It's been a while since I've written about baseball on the Times, but as you might know, not everyone on this site is a Twins fan. I'm from Chicago and have liked the White Sox since probably before I was born, if that's possible. The source of a lot of our posts on the original Is It Sports? site was banter back and forth about the Twins and White Sox, and a big reason why Ryan wanted me to join him writing for this site is to occasionally trash the Twins, and be the "heel" for his Minnesota readers. I'm not going to put a lot of emotion into this, just present some facts, because I'm definitely not bitter about last night's game or this season (I hate the Tigers too and I got my World Series this decade).
I heard a lot of people on TV and on the radio tonight throw out the stat that the Twins have won 5 division titles in the last 8 years, and it could have been 6 had they only won the 1-game playoff against Chicago last year. It sounds pretty impressive, but I think in reality the impressive part about the Twins over the past 8 years is their consistency....they are consistently above average. In fact, since they started their run of "above-averageness" in 2001, they have averaged a very respectable 88 wins a year, and have had only 1 losing season.
When you think about it, in some divisions, an 88 or 90 win season could never get you to the playoffs, but the AL Central has been a pretty weak division ever since it was formed. The Central has only had 1 World Series champion and 1 wild card berth since its first full season in 1995, and for the first half of the decade typically had at least 1 team with 100 losses. If you consider a 90-win season as a truly "good" team and not just an above average team, the AL Central has had 10 of them since 2001, while the AL East has had 16, and the 4-team AL West has had 14. The AL East isn't that different from the AL Central in the fact that they typically have had 2 terrible teams each year for the top teams of the division to feast on. However, the AL East is also capable of winning games out of the division, and every champion of that division has had at least 95 wins since 2001, while only 3 AL Central winners have reached that mark in 9 years. Also, 6 out of the last 9 AL Central winners have had a record worse than the AL wild card, and in 3 of those years (this year included) the winner was worse than the team that finished 2nd in the wild card race.
So basically my theory is this: for the last 9 years, the Twins have consistently put up an above average to relatively good season, and if there isn't anyone else in the division that is at least relatively good, they win the division, only to get trounced in the playoffs because they weren't all that good to begin with. Let's briefly run through each season:
2001: The Twins put up their first winning season (85 wins) since 1992 despite talks of the team being contracted, but fall short to the Indians, who win the division with only 91 wins, only to lose to 116-win Seattle in the ALDS.
2002: This was by far the most exciting Twins team of their run this decade. They bucked the contraction talks and surprisingly won the AL Central, and then upset another 00's perennial playoff loser, the A's, in the first ALDS, before being stopped 4-1 by the Angels in the ALCS. The Twins won 94 games that season, their 2nd best of the decade....but had an extremely weak division with 2 100-loss teams and an 81-81 2nd place team behind them.
2003: The Twins win the AL Central again with just 90 wins (15 of them over 119-loss Detroit), 3 games worse than the 2nd place wild card team, Seattle. They take game 1 from the 101-win Yankees in the ALDS, but then score only 3 runs the rest of the series to get bounced 3 games to 1.
2004: The Twins win the AL Central again, this time with 92 wins (same as the Angels, who win the West). No one else in the division is close to them, much like 2002. The Twins put up a better fight against the Yankees, but lose 3 games to 1 in the ALDS again.
2005: The White Sox and Indians rise from mediocrity, which causes the Twins to fall back to 83 wins in 3rd place. The White Sox get the highest win total for the AL Central of the decade with 99 wins, get home field in the playoffs, and only lose once in the playoffs, winning the division's only world series title.
2006: It's another strong year for the AL Central, and the strongest for the Twins. 3 teams win 90 games and the Tigers appear to be the team of destiny for most of the season. The Twins got hot at the end while the Tigers choked, giving the Twins the division title with 96 wins and Tigers the only AL Central wild card spot ever. The Twins carried their momentum right into a 3 game sweep against Oakland, the A's only playoff series win of the decade, while the "downtrodden" Tigers pulled an amazing upset of the Yankees, sweep the mediocre A's in the ALCS, but then lose the World Series to St. Louis.
2007: The Indians put up a 96 win season and win the Central, while the Twins have a losing record. The Indians polish off the Yankees in the ALDS, and take a 3-1 lead in the ALCS before choking it away to Boston. The Indians nearly made it 3 AL Central pennant winners in a row, and none of those were the Twins...
2008: The AL Central is flat out bad, and both the White Sox and Twins win only 88 games before the White Sox take the 1 game playoff to win the division. The White Sox record after 162 games is 1 game worse than the AL wild card 2nd place Yankees. The White Sox lose 3 games to 1 to the surprising Rays...hmm, seems like this would have been a perfect spot for the Twins.
2009: The AL Central is even worse than 2008, with no one seemingly wanting to hang onto first. The Tigers completely blow the division in September, while the Twins catch them to force another 1 game playoff between 2 86-76 teams, 9 games worse than the AL wild card, 1 game worse than the 2nd place AL wild card Rangers, and only 2 games better than the 4th place AL wild card Rays. The Twins win the game, and will face a Yankees team that they finished 17 games behind in the regular season. Good Luck.
So basically, of the 8 teams that made the playoffs from the AL Central since the Twins won the 1st of 5 divisions in 2002:
1 team won it all (White Sox 05)
1 team lost in the world series (Tigers 06)
1 team was a win away from a pennant (Indians 07)
1 team lost an ALCS 4-1 (Twins 02)
3 teams lost an ALDS 3-1 (Twins 03, Twins 04, White Sox 08)
1 team got swept in an ALDS (Twins 06)
So with the exception of last year, which easily could have been the Twins if the 1 game playoff had gone differently, if an AL Central team makes the playoffs other than the Twins, they mean business and will make a legitimate run at the pennant. If no one else in the AL Central is a serious contender, the Twins above average consistency carries them to the playoffs, only to lose without making waves. I was thinking about this heading into the 1-game playoff last year and this is why I was really surprised the White Sox actually won. I have a lot of confidence the Twins will continue this trend starting tonight in New York. So congrats on the 5 division titles in 8 years, Twins, but I bet the White Sox, Indians, or Tigers will be ready the take your playoff spot as soon as they put together a true World Series contender, and hopefully bring some respect back to the division.
Labels: AL Central, Chicago White Sox, Minnesota Twins