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Mailbag: Did Twins lose a must-win?

Mailbag: Did Twins lose a must-win?

MINNEAPOLIS -- Tuesday's American League Division Series opener between the Twins and A's pretty much went as expected, aside from the final score with Johan Santana on the mound at home.

A number of questions have come in from both sides after this tautly contested Oakland victory. So, let's take a shot at giving our best response to your concerns and inquiries.

Do you see Game 1 as a must-win for the Twins?
-- Brad A., Cedar Rapids, Iowa

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Brad, I really do believe the Twins needed to win this first game. They had Santana pitching, with Minnesota having won 23 straight home starts by their ace left-hander, and the Twins needed to set the tone out of the gates in this series.

Let's face it: they have a rookie in Boof Bonser and a valiant Brad Radke pitching with shoulder pain working the next two games. Of course, this assessment is not to say the Twins can't bounce back in what looks to be a very evenly matched series.

But their job just grew a great deal tougher, courtesy of Barry Zito and Frank Thomas.

Why did Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire let Jesse Crain pitch to Thomas, and not walk him?
-- Alyssa, Cedar, Minn.

Alyssa, although Thomas appears to be right on every pitch, it just doesn't make sense to walk him to lead off the inning in a one-run game. Granted, speed is not one of Thomas' strong suits right now, but Oakland manager Ken Macha could have pinch-run for Thomas and set up a bigger inning.

There were a number of e-mails criticizing Crain's effort, with the Minnesota fans apparently pushing for Pat Neshek in relief from the right side. But I'll defer to Gardenhire in regard to explaining Crain's appearance.

"He has been throwing better than the rest of the guys out there," said Gardenhire of Crain. "You get right-left-right situations, Jesse is the guy we have been going to, and he has been throwing the ball fantastic.

"Big Frank can do that to you. He can drive the baseball. If you make a mistake and he can get his hands on it, he can kill you."

I see the A's in four, maybe only three. This is the A's best chance of winning the World Series. When is Frank going to sign?
-- Vince R., Lafayette, Calif.

From reports I've read, A's general manager Billy Beane plans on beginning contract talks soon with Arn Tellem, Thomas' agent. At a base salary of $500,000 this season, Thomas produced more bang for the buck than any other free agent.

Don't count this series over quite yet, Vince. The A's clearly have the edge now, but in day-to-day battles where there's no clear-cut advantage talent-wise for either squad, the momentum can change with one pitch.

Will Johan Santana start Game 4?
-- Robert, Minneapolis

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Who's going to win this series? Who's the best player? Why'd the manager make that move? If game stories and features aren't enough for you and you want more, e-mail MLB.com's Scott Merkin at scott.merkin@mlb.com. After the game, before it, even while the action is going on. Send in your question (make sure the subject line contains ALDS Mailbag), and Merkin will answer selected queries in a regular mailbag right here on MLB.com. Make sure to visit Scott's blog right here throughout the series.

From what I've heard and been told, Santana would come back on three days of rest Saturday only if the Twins were down in the series. Santana threw 107 pitches Tuesday, not exactly a huge pitch count, and had six days off since his last start.

Everyone says this year is different for the A's. Other than Thomas, what's gonna help the A's advance to the next round?
-- Katrina, Oakland

Katrina, judging by Tuesday's contest, I would say pitching. Oakland doesn't look like a team blasting its way to a championship. But if the A's can get quality starts from Esteban Loaiza, Dan Haren and Rich Harden, much like Zito, and Huston Street stays steady closing out games, they should be in very good shape.

Of course, two home runs per game from Thomas doesn't hurt the cause.

What are the Twins doing recently? It seems like they don't want to make the opposing pitcher work anymore.
-- Rob, Brookings, S.D.

Rob, I can only go by what I've seen the last four games, and I think Tuesday was more of a one-game absence from the Twins' patient approach at the plate and, again, credit goes to Zito. The Twins admitted they entered the game wanting to make Zito bring his pitches down, and then helped him out early by swinging at too many high fastballs and not working the count.

"He would speed us up, slow us down, in, out, in, out," said Minnesota right fielder Michael Cuddyer of Zito. "Rondell [White] was pretty much the only guy who hit the ball well today. That's what he does, when he's good. Zito messes with timing and your eye level on pitches."

Why didn't Luis Castillo bunt again after missing on his first attempt in the eighth?
-- Lori, Edina, Minn.

It sounded as if Gardenhire wanted Castillo to bunt and to push the ball down the third-base line with Jason Bartlett on second and nobody out in the eighth. But Castillo was looking more toward first with the bunt and decided to swing away when he saw Nick Swisher charging hard. It was one of a number of little mistakes that cost the Twins Tuesday.

Is Swisher's ankle OK?
-- Renee, Oakland

According to Macha, Swisher caught a ball off his foot in Sunday's regular-season finale against the Angels and had to be taken out of the game. When he slid into second in the ninth Tuesday, he landed right on that same painful spot. But Swisher is fine and available for Wednesday.

Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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