Last year as the Twins came out of the All-Star break just barely above .500 and trailing both the Tigers and WhiteSox, I was reaching for something that would give me hope that our guys could still find a way to win the AL Central Division. My search led me to the Baseball Prospectus site where they plug some sort of algorithm in to their computers every morning to determine each team’s chances of winning their division and/or claiming the wild card.
Last year, I was heartened to discover those geniuses and their computers determined that the Tigers and Twins both had about a 40% chance of winning the Division and the White Sox about a 20% chance. Since the Tigers and Twins ended up tied after 162 games, I’d say they were pretty accurate! As I wrote at the time, in a guest post over at Howard Sinker’s “Section 220” blog at the Strib website, the reason the computers liked the Twins and Tigers so much more than the BitchSox came down to the Sox having a much more difficult second half schedule.
So I painstakingly went through the remaining schedule of all three teams and predicted the total wins I felt each of them would end up with. Yes… I could have just used the numbers that the BP computers spit out, but what fun would that be? As it turned out, I overestimated the Tigers’ wins by 4 and the Sox’ wins by 3, but I came within 1 game of predicting the number of victories the Twins would finish the regular season with. I wrapped up the post with, “…I’m going to say it means the Twins are not out of the Division race yet. Of course, it would help if the Twins added a key piece of the puzzle or two soon.” As we all now know, I was right!
Which brings me to today.
The Twins are a game and a half behind the Sox after Tuesday night’s games, but the computer over at Baseball Prospectus, as you would expect, gives Sox a slightly greater chance than the Twins of winning the Division, though just the day before, the Twins held a small advantage despite trailing the Sox by a game at the time. (Since the BP odds are updated daily, the numbers you see when you click their link will reflect the current percentages on the day you go look.) As of this morning, the WhiteSox have a 52.7% chance of winning the Division, while the Twins sit just behind them with 44.9%. The couple of remaining percentage points reflect that the Tigers remain mathematically relevant… barely.
So, given my uncanny talent for predicting the future, as I demonstrated last year, I felt it was my responsibility to once again carefully analyze each of the three teams’ schedules and let everyone know how this is all going to turn out. I mean, won’t it be a lot less stressful watching the games the last two months if we already know how the race is going to finish? (What’s that, you ask? Aren’t I conveniently overlooking the fact that I didn’t exactly nail the correct number of wins any of the three teams finished with last year? Yes. And shut up.)
Let’s start with the easy part. The Tigers are toast and could start selling off parts any day now.
They’re currently at an even 53-53 and starting with Tuesday’s doubleheader with the WhiteSox, they have 17 straight games against the Sox, Angels, Rays, Sox (again) and Yankees. I figure they’ll be fortunate to stay within half a dozen games of .500 by the time that stretch finishes on August 19. Things do get a bit easier for them after that, but even from that point forward, they have 15 games remaining with the WhiteSox, Twins and Rangers. I’m being pretty generous, I think, to predict they’ll claw their way back up to a .500 finish at 81-81.
Sorting out the Twins and Sox isn’t nearly so easy. If anyone is expecting one of these teams to suddenly distance themselves from the other any time soon, I don’t think they’ve looked at the schedule. I have… and I think this one is going down to the wire.
Putting pencil to paper (yes, I’m old fashioned that way), I see the Twins still trailing the Sox as they hit Labor Day, but by just a half-game. After leapfrogging one another through September, both teams will carry identical 88-67 records in to the final week of the season. In addition, both will go 4-3 that last week to finish 92-70. The Twins’ best hope to avoid their third 163 game season in a row may be that the Red Sox, who will have most likely been eliminated much earlier, can summon the pride to put a torpedo in the side of the Sox’ pennant hopes during their 4 game series in Chicago at the end of September.
The good news is that this year’s Game 163 will likely be played at Target Field. The Twins currently own a 6-3 advantage in head-to-head games over the BitchSox, which means the Sox would have to win 7 of the remaining 9 games with the Twins to earn home field for Game 163. (Yes I realize that if the Sox win 6 of the remaining games with the Twins, the teams will have 9-9 records head-to-head. But in that event, the second tiebreaker is their respective records within the AL Central Division. The Twins are currently 27-15 in the Division and the Sox just 17-20. Let’s just say that if the Sox overcome that deficit, chances are there won’t be a need for a Game 163.)
So there you have it. Relax and just enjoy watching the rest of the games as we plow through the final two months of the regular season. We already know how it’s going to turn out so there’s no sense in getting all nervous until Chicago hits town and Scott Baker faces off with Freddy Garcia in Game 163 on Monday, October 4.
Of course, I could be wrong.
P.S. On a totally unrelated, non-baseball, note, I just have to post a link to something Joe Posnanski posted earlier this week about the great decathlete, Rafer Johnson. I readily admit the bias that comes from being a Posnanski fan, but you should take the time to read Stories of an Extraordinary Life. It may be the best sports essay I’ve read all year. – JC