July 5, 2005

State of the Twins: Half Way Home

The Twins are half way to the postseason, which sounds pretty good on July 6. In fact, the 2005 Twins have the best record after half a season since the 2001 version came out of the gates at 50-31 before collapsing like a house of cards down the stretch. Take a look at how this year's team compares to the three AL Central championship teams after 81 games:

YEAR      W      L     WIN%
2002 45 36 .556
2003 43 38 .531
2004 44 37 .543
2005 46 35 .568

As I've said before, the difference between this year and the past three years is that there are actually other good teams in the division, one of which has the best record in all of baseball. If the White Sox and Indians were playing .500 baseball, like they did last year, the Twins would be one of the biggest stories around. They'd be on pace for another 90-win season and another division title, and everyone would be talking about how amazing it is that they can keep winning with all the new faces.

But the White Sox won't stop winning and the Indians have their best team since 2001, so the Twins are somehow seen as a disappointment by a lot of people. However, setting aside the notion that winning the division is any more useful than winning the Wild Card when it comes to ending up in the playoffs, the Twins actually have a bigger "postseason lead" than they've had in years past.

YEAR      W      L     LEAD
2002 45 36 5.0
2003 43 38 0.5
2004 44 37 0.5
2005 46 35 1.0

The Twins held slim half-game leads in the division after 81 games in each of the past two years, but were actually 4.5 and 2.5 games back in the Wild Card standings. From 2002-2004, the Twins ended the literal first half of the season with the sixth-, sixth-, and fourth-best record in the league, respectively. This season, they have the fourth-best record.

In other words, after 81 games this year's team has more wins than they had in any of the last three years, they have a bigger lead for a playoff spot than they had in each of the last two years, and they're higher in the AL standings than they were in two of the last three seasons.

I have often described the Twins as the smartest kids in the dumb class during their three-year run atop the AL Central. This year a new kid joined the class and turned out to be a genius. No one saw it coming and it doesn't mean the previous smartest kid is any less smart, it just means the competition got a little tougher. Now, instead of banking on cruising into the postseason simply for being the only decent team in the division, the Twins have to deal with being just another smart kid in the smart class.

So the good news is that the Twins are once again in a position to make the playoffs, if they can simply manage to play at the same level in the second half. The bad news is that it's going to be a lot tougher to win 46 of their last 81 games than it was to win 46 of their first 81 games. Why? Well, the second-half schedule is significantly tougher.

The Twins' opponents had a combined winning percentage of .490 in the first half, while they will face teams with a .514 winning percentage in the second half. That may not seem like much, but .490 versus .514 is the difference between a 79-win team and an 83-win team. Which would you rather face down the stretch?

The Twins have just 29 games games left against teams that are below .500, compared to 40 games against sub-.500 teams in the first half. The biggest thing making the second-half schedule tougher is 13 games against the AL-leading White Sox (compared to just five in the first half), but not having any games left against the last place Devil Rays hurts too.

Plus, the Twins play the A's 10 times in the second half, after not playing them at all in the first half. While Oakland is just 41-41, they have been the hottest team in baseball over the last six weeks. In other words, they picked the wrong time to play the A's 10 times in three months. To make matters worse, the Twins will play just 37 of their 81 remaining games at home.

Here is how the second-half schedule breaks down:

White Sox 13
Tigers 11
Royals 11
A's 10
Mariners 7
Red Sox 6
Rangers 6
Indians 6
Angels 5
Orioles 3
Yankees 3

There's a lot of work left to be done, and about 30% it will have to come against the team with the best record in baseball and a team that is 24-9 since May 30.

WILD CARD       W      L     WIN%      GB
Minnesota 46 35 .568 ---
Cleveland 46 37 .554 1.0
Baltimore 44 39 .530 3.0
New York 43 39 .524 3.5
Texas 43 39 .524 3.5
Toronto 42 41 .506 5.0
Oakland 41 41 .500 5.5

On your marks ... get set ...

Today at The Hardball Times:
- News, Notes and Quotes (July 6, 2005) (by Aaron Gleeman)
- Business of Baseball Report (by Brian Borawski)

Today's Picks (72-59, +$1,335):
Minnesota (Santana) -135 over Los Angeles (Byrd)
Detroit (Bonderman) +135 over Cleveland (Sabathia)
Boston (Clement) - 135 over Texas (Park)

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