A double-header today more than erases the good grace granted to a tired and limping pitching staff that an unexpected day off may have offered. Instead of carefully measuring and moving his pieces around as he sees fit on any given day, Paul Molitor won't have much of an option today. He'll need to use his bullpen, and chances are he'll need to use a healthy portion of it. Barring an exceptional performance from at least one of his starters, Minnesota's bullpen will be short on Thursday. That hurts for a club desperately piecing together a pitching staff for nine innings from day to day. As Trevor May put it himself: "We don't have the luxury of not pitching" to feel better.
If you feel I'm overstating the issue, let's just run through the plague that's affecting Minnesota's pitching staff at present.
- Tommy Milone is still suffering shoulder fatigue.
- Trevor May has a bad back/hip and is "managing" pain on a day to day basis.
- Phil Hughes has a bad back. And is battling the flu.
- Glen Perkins is obviously not 100%.
- Tyler Duffey's arm has thrown 28% more innings than it did in 2014.
- Ervin Santana will be unavailable for the post-season, should the club get that far.
- Ryan Pressly is out for the year with a lat strain.
- Logan Darnell has pneumonia and will not be available to pitch again this season.
That's a report on five potential starters and three relievers. Just because the club has an expanded roster for September's games, don't think that the bullpen is a bottomless treasure trove of live arms. Let's hope Kyle Gibson and Mike Pelfrey have something special in store for today's double header.
If you're a baseball fan, you also know that there are two other double-headers going on today. Be sure to check in on the Pirates, who are trying to catch the Cardinals, and the Orioles, who might give the Blue Jays' home field advantage a hit with a couple wins of their own.
Today's playoff implications
With the Astros and the Angels each playing one game today, like normal clubs, Minnesota's double-header leaves us with no fewer than 12 potential outcomes by the time play ends later tonight. Those 12 outcomes allow for the Twins to finish the day anywhere from tied for the second Wild Card spot...to a gut-wrenching three game deficit.
Here's how the scenarios play out. First is a result matrix to tell you how far out of the second Wild Card spot the Twins would be.
Second, a more specific look at the standings which lead to the above matrix. We move from left-to-right in terms of ideal Twins results to...less than ideal results.
No matter what happens, after tonight the Twins will have just five games left on their schedule. To have a realistic shot at the Wild Card, Minnesota would like to come out of play today at least no worse off than they currently are. If we wake up tomorrow morning and the Twins are still just a game and a half out, I'm feeling good. If we wake up tomorrow morning and Minnesota is three games out, well...it's still been a fantastic season.
Reason for a shred of hope
After 155 games in 2009, the Twins were 81-74 and two games behind the Detroit Tigers for the lead in the AL Central. Game one of a four-game set in Detroit was postponed due to rain, and on September 29 - six years and one day ago - the Twins and Tigers played a critical double-header. Detroit was looking to shake off a pesky Twins team that just kept coming, having been seven games out on September 6 and as many as five-and-a-half out on September 14. Minnesota, of course, was going hell for leather.
The Twins and Tigers split the double-header, leaving Minnesota two games out with five games to go. Minnesota then lost the third game of a four-game set, to drop to three games behind the Tigers with just four games left on the schedule.
Four games, as we know, wasn't enough to determine the AL Central champion in 2009. The Twins aren't going for the division crown in 2015, but they're in pretty good shape for that Wild Card spot.