September 23, 2009

152 Down, 10 To Go

Eighty percent of life is just showing up.

- Woody Allen

Today is the final open date on the Twins' schedule and the Tigers play the Indians tonight, so the gap in the AL Central will either be two or three games with 10 games remaining for both teams. Those are pretty long odds for the Twins, although having a four-game series against the Tigers left keeps them from needing a full-blown miracle. Depending on how strong you think the Royals and White Sox are at this point, the Twins' odds of winning the division are right around 20 percent.


9/24 at Indians
9/25 at Royals at White Sox
9/26 at Royals at White Sox
9/27 at Royals at White Sox
9/28 at Tigers vs Twins
9/29 at Tigers vs Twins
9/30 at Tigers vs Twins
10/1 at Tigers vs Twins
10/2 vs Royals vs White Sox
10/3 vs Royals vs White Sox
10/4 vs Royals vs White Sox

Counting on the White Sox to win games at this point is asking a lot and the Royals are actually playing well this month at 13-8, so taking at least three of four from the Tigers next week may be a prerequisite for winning the division. As for the increasingly popular notion that making the playoffs would ultimately be pointless for the Twins anyway with Justin Morneau and Joe Crede out for the season ... well, let's put that to rest.

Don't get me wrong, the Twins weren't a particularly good team before those injuries and they're worse now. Even after their best stretch of the season they're just 79-73, which puts them on an 84-win pace. They have the seventh-best record in the AL and the 15th-best record in baseball. If they were in the AL East, they'd be 17.5 games back. If they were in the AL West, they'd be 11 games back. And they'd also be double-digit games out of first place in any of the NL divisions.

Their second-best hitter is out for the year and they seem committed to playing a .229/.329/.285 hitter (Nick Punto) at second base, a .222/.299/.285 hitter (Matt Tolbert) at third base, a .271/.308/.375 hitter (Orlando Cabrera) at shortstop, and a .268/.292/.385 hitter (Delmon Young) in left field while their best defensive outfielder rarely plays despite a fly ball-heavy pitching staff and the designated hitter is a third catcher with a .413 slugging percentage at Triple-A (Jose Morales) or a utility man (Brendan Harris).

They're just 41-49 outside of the lowly AL Central, including a combined 6-17 against the playoff bound Yankees, Red Sox, and Angels, and their 13-8 record so far in September puts them in position to have a winning month for just the second time this year. For the season they've spent twice as many days under .500 as they have over .500 and have been in sole possession of first place for a grand total of two days, both in early April.

This team isn't really postseason caliber, let alone World Series caliber, but none of that matters much once the playoffs begin. Getting into the playoffs thanks only to an awful division and being a thoroughly mediocre team with tons of flaws and late-season injuries to key players aren't things that necessarily keep teams from having success in the postseason because having success in the postseason is an unpredictable mix of skill and luck played out over the course of at most 19 games.

Great teams have flopped and mediocre teams have won championships. Teams that headed into the playoffs on amazing hot streaks have been swept out of the first round and teams that have backed into the playoffs have cruised to the World Series. And everything between. The odds are heavily against the Twins making the playoffs, but if they happen to get there everything goes out the window when just 11 wins equal a big shiny trophy. No matter how shaky a team looks, you want a chance to roll those dice.

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