About a week ago, everybody was writing off the 2009 Twins. I certainly did. Most Twins bloggers did. The folks on the wrong side of the MVP debate were arguing that Joe Mauer couldn't win it because he was playing for a team that wasn't going to make the playoffs, and the argument against them wasn't that the Twins were a contender after all (they weren't), but that the whole idea that the MVP and the playoffs were somehow linked was absurd (it is). And yeah, the 2006 team overcame a bigger deficit in a short amount of time, but as Aaron Gleeman reminded everybody, that team was good; this one is not. The Twins had the easiest schedule of any contender post-All-Star Break, and they came out looking terrible.
Well, there's another difference from 2006, too: Detroit and Chicago were good back then, too, and now they're fundamentally no better than the Twins are. Coming into play yesterday, all three of those teams had Pythagorean records of within a game of each other (right around 63-61). And the actual standings, the Twins having won six of their last seven games while the other two have scuffled a bit, now look like this:
Tigers 66 58 --
Wh.Sox 63 62 3.5
Twins 62 63 4.5
The Tigers are still in control, but it's far from decided. Now take a look at the teams' remaining games against opponents that aren't each other:
Det (24): LAA-2, TB-6, CLE-6, KC-6, TOR-4
Chi (25): BOS-7, NYY-3, OAK-2, LAA-3, SEA-3, KC-3, CLE-3, CHC-1
Min (23): BAL-2, TEX-3, CLE-6, TOR-3, OAK-3, KC-6
The Tigers have 8 games against very good teams, the Twins just 3. The White Sox have 13, and then 4 more against the M's and Cubs, against whom they're about equally matched. The Twins' five opponents other than Texas (who they handled pretty well on the road last week) are the five teams with the most losses in the American League. I think it's fair to expect the Twins to pick up 1 game on the Tigers and 2 on the White Sox based on that schedule, and if they don't, either they're tanking or one of those two teams is playing out of its head. That would leave the Tigers 3.5 up on the Twins and 5.5 up on the White Sox. Then you've got this:
Det vs. Min: 7 games
Det vs. Chi: 6 games
Min vs. Chi: 6 games
It's easy to say it'll all come down to that, but realistically, it'll all come down to Detroit. If the Tigers can win 3 of those games against the Twins and 3 of those games against the White Sox, it's hard to see them falling apart so badly in their other games that they give up the lead. But if the Tigers drop 4 or 5 games against either or both, it should be a pretty good fight.
More interestingly, all six of those games between the Tigers and White Sox come in Detroit's last 10 games, and the other four of the last ten are all against the Twins. As I said, the Tigers are still in control: the various playoff odds sites seem generally to have the Tigers at about 50-55% and the Twins and Sox at 20-25% each, and that seems about right (though I'd put the Twins closer to 25% and Sox closer to 20% based on the remaining schedules). What that means, though, is that there's almost a 50% chance that the Tigers won't win the Central. Which, if nothing else, should once again make for some very exciting baseball in those last ten games in the least exciting division in baseball.
3 hours ago