You know you can't get enough of it...talking about the race for the post-season!
Last night the Twins downed the Baltimore Orioles and their pitching staff, 11-2, allowing them to keep pace with a White Sox club that has as much tenacity as Minnesota. Everyday, losses are harder to make up.
Thursday night's win boosts the Twins to 74-52; good for a 0.5 game deficit to the aforementioned Sox in the Wild Card race. Looking around the other divisions in the American League, a picture has been developing over the past couple of weeks. First, there will only be one playoff representative coming from the AL West. It doesn't matter who, as there isn't any specific team that could also be good enough to contend for the Wild Card spot. Oakland currently holds a 72-55 record and a 5.0 game lead over the second place Angels. It's possible the Angels could catch the Athletics, I suppose, but it would take a massive collapse on the part of the A's. Either way, the Wild Card won't be coming from that division.
This narrows the Wild Card race down to the AL Central and AL East. To put things in perspective, here are the records for the contenders in the American League (for best record), with division leaders italicized.
Team W L GB
Detroit 81 47 --
New York 76 49 3.5
Chicago 75 52 5.5
Minnesota 74 52 6.0
Oakland 72 55 8.5
Boston 71 56 9.5
Los Angeles 67 60 13.5
Toronto 67 60 13.5
You can see what a hill the Angels have to climb to even think about being back in the thick of things; I'm not sure Toronto is technically still allowed to be part of playoff conversations. Yes, they have the same records, but while the Halos need only catch Oakland, Toronto needs to climb a team in its own division before it worries about the teams in front of them for the Wild Card. Both of these teams will be excluded from any further conversation in this post, and by relation, so will be the Athletics.
Three playoff spots. Five teams.
This is essentially the position the Twins see themselves in. Honestly, it's not a bad one. Our destiny, such as it is, is still in our hands. As of today, we don't need "help" from anyone...we just have to keep winning.
What follows is a breakdown of the schedules of the five teams remaining for our conversation: Detroit, New York, Chicago, Boston and Minnesota. It's a common ploy used to analyse a team's future, but it's an effective one. There are no guarantees in love, life or baseball...but there are educated guesses. Do any teams have a distinct advantage?
OPP GL GL
Team W L GR WIN PCT 500+ -500 H A
New York 76 50 36 .504 18 18 18 18
Boston 71 56 35 .503 20 15 17 18
OPP GL GL
Team W L GR WIN PCT 500+ -500 H A
Detroit 81 47 34 .506 18 16 17 17
Chicago 75 52 35 .524 18 17 17 18
Minnesota 74 52 36 .513 19 17 17 19
It's important to note how many games are remaining for each team. Detroit only has 34 games, meaning everyone else chasing them has less of a chance of catching them because they have fewer possible games to lose. For teams doing the chasing, like the Twins, it's a positive to have the most games remaining, giving us more games with the possible result of a win.
Looking at this chart from the standpoint of a Twins fan, there are a couple of things that play against us. First, our opponent winning percentage is second highest on the list. In addition, we have an extra game to play against a team over .500 compared to our most immediate rival, the White Sox. We also have an extra away game.
Generally speaking, this list doesn't give you much of a clue as to how the rest of the season will go. The largest difference is how many games the Red Sox play against teams over .500 versus teams under .500, but frankly it's not the Red Sox that concern me.
The Twins are who concern me.
If you're a Chicago fan, you're hoping for a Minnesota collapse. If you're a Twins fan, you're hoping for a White Sox collapse. Neither of these things being likely, and Detroit's collapse being even less likely, there's a very good chance that the final post-season berth will come down to the final week or two of the year. Yes, I know, it's been said 1,000 times...but it's true.
To focus on who I earlier called our most immediate rival, the White Sox, here are the final four series for each team.
3 VS Detroit (81-47) 3 @ Boston (71-56)
3 VS Seattle (58-69) 3 @ Baltimore (56-71)
3 @ Cleveland (58-68) 4 VS Kansas City (46-83)
3 @ Minnesota (74-52) 3 VS Chicago (75-52)
Between these two schedules, the Twins have the better end of the deal. Not only do they get the White Sox at home, they also get the Royals for four games leading into the series. Chicago also has to take on Detroit, and a team that will likely try to be playing spoiler within their own division: The Indians. Cleveland is a better team than Baltimore, and from the way the Red Sox got bitch-slapped around by the Yankees, the Indians are probably better than Boston right now, too.
There's never a way to peer into the crystal ball and see what's coming, because even if you're right, on something like this is has little to do with your 'vision' and more to do with things simply playing out like your predicted. There's a difference. If things play out as I predict, that things will be tight going into the final two weeks of the season, I'll be putting money on the Twins...metaphorically speaking. Let's just hope I'm right.