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Tuesday, October 8
Five key questions for ALCS

By Jayson Stark

A.J. Pierzynski says it's "the Hanky against the Monkey." But the Rally Monkey and all those Homer Hankies won't throw a pitch in the American League Championship Series. So here's a look at the pivotal questions involving the Twins and Angels who will throw those pitches (or at least swing at them):

1. Can the Angels win in the Dome?
Just when you thought it was safe to let the visiting team into the Metrodome, after Oakland's emphatic 6-3 win there in Game 3 of the ALDS, the Twins came charging back Saturday for their most lopsided postseason victory (11-2) since Frank Viola beat Joe Magrane 10-1 in Game 1 of the 1987 World Series. So the Twins are now 12-2 all-time in postseason games in the Metrodome. They get to play four games there if this series goes seven. And remember, they've never lost a Game 7 in the Dome.

Garret Anderson
Left Field
Anaheim Angels
638 29 123 93 .871 .306

But the Angels seem better-equipped to deal with that Dome Magic than Oakland. For one thing, unlike last weekend, there are no day games in the Dome in this series -- and those flyballs are much tougher to see in the day. For another, the three Angels outfielders -- Garret Anderson, Darin Erstad and Tim Salmon -- have played more than 100 games in the Metrodome in their combined careers, so they know what they're dealing with. Also, the Angels played two series in the Dome this year instead of one (as Oakland did). And the Angels have played the home team tough in the Dome (5-4 there the last two years). Then again, they've never played there in October.

2. Can the Angels' right-handers control the Twins' offense?
Well, the Twins dispensed with one popular theory -- that they couldn't win a postseason series against an Oakland team loaded with dominant left-handed pitchers. But it's a fact that they match up much better against Anaheim -- a club with only one left-handed starter (Jarrod Washburn) and one left-handed reliever (Scott Schoeneweis). Lost in all that talk about their trouble against left-handers was this fact: the Twins had the best record in baseball (71-38) in games started by right-handers. They went 4-0 this season in games started by Kevin Appier, Ramon Ortiz and John Lackey (but lost to Aaron Sele, who could be reactivated for this series). And they even hit .297 against Schoeneweis, the left-hander Anaheim figures to call on to get out Jacque Jones, Corey Koskie or Pierzynski late in a tight game. So Washburn will loom as a very big figure.

3. Can the Angels' offense stay this hot?
The Angels hit .376 against the Yankees, outhomered them (9-7) and came from behind seven different times in four games. No wonder Derek Jeter said, "If they play like this, I can't see anyone beating them." Well, we know how hard the Angels play every day. But can they hit like this against a Twins staff that, on paper, seems more hittable than the Yankees? Granted, we saw last week how little that paper means -- but historically, these Angels haven't had much fun facing the Twins' rotation.

Brad Radke is 11-4 (1.72 ERA) lifetime against them. Eric Milton is 5-2. And Rick Reed is 4-1 (with a 2.12 ERA). Only Joe Mays has scuffled at all (1-3, but only a 3.42 ERA). The Twins shut down both David Eckstein (.133 vs. Minnesota) and Troy Glaus (.171) this year. But Anderson hit .314 against them (and is .350 lifetime in the Dome). The Twins also had trouble with Adam Kennedy (.355), Bengie Molina (.320) and Scott Spiezio (.308). So there's no easy answer. Still, if you were going to pick one offense to have a big series, you would pick the Angels.

4. Can the Angels put pressure on the Twins' defense?
By making so much contact and constantly taking the extra base, the Angels turned out to be the Yankee defense's worst nightmare. But the Twins -- who committed 53 fewer errors this year than the Yankees -- present a much tougher challenge. All three Twins outfielders throw well, so that will limit the first-to-third track meet the Angels ran in the Division Series. Minnesota catchers threw out 40 percent of Angels basestealers this year (4 of 10), which hinders their running game. And the Dome's AstroConcrete makes it almost impossible for Eckstein, Kennedy and Erstad to use the bunting game to accomplish anything more than making Corey Koskie move in a step. So for Anaheim, this aspect is a rough matchup.

Eddie Guardado
Relief Pitcher
Minnesota Twins
67.2 1-3 45 53 70 2.93

5. Who will win the battle of the bullpens?
Among AL teams with winning records, no club went to its bullpen more than the Twins. And among the rest, only Oakland ran more relief pitchers out there than the Angels. So the bullpens easily could decide this series. The Angels had the best relief pitching, statistically, in the league. And that was without Division Series phenom Francisco Rodriguez (8 strikeouts, 2 hits in 5 2/3 IP vs. New York) for most of the year. Then there's Troy Percival, a man who has never allowed an earned run in the Metrodome in 22 2/3 innings.

"I think the ninth inning for Anaheim could be a big advantage in this series," says one scout. "There's an air of invincibility when Percival comes in that you don't feel when Eddie (Guardardo) comes in." But the same scout also says "the Twins have one of the best bullpens, and certainly the most balanced, going into the playoffs I've ever seen." They have two dominant left-handed relievers, in J.C. Romero and Johan Santana. From the right side, LaTroy Hawkins (5 whiffs in 7 hitters) had an overpowering series against Oakland. And Kyle Lohse is an underrated force as a prospective long man. So this has all the makings of a fascinating bullpen chess match.

Prediction: Twins in seven.

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