From 1961—the dawn of MLB’s divisional era—to 1996, the Minnesota Twins’ yearly schedule was the same: four series (two home, two away) against each AL club. This changed in 1997 with interleague play. 2001 brought an even bigger shakeup: divisional-weighting. From that point, the Twins would play division-mates Kansas City, Detroit, Chicago, & Cleveland 19 times each and host/visit each AL East/West squad once (in addition to the NL contests).
Divisional-heavy scheduling was largely implemented to help promote competitive balance. With—at that time—only one wild card slot in play for each league, it made sense to put a thumb on the division scales. Little did the Twins know at the time that this would prove as big a boon to the organization as piranhas, pitch-to-contact, or bomba squads.
The stark numbers: since the dawn of the 21st century, the Twins have a .532 winning percentage against AL Central opponents—and are .486 against all other AL/NL squads. The Twins also aren’t just preternaturally gifted at roughing up division foes. I’m no JohnFoley at this stuff, folks, but I calculated the average divisional win total for the AL East, Central, & West going back to ’01. The East and West were both at 81 wins (what the average team in that division wins each year). This was roughly my expectation, what with the divisional wins canceling each other out and the ebb/flow of various teams through the years. The AL Central, however? An average team win total of 76. In other words—based strictly on averages—a post-2000 AL Central squad is probably a losing one.
Despite Chicago & Kansas City claiming a Commissioner’s Trophy and Detroit & Cleveland at least getting to the Fall Classic, the Twins have been the most stable AL Central organization over the last two decades—and it shows: 8 division titles (oh so close to 9—thanks Jim Thome) in 21 years—easily the highest of any single AL Central squad.
This year has been more of the same. Whereas the AL East features five .500+ teams at the moment, the maddeningly inconsistent Twins seemingly cannot play poorly enough to relinquish the AL Central lead. The Sox are a La Russa-induced mess, the Tigers are in that “half step back before the breakout” phase, the Royals are rebuilding, and the Guardians can only reliably beat the Twins (but seemingly no one else).
Next year, MLB is moving away from division-heavy scheduling to provide a more balanced slate for each team. With the leagues now practically indistinguishable from each other— both featuring the DH—and a proliferation of wild cards, it is probably the sensible move parity-wise. It will also give me a chance to cross more NL stadiums off my bucket list (I’m more motivated to go when the Twins are visiting!).
But when I unfurl my 2023 wallet schedule and see less DET, CHI, KC, & CLE, it will somewhat pain me and I’ll remember the “good old days”—when the Twins could make hay in the Midwest.