When we started this “Final Countdown” series, the Twins had 100 games remaining in their regular season schedule.
Our premise is simple… The Cleveland Indians will not win the AL Central Division Championship. That honor, from the outset of the season, has been predestined to go to the Tigers, the White Sox, or the Twins. Based on that reality, we created the REAL AL Central Standings, measuring how the Twins were doing against the BitchSox and Tigers only.
With 100 games left, the Twins trailed the Tigers by 10 games, meaning they would need to gain an average of 1 game on the leader in the REAL AL Central Standings every 10 games in order to catch up by game 162.
So here we are with 70 games left… let’s check in and see how our guys are doing.
TWINS GAMES REMAINING: 70
Not bad. They would need to be no more than 7 games behind the leader to be on track and after Saturday evening’s games, they trail the Tigers by 5 games and the BitchSox by 3.
The next 10 games will certainly be interesting, as they lead us up to the non-waiver trade deadline. Keep up the good work, guys!
When I’m getting ready to draft a new post, I often do a quick check of what other Twins bloggers are writing about so I can avoid doing nothing more than adding one more post on the same subject others are already covering (and likely covering much better than I would, anyway). I did the same thing this morning and obviously there’s no shortage of material in the Twins blogdom about the upcoming series with the Royals, Indians and Tigers. So I should have come up with another subject to write about.
But I didn’t.
The Twins play twelve games over the next eleven days (thanks to a make-up game that turns next Monday’s scheduled game with Cleveland in to a doubleheader). All three series are against AL Central Division teams and two of those series are against the virtual co-leaders of the Division… teams that the Twins trail by about half a dozen games in the standings.
With the non-waiver trade deadline looming a week after the Twins wrap up this intra-divisional stretch, it’s certainly possible to conclude that by the time the Twins finish up their July 24 game with the Tigers, we’ll all know how the rest of the season will play out. We’ll know whether GM Bill Smith will spend the last week of July looking for bullpen help or whether he’ll be fielding offers for some of the higher-paid Twins that are free-agency bound at the end of the season. After all of the trials and tribulations of April and May and after the turnaround in June and, thus far, July, it all comes down to these eleven days.
Or does it?
It’s fun to think of it that way. It certainly generates excitement and enthusiasm among the fan base. It may even be healthy for the players if thinking along those lines helps them focus and give just that little bit of an extra effort. But let’s not lose sight of the fact that it’s still only 12 games… just under 7.5% of the season’s schedule.
Hey, the Twins certainly don’t want to lose 2/3 of these games and it’s always particularly helpful to beat the team’s you are trying to catch when you face them one-on-one. But this is hardly the last time our guys will be going head-to-head with their divisional competition. Even after they wrap up the next twelve games, they will have ANOTHER NINE GAMES EACH against the Tigers, Indians and White Sox during the final two months of the season.
My point is… yes, these three series are important and it would certainly be helpful to keep the momentum going and cut a bit more in to the deficits the Twins face behind the Tribe and Tigers. But if it turns out that they don’t… if it turns out they’re still a handful of games behind at the end of all this… it would still be premature to start writing obituaries for this team, as long as neither of the co-leaders rattles off about 15 straight wins to leave everyone in the dust.
Those of us who held off on declaring the season a lost cause at the end of May have been rewarded for our patience. The Twins are definitely still playing meaningful baseball.
They have steadily improved. They are getting healthier and that means their bench is getting deeper (which has been so thin recently as to almost make one yearn for the days when the “bats on the bench” consisted of some combination of Jason Tyner, Lew Ford, Rondell White, Luis Rodriguez and Brian Buscher). And keep in mind that the teams the Twins are chasing are not exactly the 1927 Yankees… or even the 2011 Yankees, for that matter. The three teams ahead of the Twins have some flaws and those franchises don’t exactly have a recent history of strong second half finishes.
So… enjoy the next eleven days and let’s hope the Twins keep closing on the leaders, but let’s try to retain some perspective. There’s going to be a lot of baseball to be played in August and September, regardless of how these games shake out.
We knew it was too good to last, of course. You simply don’t continue to gain several games on your competition every week the way the Twins had been closing in on the teams above them in the standings. It’s actually a bit surprising that they didn’t lose any more ground than they did, considering the competition they faced over the past 10 games.
We here at Knuckleballs started this little “Countdown” exercise a few weeks ago when the Twins had played 62 games, leaving 100 remaining, and we’re continuing to check in every 10 games to see what sort of progress the team is making. With 100 games remaining, the Twins trailed the Tigers by exactly 10 games. A little quick math revealed that they needed to gain one game in the standigns on the Tigers for every 10 games played to catch up to them by the end of the season.
We’re also keeping track of where our guys stand in comparison to the BitchSox, since we’ve pretty much assumed from the start of the season that Ozzie’s Southsiders will be in the race until the end.
While I’m still not willing to add them to the REAL AL Central Standings, for our purposes, I do have to give Cleveland credit for not folding as quickly as I thought they would. I still don’t think they’ll be contending by the end of the season, but they sure seem to continue to think otherwise.
Anyway, here are the REAL AL Central Standings at this particular checkpoint, with the Twins having exactly 80 more ballgames left to play:
TWINS GAMES REMAINING: 80
With the All-Star break this week, it will be two more weeks before the Twins get another 10 games under their belts. Four of those games will be on the road at Chicago, but the other six will be at home against the Rays and Royals. During the same period of time, the Tigers will play seven of nine games on the road, while the BitchSox play seven of their next ten games against either the Twins or Tigers.
In other words, the Twins have an excellent opportunity to make up more ground before we check in again at the 70-game mark!
I know we’ve got all we can handle, as Twins fans, to keep focused on what our guys are doing from day to day. After all, in just this one past series with the Dodgers, the Twins managed to win a game 1-0 and lose a game 15-0.
But as bad as that 15-0 thumping on Monday was, did anyone notice what happened to the Tigers the following two days? I don’t know if Gardy’s buddy Jim Leyland was just feeling so bad for the Twins manager that he decided to do something to make his friend feel better, but whatever the cause, his Tigers actually have had a worse week than Gardy’s Twins.
On Tuesday, Tiger relief pitcher Daniel Schlereth gave up not one, but TWO grand slam home runs in his team’s 14-3 loss. Said Schlereth, “With right-handers, I’m struggling.” See, and we thought Jose Mijares was having a tough stretch! Then again, at least Schlereth didn’t try to publicly blame his catcher.
True, that loss wasn’t as bad as the 15-0 debacle the Twins had on Monday, but the Tigers followed their trouncing up by losing to the Mets again on Wednesday, 16-9. In that game, the Tigers hit five home runs… and lost… by seven runs! Tiger utility player Don Kelly came in to pitch to get the final out of the game. Gardy may have had a tough time, but at least we didn’t see Matt Tolbert take to the mound.
Think the Twins have had a few pitching woes in the past week or so? Think about this… during their series with the Mets, the Tigers had not one… not two… not three… not four… but FIVE pitchers who saw their ERAs jump by more than half an earned run per nine innings! Here they are (courtesy of an interesting article on SBNation by Grant Brisbee)
Rick Porcello: before 4.50; after 5.06
Daniel Schlereth: before 2.96; after 4.91
Phil Coke: before 4.32; after 4.91
Al Alburquerque: before 1.95; after 2.79
David Purcey: before 0.77; after 3.58
Tiger reliever Ryan Perry managed to actually lower his ERA. He threw 3 2/3 innings and gave up 2 earned runs. That dropped his ERA from 9.95 to 9.00.
Tiger starter Phil Coke was so bad that he’s being relegated to the bullpen and replaced in the rotation by a guy named Charlie Furbush. (Insert your own tasteless comment here.)
So what’s my point? I’m not sure I really have one, other than (a) to remind all of us that every team has a game or two where they flat out get bludgeoned and that we shouldn’t take that as any more of a sign of the apocolypse than we should assume a single great performance means we can line up for playoff tickets, and (b) it’s more fun to make fun of division opponents failures than it is to discuss the Twins’ problems.
Ten games ago, I wrote about how the Twins had pulled within 10 games of the Detroit Tigers with 100 games left on their schedule. The symmetry of that was too much to resist.
Since I just can’t get my mind to accept the possibility that the Indians could possibly be in the race for the long haul, I’ve been standing by my preseason contention that the AL Central would come down to the Twins, Tigers and White Sox. Based on this, we’re going to check in with the Twins’ progress every 10 games (if I remember to do so) in relation to where their real division rivals sit.
Trailing the Tigers by 10 games with 100 to play meant all they had to do was trim one game off that lead every 10 games in order to catch the Tigers by the end of the season. So today, as the countdown reaches 90 remaining games on the Twins schedule, where are things sitting?
Let’s just say there’s been some progress… and that’s putting it mildly… even after that clunker Wednesday night in San Francisco. Here are the REAL AL Central Division Standings with 90 games to play:
TWINS GAMES REMAINING: 90
I don’t think any of us expected to see the Twins close this gap this fast. Yes, the BitchSox are sneaking up on the Tigers, too, but I think our guys proved they own the southsiders last week, didn’t they? We’ll keep them listed in the REAL AL Central Division Standings just because it looks tacky to only list one team other than the Twins, but if this race comes down to Twins and BitchSox, I like the Twins’ chances.
On the other hand, the Twins haven’t had any luck against the Tigers yet at all, so I like watching them lose to anyone who can step up and do the job.
The Twins’ dramatic win today over the Padres, combined with the Royals’ 5-4 loss to St. Louis, moves the Twins out of the AL Central cellar and up in to fourth place in the Division for the first time since May 8.
Our guys didn’t gain on the Indians, who outlasted the Pirates in an extra-inning game to gain a sweep of their own, or the Tigers, who slapped the Rockies around, or even the White Sox, who beat the D-Backs again. The Tigers remain 1 game behind Cleveland and the Bitch Sox are 5.5 games back of the leaders (just 2.5 games ahead of the Twins). The Twins have Monday off, while all three of the teams ahead of them start new interleague series on Monday.
I don’t think it’s realistic to expect the Twins to continue winning games at the pace they’ve been on as they not only go on the road, but do so against the defending World Series Champion (and current NL West leader) San Francisco Giants and the current NL Central leading Milwaukee Brewers.
But a 9-1 home stand is nothing to sneeze at and after this 6-game road trip, they’ll come back home for another nice long home stand.
Five weeks ago, the Twins trailed the Royals by 7.5 games in the standings. Today, they passed the Royals and are taking aim on the team ahead of them, the White Sox, and there’s no sign of any “quit” in this team.
I’m already on record as saying the Indians simply don’t matter and I stand by that. Take a look at their schedule between now and the All-Star break and tell me they won’t be lucky just to stay in the top three of the standings. They get the Rox, the Giants, the D-Backs, and the Reds before hosting the Yankees and Blue Jays just ahead of the break.
The White Sox will very possibly be looking up at the Twins in the standings by the break, but the Tigers will be a lot tougher to close the gap on. Their schedule is softer and I’m betting they’ve got a three game lead in the division by the break.
It’s too early to know whether the Twins will use this stretch of success to springboard them up in to serious contention as the summer goes on, but a while back I wrote that I would be happy if they’d just show the kind of effort and skill that would make it fun to watch them again… and they’ve certainly done that.
Whether or not the Twins WILL turn themselves in to legitimate contenders remains to be seen, but I think we’ve reached the point where nobody should dare tell them that they CAN’T do exactly that.
Entering Friday night’s game against the Texas Rangers, the Twins are carrying a record of 24-38. You know what that means, don’t you? No… not that they’ve pretty much sucked all year (well, OK, it kind of does mean that, but that’s not what I’m talking about right now).
It means they’ve played 62 games. And you know what that means, don’t you? (Stick with me here… I’ll get to the point eventually.)
It means there are exactly 100 games left in the Twins’ regular season.
That works out really well for my purposes because the Twins are also 10 games behind the AL Central Division leaders. (What’s that? You say the Twins are 11.5 games out of first place? Well, technically, yes… but as I pointed out in early May, in the REAL AL Central Standings, the Twins only have to care about how far they trail the Tigers and White Sox.)
Being 10 games behind the Tigers with 100 games to play makes it easy enough to figure out what the Twins need to do to not only get back in this race, but win it. They need to make up 1 game in the REAL standings every 10 games they play. (Yeah, I know… they’ll need to do SLIGHTLY better than that if they want to avoid another Game 163 showdown.)
That’s not so tough, right?
Well… yeah it is, actually.
We’re all pretty thrilled that our guys have trimmed something like 5.5 games off their deficit to the Cleveland Indians in the past week or so, but even with the success the Twins have had lately, the Twins have actually DROPPED a game further behind the Tigers in the REAL AL Central Standings over the course of the past 10 games and have just kept pace with the White Sox.
So, before we celebrate too much, let’s keep our focus where it belongs. Cleveland and Kansas City have some good, young talent and down the road, they’re going to contend for playoff spots. But that road extends in to the future beyond this season. This year, it will not matter how the Twins measure up to the Indians and Royals. What will matter, as it has over the past few seasons, is where they finish in relation to the Tigers and White Sox.
Let’s keep track, shall we?
Every ten games, for as long as it matters, we’ll bring everyone up to date on what the REAL AL Central Standings look like and we can measure whether the Twins are making the necessary ground up on the Tigers and BitchSox.
TWINS GAMES REMAINING: 100
We’ll update these standings every 10 games (or as often as we remember to do it).
And what, you may ask, happens if I’m wrong about the whole “Indians and Royals don’t matter” thing? Well… you’d be surprised how quickly all evidence of a blog post can be erased.