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I know Yogi – it’s never over til it’s over, right? Well, now it's over, and starting tonight the Twins face a decision. Will they try like hell to catch the Tigers by the tail, or ease their foot off the gas in hopes of setting up their rotation and resting some key players?
There’s some mixed signals coming out of Twins camp regarding this. Manager Ron Gardenhire doesn’t anticipate a big celebration if the Twins clinch their playoff spot, since they’ll still be gunning for the AL Central championship. On the other hand, there is NO WAY Santana will be starting next Sunday if the Twins have clinched a playoff spot. In his weekend radio show, Terry Ryan talked about the division race being the focus. But he also talked about Brad Radke returning to the mound at least one more time this year (likely Thursday), which is hardly the type of gamble a team in a tight division race would take.
There aren’t a lot of strong arguments for either side. Wild card teams have done very well in the playoffs the last few years, overcoming whatever scheduling disadvantages they might encounter. Furthermore, the Twins haven’t been particularly strong at home in the playoffs in this millennium, winning just two of eight games from 2002-2004, so it’s not like dome field advantage is critical. Finally, if the Twins play games 1, 2 and 5 on the road, it allows Johan Santana to battle on the road twice, and can give rookies like Boof Bonser or Matt Garza some starts at home.
But that argument also demonstrates why it isn’t critical that the Twins juggle their starting rotation. Other than making sure Santana starts game 1, does it really matter if Bonser or Carlos Silva starts Game 2? Or Radke or Garza for that matter? Picking a pitcher from the middle of the Twins rotation is like choosing a fortune cookie from the basket at Kwan’s – until you open it, does it really matter which one you chose?
The best reasons behind the debate are far more nebulous. In support of chasing tigers, the Twins don’t want to face the Yankees in the first round, who seem to have some kind of evil mojo in the Dome come playoff time. The best reason for accepting the wild card berth is that some important players in the lineup and bullpen could probably use the rest. Is a short respite going to undo a season’s worth of strain on Torii Hunter’s foot, Joe Mauer’s hamstring, or Juan Rincon’s shoulder?
It isn't the importance of the debate that makes it popular. It's the accessability. A fan doesn’t need to be armed with much knowledge to have an opinion on rest, or the Yankees, or the importance of home field advantage. But for all the hand-wringing, it’s hard to see that the final choice will make much difference.