Foul tip: White Sox preview

Is the starting rotation solid enough for a legitmate run?


On May 15, the stat-heads at Baseball Prospectus offered a pretty bleak view of the Twins '06 chances after stumbling out of the gate. "Is the Twins' season over?" the headline in Sport Illustrated asked, and the answer for any Twins fan, deep down, was a barely muttered, "Yeah, probably."

The folks at BP figured the AL was so stacked that 97 wins would be needed to make the Wild Card spot, a ridiculously high number that may, after all, turn out to be about right--just a few too high. With that, the item concluded, "Minnesota would have to play at a .641 pace to have a better than even-money chance at the playoffs."

Since then, amazingly, the Twins have been better than that, going 39-21 for a .650 clip.

And, of course, they've played even better, at .702, since June 1st. (The Twinkies would have to play .615 ball from here on out to hit 97 wins.) Suddenly they're in the thick of the chase, going head-to-head with the once uncatchable White Sox, who haven't been playing as poorly as Ozzie Guillen would have you believe.

Since that Baseball Prospectus blurb appeared in SI (on May 15, when the Chicago beat the Twins 7-3), the Chox are 35-26 for a .573 winning percentage, and since June 1 have trended upward ever-so-slightly, playing at a .577 clip.

So here we are in the midst of a bona fide, knuckle-cracking series between the two teams. The Twins' methodical resurgence now has some observers and experts calling for the team to upgrade rather than dump talent.

Much of that has to do with the fact that injuries to Shannon Stewart and Torii Hunter have made them untradeable, but now the talk has even moved to the Twins making a play for Alfonso Soriano from the Nats or Milwaukee's Carlos Lee--two power-hitting left fielders.

Even money says Terry Ryan won't do something that drastic and costly--definitely not if the Twins come out on the short end of Chicago series and the following one against Detroit at home, which will conveniently wrap before the trading deadline a week from today. (Today there's also talk of Guillen wanting Soriano, which would probably hurt the Twins more than anything in the short term.)

Instead of focusing solely on an upgrade at the plate, it might be worth looking at the starting rotation--what was once believed to be this team's strength just three months ago. There's no doubt that Johan Santana, Francisco Liriano and Brad Radke are in the top-tier in either league--at least for the last six weeks--but there's a precipitous drop-off from there.

To put it mildly, Carlos Silva, Boof Bonser and Scott Baker have all stunk up the joint. (Though I still hold out hope for Baker.) And the pitcher most talked about as trade bait, the frustrating Kyle Lohse, may actually be (I can't believe I'm typing this) their fourth-best starter.

So the burden falls to the middle and long-term relievers, and you couldn't get better bullpen performance than the Twins have been getting lately, including yesterday's win over Cleveland, when Pat Neshek, Dennys Reyes, Juan Rincon and Joe Nathan shut down the Indians and combined for seven strikeouts.

History will have to repeat itself at least once during the Chicago series, with the likelihood that Silva will get knocked out early when he faces Mark Buehrle on Wednesday--and that's hoping that Radke continues his turnaround in his start tonight.

Can the Twins make a real run with two (beyond) legitimate and one aging starter? For now, the role of the relievers couldn't be more crucial.

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