Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Wet Blanketry: The Twins

I'm worried about the Twins. I hope I'm wrong.

But the Magic Number is 2! The Twins are likely to clinch the division tonight, the earliest they've done it since 2004 (I think)! Since August 26th, they've only lost 3 of 19 games! Jim Thome (pictured) has in the last month moved up a couple spots to 8th on the all-time Home Run hitter list!

So why am I worried?

Both the Twins and the Vikings have in the last decade been beneficiaries of being in the particular Division/Conference in which they play. When you lead your division against the likes of the Indians, Royals, & Lions, there's likely to be some grade inflation going on. And the Twins' record this year tells the tale. As of this morning, they are an MLB-leading 44-20 (.688) in their own division. Against the AL West they're an AL-leading 24-12 (.667). But against the AL East they're a measly 14-18 (.438) and in interleague play they only went 8-10 (.444). And it is from the AL East and the National League that their post-season opponents will come.

Think of it: if the Twins' record against the AL Central was their overall record, they would have already won 103 games. If they carried it for a season, they'd win 111, more than they ever have (best season was 102 wins in 1965). If their record against the East was their overall, they'd be, well, smack in the middle of their division, thanks to the bar-lowering of the Indians and Royals.

God, I sound like some asshole from ESPN.com explaining why Mauer or Morneau didn't deserve the MVP, or why Bert Blyleven should never be in the Hall. But given the Twins' postseason in this century, fatalism comes easy. And what worries me is that every time I watch the Twins play the Yankees, especially, that pessimism seems to come easy to them too.

The Twins' season had a big trough in the middle, starting in mid-May when they faced the Yankees and lasting until about the All-Star break. Their record in this period was 23-30, meaning that about 1/3 of the season produced half of their losses thus far. It was during this time that the bulk of their play against the AL East and all of their interleague games fell. So, did they suck then because they were playing against better teams, or was there something significantly different about the team? It wasn't Morneau's injury, because that didn't happen until a week before the All-Star game.

Conveniently, this is a rhetorical question, because I have the answer! The Twins played badly in that period of time not because of the might of the teams they face, but because they were simply playing poorly. There is definitive proof, demonstrated the evenings of June 1st-3rd. On those nights, the 2010 Minnesota Twins (.600 on 9/21) were swept by the 2010 Seatle Mariners (.383, same). There was clearly something wrong with the Twins at that time. QED!

Twins over Rays in 4, Twins over Yankees in 7 thanks to a dramatic extra-inning HR by Thome, Twins over Reds in 5, in the World Series with the lowest TV ratings of all time. Let's hear it now for the team that came to play!


Anonymous said...

Whoa, talk about a sudden change of direction! I sure didn't see your conclusion coming after the (not entirely unfounded) pessimism of the rest of the rest of your post.

But I do think there's something different about how the Twins are playing now compared to the bad times in June and July, and that the different results aren't just a function of who they're playing. The record against the AL East is consistent with their performance in past years (although note that they beat the hated Yankees both here and at "The Stadium," for the first time in several years as I recall), but I really think their performance against the NL was a fluke. They usually beat NL teams like a drum, and they're definitely better than most of the teams they struggled against this year.

I can't explain the record in June and early July, except to say teams go through weird slumps the same way players do. I choose to believe that's what was going on then; same for their losing 3 of 4 to the Rangers in late August -- the only significant blot on their record since the All Star break. And their record in September certainly is grounds for optimism for October.

John Aerni said...

Fred, your post warms my heart...because it predicts a Reds-Twins World Series which would be glorious (if a potential marital hurdle since I married a Twins fan). Let's hope it happens, but also let's just say I can't go on the record with any WS predictions just yet ;)