baseballThe Twins currently sit 1/2 game on top of the American League Wild Card standings, but with just over a month of baseball games left, is it possible that the Twins will actually win the Wild Card?
Oftentimes, the Wild Card winner is a team that blows through September with a ton of momentum. This is a good reason for why they often do well in the postseason. Take a look at recent Wild Card winners, such as the Florida Marlins (1997, 2003), the Angels (2002), the Red Sox (2004), the Mets (2000), the Giants (2002), and the Astros (2005). All these teams went to the World Series and four of them won them. (Red Sox, Angels, and the Marlins twice)
The point being that the Twins have had a huge run over the past three months, going 48-21 in their last 69 games. However, it's going to be awful hard to keep up such a high winning percantage (69.5%) for another month. Or is it?
Aaron Gleeman pointed out yesterday that the Twins may have a significantly "easier" schedule than the White Sox, their main opponent in the race unless the Red Sox, Angels, or Blue Jays sneak their way back into the picture. The Twins have the luxury of facing some weaker opponents, like the Royals, Indians, and Devil Rays. However, making assumptions based on overall records or even recent ones can be difficult, since there is some motivation to be a spoiler in September.
However, there is no "speculating" about the pitching situation. The Twins have a very unstable rotation. They have one great starting pitching in Johan Santana, a wreck in Carlos Silva, a dead shoulder on Brad Radke, a very raw Matt Garza, and big questions marks in the fifth starter. Boof Bonser has been solid, so he may well contribute plenty in September, but what about the others?
There is no way to know whether or not Francisco Liriano is coming back. However, even if he does, there is no guarantee he'll be effective. When he tried to come back earlier, he was hit very hard by the Tigers. The point is, starters can be very shaky after an injury and we are talking about a rookie here. He may be tenuious with his slider, pinching corners, and it may get him hurt bad.
Radke, of course, could give us anything as well. With a shoulder that's almost literally falling apart everytime he pitches, he could be brilliant in September or he may not start again ever. The questions don't get much easier beyond that. Silva, as mentioned yesterday, needs to be moved to the bullpen or the Twins may as well forfeit his starts. Garza could be huge down the strech, like Matt Cain last year, or he could struggle the way Liriano did last September. And if anyone gets replaced in the rotation, it's even more of a question. Scott Baker has had major issues this year and there is no telling if he'll ever get that fastball down in the big leagues.
Let's stop there. I am not meaning to try and get everyone's hopes down. The point is things could go either way. There is a certain amount of luck in each major league season. Last year, the numbers told us that the White Sox should have done worse, as well as the Twins, and the Indians should have won the division. But there are so many things in a major league season that are entirely unpredictable.
So, can the Twins win the Wild Card? Certainly, but it will take a combination of luck and continued great hitting and a relentless effort by the bullpen. The Twins simply cannot let up from here on out. Thus, I'd say the chances are around 50-50. Right now, the White Sox have had luck catch up to them. Their starters and bullpen that were so great last year are struggling. If that continues, the Twins should have a lovely opportunity presented to them. If they do make the playoffs, piecing together a 3-man rotation will be a new adventure in and of itself.