Playoff Pitching Rotation
Now, I certainly hope that this isn't going to be an issue. With the White Sox losing big in the 8th against the Mariners, it appears as if the Twins will have a great chance of clinching the Wild Card spot by the start of that series, let alone by the end of it. Nevertheless, this is baseball; the White Sox could go on a tear while the Twins fell off, and lots of really bad things could ensue. In other words, that last game of the season could still be extremely important. There's also the distinct possibility that the Twins could be fighting for playoff positioning in that last game, with a chance to win the division, or to finish 1st or 2nd amongst the division leaders record-wise.
So, then, there are two questions: should the Twins use Santana in the last game of the season if 1.) they need to win that game to clinch a playoff spot, and 2.) if they need to win that game for playoff positioning?
I'll start with the second question, because I think it's far easier to answer. Despite the fact that he's been human in his last two starts, Johan Santana is the best pitcher in baseball. Having him available for two games of a five game series potentially makes the series a "win 1-of-3" series, and those are pretty darned good odds. I don't care if the Twins are facing the Yankees or A's in the first round; if Santana is available to start 2 of the games, I'm pleased. So, no, I don't think the Twins should start Santana just for playoff positioning.
It's a far different story if the team needs a win to make the playoffs in the first place. Not starting Santana when a win is needed is a calculated risk: if you win the game anyway, you have Santana available for the playoffs. But if you lose . . . season over. To me, this is too much of a risk. I think you do whatever you need to do to survive, and if that means using your best pitcher on the last day of the season, knowing that he won't be available until late in the first round, that's what you do. Santana should be on the mound if the Twins need a win to clinch on October 1.
As for the rest of the playoff rotation? Tough decisions once you get past Santana. Bonser is almost certainly the guy for Game 2, but do you go Silva or Garza in Game 3? Do you start Santana on short-rest in Game 4, or do you go with whoever didn't start Game 3? Does Radke factor into the equation at all? How about Scott Baker? These are all difficult questions, and at this point I think impossible to answer. The Twins will be watching all of these guys' starts in the next 10 days, and will have some very difficult decisions to make once the playoffs role around (or at least, so I hope).
UPDATE: Patrick Reusse makes the tongue-in-cheek (I hope) suggestion that Willie Eyre should be left behind on the East Coast to scout the Yankees and then get the start in game 1 against the Yankees (should that end up being who the Twins play in the first round). I say, if we're going creative, why not give the ball to Yankee-killer Scott Baker? By far his best two starts of the season have come against the Yankees. If Garza and Silva struggle as the season ends, this might not turn out to be as funny as it seems right now . . .