Minnesota Twins: Seven Reasons the AL Central Title and Playoffs Are Possible

Jay LiedContributor IJune 29, 2011

Minnesota Twins: Seven Reasons the AL Central Title and Playoffs Are Possible

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    I imagine that many of you did your best Jim Mora, “Playoffs...Playoffs?” after reading the title of this slideshow. You could not be faulted for having that reaction, especially in light of the Twins' current losing streak.  

    However, despite managing to give up 15 runs and 24 hits against the bankrupt Dodgers, all is not lost.  At 32-45, the voyage to victory will be difficult, but the Twins still have time to right the ship. The following slides detail seven reasons why the Twins should keep the champagne around for a possible title celebration.


It Is June, Not September

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    The season is less than halfway over. Summer officially began less than a week ago. A 10-game deficit can easily be made up over the final 85 games; in fact, the Twins recently had a stretch where they picked up 10 games on first place over the course of just 17 games.  

    While the recent six-game slide has been a setback, the Twins have assured themselves a winning record for the month of June. If the Twins can steadily pick up games over the second half of the year, meaningful games in September seem assured. 

    The Twins have made a habit of using 162 (or more) games to win the AL Central; declaring them dead with more than half of the season left to be played would be a mistake. 

During the Gardenhire Era, the Twins Have Been Home Field Monsters.

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    The Twins are scheduled to play 50 of their remaining 85 games at Target Field.  While the team currently has a less than auspicious 14-17 home record, under the Gardenhire regime they have historically won at a .614 clip, compiling a gaudy 454-286 record at the Dome and Target Field. Despite their early struggles at home this season, the Twins are 71-45 overall in regular season games at Target Field, a .612 winning percentage.

    The AL Central champion could easily finish the year with somewhere between 82 and 88 wins. If the Twins can play .612 baseball and win 31 of their 50 home games, they will need to go 22-13 on the road to finish the year at 85-77.  If they can win at a rate just slightly better than their historical home average and go 34-16 the rest of the season at Target Field, a more feasible 19-16 road record would get them to 85-77.  

    Getting 85 wins may or may not be enough to win the AL Central, but it should put the Twins in the mix at the end of the year. The 1987 Twins finished the regular season at 85-77, and we all know how that story ended. 

A Weak AL Central: The Tigers, Indians and White Sox Are Also Flawed

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    The three teams currently ahead of the Twins (the Detroit Tigers, Cleveland Indians and Chicago White Sox) are not among the elite clubs in Major League Baseball. The teams have significant flaws, and it does not appear likely that one of them will break away from the rest of the division. 

    The Tigers have issues with their pitching rotation. While Justin Verlander (10-3, 2.38) is having a Cy Young season, Max Scherzer's 9-3 record is attributable more to his strong run support than his pitching, as illustrated by his mediocre 4.47 ERA. His record easily could be similar to that of Brad Penny (5-6, 4.66) or Rick Porcello (6-5, 4.50) if not for the Tiger offense. Phil Coke (1-7, 4.32) has not demonstrated an ability to pitch deeply into games, and his 5.57 June ERA may be a sign that he is beginning to wear down physically.

    The Indians have had trouble scoring runs, although they have been more potent than the Twins. Shin-Soo Choo is likely to miss the majority of the regular season after undergoing surgery to repair a broken left thumb. While 2011 has not been a great season for Choo, he is a career .290 hitter with the ability to hit for power and steal bases. The Indians will miss him during the stretch run.

    The White Sox are simply an average team. Their starting rotation has no glaring holes, but with the exception of Philip Humber (7-4, 2.89), the rotation is decidedly unspectacular. Mark Buehrle (6-5, 3.73) is providing a mediocre return on the $14 million the White Sox have invested in him for the 2011 season. Rookie Sergio Santos is an unproven commodity as the closer. Paul Konerko (.324, 21 HR, 60 RBI) has been impressive offensively, but the rest of the offensive lineup has been hit-or-miss.

    The Twins will have to overtake these three teams in order to win the division. This will undoubtedly be a difficult undertaking, but the relative weakness of the AL Central gives the team a fighting chance.

Jerry Reinsdorf Should Check His Files, Because the Twins Own the White Sox

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    The Twins are 4-0 against the White Sox in 2011. Twins pitchers have given up a total of three runs in the four games. In recent years, the Twins have had a psychological edge over the White Sox, often driving Ozzie Guillen into the semi-intelligible, profanity-laced tirades for which he is famous.

    The Twins play the White Sox 14 more times this season; if they are to win the division, they will need to continue their dominance of the Sox.

The Twins Are Keeping the Doctors Busy, but the Stars Are Returning

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    The Twins offense has shown signs of life, but for much of the season it has been more anemic than Marie Curie with a handful of polonium. The lackluster offense can be attributed to the incredible number of injuries to key offensive players. Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Jason Kubel and Jim Thome have missed extended periods of time, forcing the team to field a constantly changing lineup of players who have been unable to fill the massive void. 

    Mauer (.247, 0 HR, 7 RBI) has not been himself since his return, but he is a career .326 hitter, a three-time batting champion and a former AL MVP. He won't be hitting .247 at the end of the season. Kubel (.310, 5 HR, 30 RBI) was the one consistent offensive threat for the Twins during their slow start; he is expected to be back in the lineup shortly after missing a month with a left foot sprain. Having Thome available gives the Twins a pinch-hit home run threat, as well as a leader in the clubhouse.

    The news that Morneau will undergo surgery is unfortunate, but his production this year has been well below his standards. If the Twins can get back into contention while he recuperates, he may finally be able to provide the late-season surge that has eluded him to this point in his career.

    Injuries are a part of the game, but the Twins are close to fielding a lineup with the firepower necessary to steal a game when the pitching staff isn't at its best.   

The Yankees and Red Sox Will Play at Target Field

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    The Twins have struggled against the AL East this season, posting a 6-18 record. The good news is that the team only has 12 games left against AL East teams, and with the exception of a makeup game at Yankee Stadium, the games will be played at Target Field.

    Four of the games are against current AL East bottom-dweller Baltimore and should be winnable. The games against the Yankees and the Red Sox will be a good gauge of the Twins' status as playoff contenders or pretenders.

    The Twins have a winning record against the rest of the AL. If they can get win seven or eight (or more) of their remaining games against AL East opponents, their playoff chances will improve immensely.   

The Twins Know How To Win and Have Made Amazing Comebacks.

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    Finishing the season on a 17-4 run in 2009 to erase a seven-game Detroit Tiger lead and then winning a classic battle in Game 163.  Winning the 2006 Division title on the final day of the season.

    Six AL Central Championships in nine years. The Twins have battled through adversity time and again, and the current roster is made up of players who know what it feels like to go on a run to win the Central Division.

    At 32-45, winning the 2011 AL Central seems like a pipe dream for the Twins.  However, after analyzing the situation, one comes to the realization that winning the division is not as improbable as it appears at first glance. It won't be easy and will require some luck, but don't count the Twins out just yet.