Going in to this weekend’s series against the Milwaukee Brewers, our Minnesota Twins are 11 games over .500, sitting atop the American League Central Division (barely) with a 32-21 record.
Naturally, after the four year run of futility Twins fans have endured coming in to the current season, the main topic of conversation in the Twins community revolves around, “is this for real or are they going to crash and burn?”
Being more than ten games over the break-even point a couple of months in to the season is rarified air for the Twins this decade. In fact, it’s relatively rare for any team to work their way more than ten games above .500 by June 4 in any recent year.
When you look at the results for other teams that have managed to win ten more games than they’ve lost as of this date, you can find some cause for optimism – but you can also find a cautionary tale or two, as well.
A year ago, four teams found themselves on June 4 with records showing at least ten more wins than losses. Those teams were the Giants, Athletics, Brewers and Blue Jays.
That’s not exactly encouraging news for Twins fans. Two of those teams, the Giants and A’s, hung on to claim wild card spots. The other two failed to make the postseason at all.
In 2013, seven teams streaked out to early success in the first two months of the season. Boston, Texas, Oakland, Atlanta, St. Louis, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh all sat at least ten games over the .500 mark as of June 4.
Four of those teams would ultimately claim Division championship banners, three scraped in to a wild card spot and one, the Rangers, failed to make the postseason (and even they did play a “game 163”). That’s obviously a more encouraging precedent for Twins fans to focus on than the 2014 season.
Only the Dodgers had at least ten more wins than losses on June 4, 2012, and they fell short of postseason qualification.
In 2011, Philadelphia, St. Louis and Cleveland were ten games over .500 on June 4. The Phillies won their division, the Cards were a wild card team and the Tribe were left on the outside looking in at playoff time.
In 2010, the Rays, Yankees and Padres all were at least ten games above the .500 mark on this date. Tampa Bay won their division, the Evil Empire claimed the wild card and the Padres were left out. In fairness, however, if today’s two-wild card format had been in effect in 2010, San Diego would have qualified for the second National League wild card spot.
(The Twins, in their final “good” season before the sucking years, were nine games over .500 on June 4, 2010.)
Add all of that up and you get a pretty interesting – and even – mix of results for teams that were, on this date, in a situation similar to where the Twins find themselves today.
Six of 18 teams won their division. Six of 18 claimed wild card spots. Six of 18 were left out in the cold.
Of the six teams who failed to make the postseason after their early-season success, two of them did go on to win at least 90 games. The 2010 Padres won 90 and, as mentioned, would have claimed a second wild card spot had the format been the same as what’s in place today. The 2013 Rangers won 91 games and lost a “play-in” game to the Rays.
The other four non-qualifiers ended up with 86 (2012 Dodgers), 83 (2014 Blue Jays), 82 (2014 Brewers) and 80 (2011 Indians) games.
We all want to believe in the Twins success. We look at the potential to add a front line pitcher to the rotation in Ervin Santana and see possibilities of additional help from young players on the verge of making their big league debuts. We hope to see some guys improve to counter what’s likely to be some regression to the mean among other players.
But, after four years of frustration, it’s hard for some of us to allow ourselves to become wholly emotionally invested in the Twins again, despite the surprisingly hot start.
That said, coming in to the season most of us would have been more than pleased with an 81-81 Twins record at the end of 2015. Considering that only one of 18 teams in the past five years that accomplished what the Twins have accomplished so far failed to finish with at least 81 wins, it’s hard for me not to start getting pretty excited.
Maybe – just maybe – that’s okay.