September 28, 2006

Radke's Return (Bring on the Yankees)

Detroit lost to Toronto last night, giving the Twins a chance to move into a first-place tie in the division and make things really interesting with four games remaining, but Carlos Silva turned in an ugly start to quickly dash those hopes. The Twins' odds of facing the Yankees in the first round of the playoffs are now relatively overwhelming, which is a sobering thought given Silva's performance against the Royals and the ridiculous lineup the Yankees trotted out last night:

1. Johnny Damon
2. Derek Jeter
3. Bobby Abreu
4. Alex Rodriguez
5. Jason Giambi
6. Gary Sheffield
7. Hideki Matsui
8. Jorge Posada
9. Robinson Cano

That lineup includes two former MVPs, perhaps the leading candidate to win the award this year, and another guy who's finished among the top three vote-getters in three different seasons. Eight of those nine hitters are multi-time All-Stars and the only one who isn't is Robinson Cano, a 23-year-old chasing Joe Mauer for the AL batting title. Not coincidentally, that lineup scored 16 runs against Baltimore last night despite most of the starters getting a few innings off.

Beating up the Orioles isn't necessarily proof of a lineup's greatness, but from top to bottom that group is as scary as any in modern baseball history. The Yankees have already scored 912 runs this season with four games left on the schedule, which is amazing when you consider they spent much of the year with Bobby Abreu in Philadelphia and both Gary Sheffield and Hideki Matsui on the disabled list. Stick all nine of those guys in the same batting order and it's a 1,000-run lineup.

All of which is why Brad Radke's return to the mound tonight is suddenly extremely important. I had all but written off Radke's chances of pitching in the playoffs when his shoulder injuries became too much for him to pitch through late last month, but with Silva looking like a mess again and a first-round trip to New York looming next week, having Radke available to potentially give the Twins even five innings in Game 3 of the ALDS would be huge.

Is that realistic given the condition of his ailing shoulder and the month-long layoff he's had? Perhaps not, but we'll have a much better idea tonight. If Radke can make it through three or four innings against the Royals and not experience a setback later this week, he's clearly a better bet than Silva and there's little doubt that the Twins would turn to him over Scott Baker (despite Baker's limited success against the Yankees). That would leave the Twins with the following first-round rotation:

Game 1: Johan Santana
Game 2: Boof Bonser
Game 3: Brad Radke
Game 4: Matt Garza
Game 5: Johan Santana

While certainly not ideal, that's far better than the jumbled mess of ugly ERAs the Twins were looking at sifting through a few weeks ago. Johan Santana would be called upon to potentially start two games at Yankee Stadium, with Boof Bonser taking the other game in New York, while Radke and Matt Garza would make their starts at the Metrodome. It's not quite the Santana-Liriano-Radke-Bonser rotation the Twins could have trotted out in a best-case scenario, but it'll have to do.

Now all Radke has to do is throw 50 pitches tonight without his arm falling off and the Twins are ready for October.

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