Too many Twins are in the best shape of their lives!

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The Twins have suffered a lot of injuries this year. Columnist Jim Souhan suggests that the problem may be over-training:

Thus the modern ballplayer is bigger, faster, stronger, better-trained, and yet seemingly more fragile. Might many of these new-age injuries be the result of over-training?

Michael Cuddyer agrees with the over-training thing. In contrast, broadcaster Jack Morris seems to suggest that players are wimpy and that the iron men of the 1980s with whom he played never would have allowed their teammates so much DL time.  We’ve heard this from others in Twins-land recently. Too bad Morris didn’t bark hard enough at Mark Fidrych when they were teammates in the late 70s. If The Bird would have been cajoled out of his apparent softness, those Tigers teams may have won more than the lone World Series. Missed opportunities.

I’m not sure what to make of the over-training argument because my experience with “training” begins and ends with me on my treadmill watching ballgames and X-files reruns while praying for the torture to end.  I’m sure, though, that better diagnosis, greater prudence on the part of trainers and players when it comes to injuries — not to mention the need to use injuries as a scapegoat any team’s poor performance —  has quite a bit to do with it too.

Nationals’ starting pitching carrying them into World Series

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In my postseason preview at the end of September, I listed the Nationals’ starting rotation as a strength and their bullpen as a weakness. Anyone who had followed the club this season could have told you that. Even the Nats are aware of it as manager Dave Martinez has leaned on his rotation to hide his sometimes unreliable ‘pen.

In Game 1 of the NLDS against the Dodgers, Martinez was burned by his bullpen as Tanner Rainey, Fernando Rodney, and Hunter Strickland combined to allow six base runners and four runs. Martinez used ace Max Scherzer in relief in Game 2, sandwiched by Sean Doolittle and Daniel Hudson. Starter Patrick Corbin pitched in relief in Game 3 and it backfired, but the bullpen after Corbin continued to allow more runs — three officially, but Wander Suero allowed two inherited runners to score on a three-run homer by Max Muncy. Martinez only had to rely on Doolittle and Hudson in Game 4 and he again went to Corbin in relief in Game 5.

The strategy was clear: use the actual bullpen as little as possible. If Martinez absolutely has to, Doolittle and Hudson get top priory by a country mile, followed by a starter, then the rest of the bullpen.

Thankfully for Martinez and the Nationals, the starting pitching has done yeoman’s work in the NLCS, jumping out to a three games to none series lead over the Cardinals. Aníbal Sánchez famously brought a no-hit bid into the eighth inning of Game 1, finally relenting a two-out single to José Martínez before his night was over. Doolittle got the final four outs in the 2-0 win. Max Scherzer flirted with a no-hitter in his Game 2 start as well, losing it when Paul Goldschmidt led off the seventh with a single. He was erased on an inning-ending double play. Doolittle, Corbin, and Hudson got the final six outs in the 3-1 victory.

It was more of the same in Game 3. While Stephen Strasburg didn’t flirt with a no-hitter, he was dominant over seven innings, yielding one unearned run on seven hits with no walks and 12 strikeouts. The Nats’ offense woke up, amassing eight runs through seven innings which allowed Martinez to give his main relief guys a night off. Rodney and Rainey each pitched a perfect inning of relief with two strikeouts in low-leverage situations, their first appearances in the NLCS.

The Nationals starting pitching has been outstanding by itself, but it has also had the secondary effect of allowing Martinez to hide his team’s biggest weakness. Now Martinez just has to hope for more of the same for one more game, then at least four more in the World Series.