after the game: Do the Twins need more power pitching? "People say that, but I think our pitchers do just fine," Gardenhire said. "We just didn't really give them much support in the first couple of games. I like our pitchers. I like the way they go about their business. Everybody would like a power pitcher. Everybody in baseball is always searching for the number one, number two starters. You work with what you have. Your system develops people."
The question that follows could linger a bit longer this offseason.Nobody can doubt the Twins have a year-in, year-out contender, having won back-to-back AL Central titles and gone to a tiebreaker game a year earlier. They're no longer the Little Engine That Could, no longer a small-market team that overachieves with style of play. But their first-round struggles, and their struggles against the Yankees in particular, have become equally impossible to ignore. So, exactly how can the Twins get past the Yankees? They were searching for that answer afterward. "Who knows? I don't know," Denard Span said. They lost last year after playing their best baseball over the final month of the season and winning in a tiebreaker game. This year, they lost after clinching a spot with nearly two weeks to go. They've faced them with and without big bats, with and without bullpen depth, and found the same fate. Do the Twins need a shutdown ace pitcher to do it? Recent history suggests the best chance to beat the Bronx Bombers is with multiple starts from shutdown starters. It could come to the Twins from the blossoming of Francisco Liriano, who will be another year removed from Tommy John surgery after fanning 201 batters this season. It could be the addition of an established starter, the kind they tried so often to pull off over this year, from Cliff Lee to Dan Haren to Roy Oswalt. But the past 10 years suggest they need it.
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The last team to beat the Yankees in the postseason, the 2007 Cleveland Indians, rode Cy Young winner CC Sabathia and power sinkerballer Fausto Carmona to within a game of the World Series. The team before that, the 2006 Detroit Tigers, had Kenny Rogers throwing mid-90s fastballs and Rookie of the Year Justin Verlander showing No. 1 stuff.The Red Sox's comeback of 2004 featured Curt Schilling and his bloody sock in Game 6. The 2003 World Series was the time for then-Marlin Josh Beckett to finally emerge as an ace. The combination of Schilling and Randy Johnson took down the Bronx Bombers in 2001. Of the 37 Yankees postseason losses since 2001, 20 have come in games won by the following pitchers: Lee, Sabathia, Schilling, Beckett, Rogers, Johnson, Ervin Santana, Johan Santana, Derek Lowe, Brad Penny, Mark Mulder, Tim Hudson, Jarrod Washburn and Jamie Moyer, All-Stars all. At least a handful of others ended up going to bullpens in low-scoring duels made possible by some of those same starters. No team since 2003 has beaten the Yankees in the postseason in the last 10 years without at least one starter who was an All-Star that summer. "Good pitching beats good hitting," Delmon Young said Saturday night. "In the playoffs, most of the time it's good pitching. You really don't see big blowout games. You see a lot of low-scoring games. One mistake can lead to a big inning. When it came down for it, they put some wood on the balls and drove in runs. And when it came down for us, we couldn't drive them in." Good hitting also makes the most of pitches hit. Last year's Yankees rolled through the postseason with a .302 batting average on balls put in play (BABIP), second-best in the AL to the Twins. The 2004 Yankees had a .316 BABIP. The 2007 team that exited in the opening round posted just a .238 clip against the Indians. It's not as if the Twins haven't looked for a shutdown starter. And when the Twins had their Cy Young winner in Johan Santana, they still couldn't get past the Yankees. But they didn't have the offense him like they do now. On Saturday, the impact of four Phil Hughes strikeouts among Minnesota's first seven batters was big. Not only was Span's leadoff single in the fourth the Twins' first hit, it was just their second ball put in play to get out of the infield. It isn't as if Twins pitching didn't give them a chance early. But a frontline starter wouldn't have replaced Liriano and Carl Pavano. It would've rather moved them back in the series, potentially pitting Liriano against Phil Hughes. Gardenhire believes Liriano can be that golden arm for them. "We think Francisco Liriano, as he gets further and further away from that surgery, is going to get better and better. He can be that," Gardenhire said. "Power pitchers in the playoffs are a good thing a lot of times. But you work with what you have. And we're pretty proud of our guys, actually. We like our pitching staff. We like the way they throw the ball."