July 25, 2004

Lucky Breaks and a Big Series

It's interesting to me what beating the same team a couple years in a row can do.

Take the Minnesota Twins, for example. In 2002, they beat the White Sox by 13.5 games to win the American League Central. Then, in 2003, when things were close heading into the final month of the season, a lot of Twins fans basically thought, "We beat them last year, we'll beat them this year." They were, of course, correct. The Twins beat the White Sox by four games to win the American League Central for the second year in a row.

Beating a team one season can carry over to the next season for a fan, like I've just shown. I think I'd call this the "We did it once, we'll do it again" theory of fandom. Now that the Twins have beaten Chicago in each of the past two seasons, the general reaction of Twins fans (and some White Sox fans too, I suppose) is even stronger in that direction. It is almost bordering on what I would call a Yankees-fan mentality. That is, "We beat 'em in 2002, we beat 'em in 2003, we'll beat 'em every year."

This season, while the Twins and White Sox go back and forth fighting over first-place (there have been 14 lead changes already), I've heard Twins fans say things like, "The White Sox always fold and lose to the Twins." Always, as if this has happened more than two times in a dozen years.

If you root for the Yankees and you want to say something like that about the Red Sox, there's at least historical precedent to back you up. If you're a Twins fan and you want to say something like that about the White Sox, then you're just plain cocky.

In fact, being a Twins fan and an admitted pessimist, I've often found myself actually defending the White Sox in this situation. I was one of those guys telling other Twins fans that, even though the Twins have a whopping two consecutive division title wins over the White Sox, the third consecutive one won't just happen because it has to happen.

In fact, I've said on several occasions that this White Sox team will not fold like the 2002 and 2003 versions did, and I've said that the Twins are in for a much tougher fight if they want that third straight title. Well, guess what? The White Sox certainly haven't folded up anything yet, winning four of their last five games heading into this crucial three-game series against the Twins that starts today.

However, Chicago's chances of doing to the Twins what they haven't been able to do in either of the past two years has taken two major hits. Frank Thomas and Magglio Ordonez, Chicago's two best players and two of the best hitters in the league, are both sidelined with fairly serious injuries and could potentially miss the remainder of the season.

Now, obviously the Twins fan in me wants the Twins to win as many division titles as possible, and I would have nothing against beating the White Sox to do so every single season. At the same time, I can't even imagine the talk next year if the Twins were able to, say, beat Chicago by 2-3 games down the stretch to capture the division again this year.

If that happened and then the White Sox jumped out to an early 10-game lead next year, Twins fans would just sit back and say, "Who cares? Chicago blows it every year."

So what am I saying, exactly? I'm not quite sure. I think I find myself almost siding with the White Sox on this issue, which is to say I don't buy into this stuff about the White Sox always "folding" down the stretch or the Twins "owning" the White Sox in some way. To me, they are just a couple of good-but-flawed teams who happen to be in the same division and happen to have the good fortune of it being the worst division in baseball.

Does the fact that the Twins were able to finish with a better record in 2002 and 2003 mean they somehow hold some special advantage over the White Sox when it comes to future seasons? I doubt it. And does the fact that the White Sox finished second in both 2002 and 2003 mean Chicago lacks the ability to beat the Twins down the stretch? I doubt it.

Of course, with all that said, I think it's going to be very difficult for the White Sox to prove most Twins fans wrong without their two best players for the final two months of the season. Thomas (.271/.434/.563 this season, .267/.390/.562 last season) and Ordonez (.292/.351/.485 this season, .317/.380/.546 last season) are two of the elite hitters in baseball and their absence turns what was a dominant lineup into one that is simply good.

By the way, for all the talk of the Twins owning the White Sox, from 2002 to the present, the Twins and White Sox have split their 48 meetings, 24 wins apiece. The bad news for Twins fans? In both 2002 (11-8) and 2003 (10-9) the Twins had a winning record against Chicago. This year, the White Sox have won seven of their first 10 games against Minnesota.

Now that all of that is out of the way ... Let's get it on!


Minnesota 54 44 .551 ---
Chicago 52 43 .547 0.5

Game 1: Brad Radke (6-6, 3.82) vs. Mark Buehrle (10-3, 3.86)

Game 2: Johan Santana (8-6, 3.44) vs. Freddy Garcia (8-8, 3.18)

Game 3: Carlos Silva (9-7, 4.48) vs. Esteban Loaiza (9-5, 4.85)

Has anyone else noticed that, if these two teams met in a playoff series, those are probably what the pitching matchups would look like?

For those of you who need a prediction, I'll just say that I think the White Sox will leave the series with the division lead. (Hey, I just said I was a pessimistic Twins fan, didn't I?)

Oh, and one final thing ... There is a story in today's Minneapolis Star-Tribune that says Doug Mientkiewicz has been told he will be traded. I believe the story to be completely accurate, as reported, and I have personally heard from two reliable sources who both say Mientkiewicz is all but gone (and might actually be gone by the time you read this). I'll save my thoughts on this for when the deal actually goes down, which I imagine will be soon enough.

New article at The Hardball Times: Re-Examining 300

Today's picks:

You know what? I quit. First of all, everyone knows that gambling isn't good for you. Secondly, I apparently stink at it, so much so that it is starting to actually bug me.

So I'm going to quit before I make a complete and total fool of myself. What's that? You think I've already accomplished that? Well, you may be right, but it's worth remembering that I also made picks throughout all of last season and actually ended up with a winning record and +3,095 in my hypothetical bank account. So, if you add this year's ridiculously bad performance in with last year's good performance, you come up with a 368-413 record (picking mostly underdogs) and a total loss of "only" $290. So I stink, but only a little.

*****Comments? Questions? Email me!*****

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