The Minnesota Twins have a legitimate shot at winning the American League Central this season. Going into play on Saturday, they sit just two and a half games behind the division-leading Detroit Tigers and one half game behind the Chicago White Sox.
The division is still wide open and very winnable. If the Twins are able to rally and win the division, the following five reasons will no doubt play a large part in their success.
End of the East
Only seven games remain against AL East foes, three at home against the Baltimore Orioles and four in Toronto against the Blue Jays. On the season the Twins have struggled mightily against the AL East, winning just six of 25 games.
Although those numbers don’t bode well for a potential playoff matchup with one of the East Coast powers, it does bode well to know that the Twins are nearly finished with their eastward obligations for the regular season.
Strength of Schedule
According to their remaining strength of schedule at PlayoffStatus.com, the Twins have one of the easiest paths to the postseason. The Twins have also played the hardest schedule in the AL Central thus far, largely a result of having already dealt with many of the heavy-hitters in the AL East.
Although strength of schedule is only based on team’s overall record and not recent performance, the Twins still have to like what they see heading into the second half.
After last season’s impressive line (11-4, 3.45 ERA) and a preseason contract extension, many figured the Twins had an ace in the making in young Scott Baker. Then the 2009 season started and Baker got lit up.
In April and May he posted a 2-6 record which wasn’t pretty and a 7.40 ERA that was bowling-shoe ugly.
Since then, things have improved dramatically. Over his last ten starts, Baker has gone 6-2. He’s tossed six quality starts and his once sky-high ERA has come down nearly two full points to 5.42.
If he can gain some consistency and continue improving as the season wears on, he’ll play a large part in the Twins’ second-half success.
Statistically speaking, both Francisco Liriano and Delmon Young have been awful this season. So much so that many Twins fans have called for them to be traded, demoted and/or released. The upside, however, is that they are both proven second-half performers.
I’ve written previously (here and here) about the ridiculous discrepancies between their first and second-half performances. If history proves accurate, both men figure to play a big part in hoisting a final AL Central pennant at the Metrodome.
Déjà vu All Over Again
It may be naive to think that the 2009 Twins are anything like the 2006 squad, especially when you consider that only a handful of players are still around from that team.
It is, however, important to note that three years ago today the Twins were sitting in a position very similar to their current one.
The club was in third place behind the Detroit Tigers and Chicago White Sox. Although things looked far bleaker in 2006, as the Twins were a seemingly insurmountable nine and a half games back.
When the dust settled the Twins had taken the pennant, the White Sox were at home watching the playoffs on television and the Tigers—after the first of many second-half stumbles under manager Jim Leyland—settled for the Wild Card.