August 21, 2005
What I meant was ...
I have been accused on being a pessimist in the past, both in regard to the Twins and life in general, and I have come to grips with the fact that it is more or less true (less, if you're a fellow pessimist). The beauty of being a pessimist, of course, is that you're "right" when things go badly and pleasantly surprised when things go well.
So when I said here both last week and over the last month that the Twins' postseason chances were done and they went on to win nine of their last 11 games to climb back into the American League Wild Card race, I was wrong. And, at the same time, I couldn't be happier.
Of course, I still think I'll end up being "right." After all, the Twins have won nine of their last 11 games, which is impressive and about as well as they could have been expected to play over the last two weeks or so, and yet they are still 2.5 games back (and in fourth place) in the Wild Card standings. Which was, for the most part, my point.
Despite perhaps their best stretch of baseball this season, which includes taking two-of-three from Oakland, sweeping Chicago, and taking 3-of-4 from Seattle, the Twins still face an uphill climb to the postseason. They have to outplay either the A's or the Angels, the Yankees, and the Indians, not to mention hold off the teams behind them in the standings.
I am perhaps guilty of letting my opinion of the team get too low when they went a pathetic 11-22 during their slide to the middle of the AL from July 5 to August 9, but one thing you can be certain of is that I won't let my opinion of the Twins get too high now that they've had some success again. With that said, regardless of what I've written lately and regardless of the up-and-down nature of their season, it is now August 22 and the Twins are 66-58.
That alone doesn't tell us much, and the fact that they are 2.5 games back in the Wild Card race is more important than their mediocre record. Through 124 games last season, the Twins were eight games ahead of Chicago for a playoff spot. Through 124 games in 2002, the Twins were 13.5 games ahead of Chicago for a playoff spot. However, through 124 games in 2003, the Twins were tied with the White Sox in second place, trailing the Royals by three games in the AL Central.
So while they've coasted home down the stretch to win two of their three division titles, the 2003 team was in the same exact spot as the current version. Actually, that's not quite true. While both teams were a few games out of the postseason picture with 38 games to play, the 2003 version had to overcome the Royals and White Sox (which they did, winning the division by four games), while this year's version has to overcome the A's, Yankees, Indians, Blue Jays, Tigers, and Orioles.
Playing well down the stretch was enough in 2003, as the Twins went 27-11 in their final 38 games to jump past the White Sox (23-15) and the Royals (18-22). But simply playing well this time around won't necessarily do the job. Instead, the Twins need to play the best baseball of all the teams in that group, because going 27-11 from here on out won't mean anything if the A's go 26-13 to hold their lead.
Here's what the Twins' remaining schedule looks like:
G WHERE OPPONENT W L
3 Home White Sox 75 46
3 Road Rangers 57 66
3 Road Royals 40 82
3 Home Indians 68 56
3 Home Rangers 57 66
3 Road Indians 68 56
3 Road Tigers 60 62
3 Home White Sox 75 46
3 Road A's 68 55
4 Road White Sox 75 46
4 Home Royals 40 82
3 Home Tigers 60 62
The Twins have an even home/road split remaining, with 19 games at the Metrodome and 19 games everywhere else. Their home advantage hasn't been particularly big this year (35-31 at home, 31-31 on the road), so this isn't very significant. In addition to that, they are also evenly split between games against above-.500 teams (19) and games below-.500 teams (19).
The combined winning percentage of the Twins' remaining opponents (weighted to the number of games they have left against each) is .504, which means they have a tough schedule left. When compared to the teams they are competing with for the Wild Card, there is a substantial gap in schedule strength:
TEAM SOS NOTABLE GAMES REMAINING
Oakland .513 LAA (7) TEX (6) BOS (4) CLE (3) NYY (3) MIN (3)
Minnesota .504 CHW (10) KC (7) CLE (6) TEX (6) DET (6) OAK (3)
Toronto .495 NYY (10) BOS (7) TB (6) BAL (6) CLE (3) KC (3)
Los Angeles .494 OAK (7) TB (6) TEX (6) SEA (6) CHW (3) BOS (3)
New York .484 TOR (10) BAL (8) BOS (6) TB (6) OAK (3) KC (3)
Cleveland .479 TB (7) KC (7) CHW (6) MIN (6) DET (6) OAK (3)
With a 2.5-game lead over Oakland in the AL West and a hypothetical three-game lead over Cleveland and New York for the Wild Card, the Angels are clearly the most likely team from that group to make the postseason. Ignoring the Angels (or assuming they win their division), here's what the Wild Card race looks like as of this morning:
W L GB
Oakland 68 55 ---
Cleveland 68 56 0.5
New York 67 55 0.5
Minnesota 66 58 2.5
Toronto 63 60 5.0
Considering their weak remaining schedule and the fact that they are 20-9 since being swept by the White Sox in the first series of the second half, I like Cleveland's chances. They have 14 games left against the two worst teams in the league and also control their own destiny a bit with six games against the Twins and three games against the A's. And as always, it's tough to count out the Yankees.
What is abundantly clear is that the Twins are not "done," regardless of what I said here last month or last week. They're 2.5 games back with five weeks to play, and while that's not the greatest situation to be in it sure beats where they were a couple weeks ago. The other thing I was wrong about is the 10 remaining games with the White Sox being meaningless. While they don't mean much to Chicago -- even with their losing streak the playoffs are still a near-lock -- they mean a hell of a lot to the Twins.