July 9, 2006

At The Break: Part 1 (The Team)

As depressing as it may sound given how well they played for so long, the Twins need to head into the All-Star break with a series win over the Rangers or they might be facing a double-digit deficit going into the second half.

- Yours Truly, July 6

Well, so much for that.

They're not quite "facing a double-digit deficit going into the second half," but the Twins head into the All-Star break nine games out of a playoff spot with just 76 games left to play. As bad as that sounds, it's even worse when you consider how many teams the Twins will have to get past down the stretch in order to make the postseason.

WILD CARD       W      L     WIN%      GB
White Sox 57 31 .648 ---
Yankees 50 36 .581 6.0
Toronto 49 39 .557 8.0
Twins 47 39 .547 9.0

Overtaking Chicago during the final 76 games is one thing, because with a dozen games left against the White Sox even a nine-game gap is still somewhat doable. The White Sox won 65 percent of their games in the first half after winning 61 percent of their games last season. If for some strange reason they win just 50 percent of the time in the second half, the Twins will need to go 47-29 (.618) in order to tie them.

However, even in the unlikely chance that the Twins can climb past the White Sox, a postseason spot is far from guaranteed. Both the Yankees and Blue Jays will also enter the second half in front of the Twins, and given the lofty first-half winning percentages involved it seems likely that at least one of the three teams ahead of the Twins in the Wild Card standings will play close to .600 baseball after the break.

If the White Sox do that, the Twins have no shot. Chicago winning 60 percent of its remaining games would mean that the Twins have to go 56-20 (.737) just to tie them, which isn't going to happen. If the Yankees do that, the Twins have to go 49-27 (.645) to keep pace. If the Blue Jays do that, the Twins have to go 46-30 (.605) to stay even. In other words, for any sort of realistic chance at the playoffs the Twins must win a minimum of 48-50 post-break games.

And you're not alone if this entire discussion strikes you as silly given how the Twins limped into the break. The natural reaction is to say that even great teams have bad weeks and the Twins deserve a little slack after such an incredible run, but that misses the point. Because of their horrible start and the strength of the league, the Twins aren't in a position to have a bad week. Following up a stretch of 21 wins in 23 games with series losses against the Royals and Rangers is a huge blow.

That's surely tough to take for most fans, particularly following the unexpected euphoria of winning 21 of 23, but it's reality. If the goal is to have a 90-win season and stay marginally in the playoff picture for most of the year, the Twins have accomplished that and there'll be plenty to root for in the second half. If the goal is to actually make the playoffs after being left for dead in May, the Twins likely just fumbled away their chance.

Here's the second-half schedule, from which the Twins will likely have to find 50 wins just to make things interesting:

OPPONENT         H     R     TOT
Cleveland 7 7 14
Chicago 6 6 12
Kansas City 7 4 11
Detroit 7 3 10
Tampa Bay 4 3 7
Baltimore 0 6 6
Toronto 4 0 4
Boston 0 3 3
New York 0 3 3
Oakland 3 0 3
Texas 3 0 3

TOTAL 41 35 76

The good news is that the Twins went an MLB-best 30-10 at home during the first half and have 41 of their 76 remaining games at the Metrodome. The bad news is that they still have 35 games on the road, where they've gone a pathetic 17-29. If you're curious, the combined winning percentage of the Twins' remaining opponents in .520, which while impressive-sounding is actually identical to the AL's combined winning percentage for the year.

Coming into the season, I pegged the Twins as an 88-win team and predicted that they'd finish third in the AL Central. I didn't expect them to be nearly unbeatable for a month and certainly didn't expect the entire division to be looking way up at the Tigers in mid-July, but sure enough at the All-Star break the Twins are in third place and on pace to go 89-73.

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