September 11, 2006

Twins 9, A's 4 columnist and occasional RotoWorld contributor D.J. Gallo had a funny line in his playoff preview last week:

If the playoffs started today, the defending World Series champions would be watching from home. But so would everyone else because if the playoffs started today it would be a complete surprise and none of the teams would be able to get travel plans organized in time.

While acknowledging that "if the playoffs started today" is one of sports' most overused phrases, it's worth noting that "if the current standings hold up" the Twins will be matched up with the Yankees in the first round of the playoffs. That's not particularly appealing for several reasons, which is why last night's win over the A's was so important.

You see, by beating the A's last night, the Twins actually moved one step closer to playing the A's in the playoffs. Not only have the Twins now won more games than they did all of last season, they now trail the Tigers in the division by the same number of games (1.5) that they lead the White Sox in the Wild Card standings.

Because teams from the same division aren't allowed to play each other in the ALDS, winning the Wild Card almost certainly means a trip to New York while winning the division means welcoming Oakland to the Metrodome. The "be careful what you wish for" part of the latter scenario is that while they didn't look it last night, the A's have quietly played nearly as well as the Twins over the past four months.

In fact, the two teams have incredibly similar stories. The Twins began the season 25-33 and have since gone 59-26, while the A's began the season 23-29 and have since gone 59-32. Beyond that, both teams have dealt with an amazing number of injuries to key players throughout all that winning. With that said, Oakland scares me a whole lot less than New York in a five-game series.

Winning the AL Central seemed out of the realm of possibility when the Twins trailed the Tigers by a dozen games at the All-Star break, but with Detroit slumping and the lead down to 1.5 games, the chances of it happening could arguably be called "likely." And as much fun as it is going back and forth with the White Sox, the Twins' best chance for a World Series will come from winning the division.

In addition to a more favorable ALDS opponent, overtaking the Tigers will give the Twins homefield advantage in the first round and potentially throughout the postseason (thank you, Michael Young). The Twins have won 61 percent of their home games since 2001, including 68 percent this season, and opening-round series that begin at Yankee Stadium haven't been kind in the past.

A couple weeks ago "scoreboard watching" was relatively simple, but now the Twins have three races to keep tabs on:

CENTRAL    W    L    GB    WCARD      W    L    GB    LEAGUE     W    L    GB
Detroit 86 58 --- TWINS 84 59 --- New York 86 56 ---
TWINS 84 59 1.5 Chicago 83 61 1.5 Detroit 86 58 1.0
Chicago 83 61 3.0 TWINS 84 59 2.5

I heard a rumor that a local football team played last night. It's a shame they couldn't watch the Twins.

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