Yackety Yack…

Have you noticed over the last several seasons how every time a Central Division foe has tried to talk trash about the Twins in the media it’s seemed to result in an immediate upsurge in the quality of play from Ron Gardenhire’s charges?

Granted, what qualifies as bulletin-board grade trash-talking in baseball is generally pretty innocuous stuff. Detroit’s Dmitri Young’s statements about the Central race essentially being a two team contest between the Tigers and the Indians was certainly foolhardy, particularly coming as it did in the season’s first week; and I suppose the Twins, after pretty much dominating the division over the last few years, are at the very least deserving of a bit of modest respect from their rivals.

Young’s comments likely had little to do with the spanking the Twins administered in sweeping the Tigers, but the timing was nothing if not psychologically convenient. This first month will give the Twins every opportunity to send the strongest of possible messages to the rest of the Central, and the Detroit series will certainly go a long way towards insuring silence from the Tiger clubhouse the rest of the season.

No doubt it’s still way too early to draw any real conclusions, and the Twins aren’t going to break anybody’s backs in April. They can, though, raise the stakes for everybody else, build their own confidence, and clearly establish their right to the respect that has already been given them (and in spades) by the national press. You could persuasively argue that they’ve already earned that respect by virtue of their domination in the division over the last three seasons, but it’s funny how quickly the perception of the Central has changed in so many people’s minds. And you really do have to wonder: on the basis of what? Nine games? Some radically overhauled rosters? Wishful thinking?

I have no idea, to be quite honest with you. And I say this with the full knowledge that I’ve previously proclaimed the division much improved myself. But after watching the Twins dominate the Tigers, I’m as convinced as ever that Minnesota is much better and much more confident than anybody else in the Central, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see them run away with the thing once again.

The one team I was discounting almost entirely two weeks ago, the White Sox, actually does seem to be a tighter, better, and more balanced team than last year, but I still don’t think they have enough depth to compete with the Twins over the long haul. My guess is that they’ll spend the summer playing rock ’em, sock ’em robots with the Indians and Tigers while Minnesota just keeps racking up series wins and pulling away from the pack.

There’s no rational explanation for the funny business in the first inning so far this year, at least so far as a team-wide phenomenon goes. Where Brad Radke is concerned, however, it goes back a lot further than this year, and is pretty easily explained by the kind of pitcher he is. Radke prides himself on throwing strikes, and isn’t a guy who ever seems comfortable wasting a pitch. He’s a deeply conservative operator, and at this point in his career isn’t going to change much. That said, he’s never had a single truly dominating pitch that allows him to get away with mistakes, and opposing teams know by now what he has, and that he’s pretty much always going to be around the plate. It seems like everybody he’s faced over the last couple years knows the book on Radke backwards and forwards, and they’re clearly being proactive in the early going and taking aggressive cuts. Hitting is incredibly difficult, but you give the other team a huge advantage when they know damn well you’re going to throw it somewhere over the plate and have a fairly limited bag of tricks at your disposal.

Radke’s a smart pitcher, and he generally does a good job of making little adjustments and settling in as the game goes along, but it sure seems like if he’d take a more unpredictable and even erratic approach right out of the gate he’d save himself the trouble of having to make those adjustments in the first place.