Will the AL Wild Card come from the Central?

(This post is partially in response to a challenge from my good friend Jake that I would not be able to write about anything substantive in less than 1,000 words. Let’s see if I succeed. The word count starts after this parenthetical. Follow me on Twitter or friend me on Facebook if you like – I’m always open to comments and critique!)

Will the AL Wild Card come from the Central?

No.

Oh, fine, I’ll get into it a little bit more, but I’ll still beat that 1,000 word challenge. I was listening to ESPN Radio about a half an hour ago here in the DC ‘burbs, and they asked a commentator (whose name I cannot recall, despite trying) what their pick for the wild card will be. To be clear, the question was almost certainly a roundabout way to get the guest to give an opinion on who would win the AL East (as it has been long-opined that the Yankees and Rays will, in some form, share the AL East title and the Wild Card). However, to my mild (okay, more than mild) surprise, the guest responded: “The Chicago White Sox.”*

*The sound you just heard? My head exploding.

So, here I am for a little bit of reality therapy. The Twins are not going to be the AL Wild Card. The White Sox are not going to be the AL Wild Card. The AL Wild Card is going to be either the Yankees or the Rays (sorry, Red Sox, but I’m sticking a fork in you now). Because my stock in trade is not in making bold statements without backing them up, at least a little bit, my reasoning follows.

First, let’s look at what the brilliant minds over at Baseball Prospectus have to say about this (note, the report I worked from was generated on Sun., Aug. 8, at 7:15pm. This means the result of the Yankees-Red Sox game was at least four hours too late to be included. Wait, who am I kidding? It would have been five hours. The Yankees and Red Sox play that slowly.). I put together the following spreadsheet, which simply states the percent chance that a team would reach the post-season as the Wild Card, based on 1 million simulations of the rest of the season. The first model is based solely on the results of the season so far, the second is adjusted by PECOTA, the model developed by stats genius Nate Silver, and finally, the third is adjusted based on an ELO ratings system (if you don’t know what an ELO ratings system is, Silver explains in this old post). So, what do the Baseball Prospectus people, all of whom are smarter than me, posit? The results are striking:

All Numbers © 2010 Prospectus Entertainment Ventures

Wow. Even I can tell you the Wild Card winner is going to come from the AL East. In all three models, there is a greater than 90% chance it will (91.72612% under the first model, 97.36387% under PECOTA, and 92.64992% under ELO), with an average of a 93.91330% chance. Wow. That seems pretty conclusive to me, right? Well, let’s play that game for a second. Based on that, I calculated* the odds of a non-AL East team getting the Wild card:

*My 10th-grade Accelerated Algebra teacher taught me to always show my work. So there it is.

So, odds are just over 16.5 to 1  that a non-AL East team will take the Wild Card. By doing some brutally simple (and inaccurate) math, I can posit that the Twins have something like 35 to 1 odds, and the White Sox approximately 60 to 1 odds.

Now, 35 to 1 doesn’t sound so bad, when you look at the above numbers, but it is a similar number to what Australian Steven Bradbury (40 to 1) was facing in his attempt to become the first gold medalist from the Southern Hemisphere to win a gold medal in the 2002 Olympic short track speed skating, and the first Aussie to win a Winter Olympic Gold. He won, so that should give the Central’s second-place finisher hope, right? Not really; it took the following events to occur:

  • The disqualification of the second-place skater in his qualifying heat, which allowed him to move into the semi-finals.
  • In his semifinal, he was in last place on the last lap when three of the four other skaters crashed, allowing him to finish a distant second place.
  • In the final, he was far behind the field when this happened:

I can’t really think of a more unlikely event. It took an act of the judges, an act of God, and the deliberate trip of Apolo Ohno by the Chinese skater for Bradbury to take the Gold.

Based on the numbers, the odds of the Twins (or White Sox, or any other team) taking advantage of the Wild Card playoff berth are extremely low.

Second, other than the Yankees and possibly the Rangers, no other team in the majors looks quite as good as the Rays right now. The Twins had a terrible June, and since the break they have dominated the cellar-dwellers, while only barely managing a split with the Rays. The Rays, on the other hand, have looked pretty darn good all year. I say that with some trepidation, because right now the Rays have two of their starters going to see the doctor for shoulder ailments, but they are also almost uniquely able to fill the holes, with stellar minor leaguers, including Jeremy Hellickson, who was most recently seen shutting down the Twins last Monday. Their outfield and infield defense are better, their starters are better, and their bench and system are deeper. The Twins have the edge in lineup strength and the bullpen (with the possible exception of Matty “Two-Face” Guerrier and the minor-leaguer-of-the-week), but their starting pitching can be very suspect, especially with a potential Kevin Slowey elbow problem.

The Twins’ best shot to make the playoffs is to

overtake the White Sox. In theory, that shouldn’t be too hard to do. The White Sox lineup still makes me cringe, but not with fear. Gordon Beckham just hit the DL. The Twins should easily win the AL Central.

And that, including this postscript, is 999 words. I win.

Into the Off Day…

So, it’s been a while. I’m under a fair amount of stress right now, so let’s use some soothing bullet points to put me at ease…

  • Let me tell you, finishing off a law school career is pretty hard work. I only have about 40 more pages to write before next Monday (May 3rd) so that I can graduate, so I can almost guarantee that this will be the final post of a decent length until then. I’m working on three papers: one is a really simple and easy reflection memo on my internship in DC Superior Court; the second involves suggestions on how to implement the Omnibus DC Voting Bill for the 2010 elections; and the third is the beast, a 20-page paper on standing requirements, which are what must be met before one can sue. Overall, not too bad (considering I ended up writing a somewhat controversial 68-pager on the teaching of evolution over creationism in schools last year), but the time frame will make it very difficult. Wish me luck! If I succeed, I’ll graduate. If not, well, I’ll hope for an extension!
  • Friday’s game was an interesting one for me. I had missed the two prior days’ games due to work and going to the Nationals games. Both, by the way were terrible to watch. Livan Hernandez was pretty impressive Thursday, but still pulled off the loss against Cy Jimenez. He was exactly the guy he was in 2008, which still makes me cringe, but I’m happy he’s still finding success. However, Friday’s game got nasty on Twitter. When David DeJesus (I think) hit a home run that just barely went over the fence (as was apparent on replay but not on first viewing), Michael Cuddyer did not seem to hustle at all to return the ball to the infield. The problem? The ump called the ball in play, which led to DeJesus getting an inside-the-park home run as Cuddyer meandered back to the ball, which was resting at the base of the fence. Now, I know Cuddyer likely saw the ball go over his head, and the ump’s call would have been overturned on instant replay, but the slow walk Cuddyer took incensed many of those on Twitter that day. Our reward for being critical of Cuddyer for (apparently) not hustling (as is the Minnesota Twins way, of course)? This Tweet, by a respected and widely-followed Twins blogger (name removed because I have not spoken with him directly):

    This Tweet was quickly followed up by:

    Really?

    Now, as everyone who reads my writing or tweets knows, I am all about the snark and the sarcasm, but there is a line that stops short of accusing someone of “not being a fan” or “not being a true fan.” The first tweet crossed that line, and the second Tweet was just a reminder. As of now, I find myself an “alleged” Twins fan in the eyes of at least one (for those not familiar with the legal term of art “alleged,” it means roughly “something that has been declared true, but that certainly hasn’t been proven.”) influential blogger. Frankly, it pissed me off, and I sure hope it pissed off others. I really have one sports rule, and that rule is to NEVER accuse someone of not being a fan. Here’s where I shout out to my fellow blogger Fanatic Jack, who tends to have a negative outlook on the team, and frequently gets accused of all sorts of nasty things because of it. Jack, we rarely agree, but I know you are a true fan, and I urge everyone else to read his work at Fanatic Jack Talks Twins, as he does have a lot of good analysis to go along with is (often merited) pessimism.

  • So, that dour note behind us, it appears that Joe Mauer hasn’t shaved in a while, which is leading to a resurgent case of Joe Mauer’s Beard! I unfortunately don’t have a very good capture of it, but here is what I got. It is still a long way from the luscious specimen that we had at the beginning of ST, but it’s a start. Now if only Denard Span would follow Joe’s lead and grow back HIS Man-Beard. I promise he’ll stop it with the suckage as soon as he does.
  • The Twins have now won six straight series without managing to sweep a single one. Color me unconcerned. So long as the Twins are winning 2/3+ of their games, I won’t start to fret. Eventually, the Twins will discover their missing clutchiness and they’ll start scoring about three more runs per game than they are now.
  • I want to marry the Twins offense, but A) my wife would not approve, and B) it’s not legal to marry groups of sports players in Virginia (or Minnesota). So, I guess I’ll just have to deal with pining from a distance.
  • Topper Anton was nice enough to offer me a place in his “Twins Bloggers: Get to Know ‘Em” series, and commences to say nice things about me that I really don’t deserve, as I recently discovered that I have a horrible pottymouth while watching baseball: at the Thursday Nats game, there was a whole family, including little kids sitting right in front of me. The Nats are a horrible team, and I really don’t love them that much, but I found myself biting my lip far too much. Sorry, Mom! :S Anyway, go check out my Get-to-Know-‘Em if you want to know more about me (or if you are looking for good blackmail fodder).
  • Because of the back-up of games, I’ll give a Stud/Dud for today’s game only.
  • The Stud: Justin Morneau. Justin absolutely destroyed a pitch in the second inning for a two-run homer, and he has really been flashing the leather recently at second base. Mark Texeira he is not, but he’s still impressive.
  • The Dud: clearly, today’s dud was Kevin Slowey. This is not to say that he pitched poorly (which he did: he couldn’t locate around the corners of the plate, and when that goes, so goes Slowey’s whole game), but the main reason is that he couldn’t make it far into the Sixth Inning on the day after every pitcher but Alex Burnett was used. It turned out not to matter, as Ron Mahay and Burny (starting to like that kid a lot) easily cleaned up the final 2 2/3 innings, but it was something the Twins really needed that Slowey failed to provide.
  • Courtesy Wikipedia (click to visit page). The Hip Flexors.

    Nick Punto‘s groin is apparently just fine (which is more info than I needed to know today), but because he is still experiencing pain in that oh-so-sensitive area, the docs are looking into a possible hip flexor injury. If you didn’t know, and I didn’t, the hip flexors are any of about ten moving parts that make your hip joint work properly. I put the Wikipedia diagram on the right (credit goes to Wiki user Beth Ohara). Click on the image to go to the Wikipedia page for more info. If, as LaVelle seemed to fear in his tweet, hip flexor surgery is required, Punto could be done for the year, as Royals utility player Josh “Booger” Fields (nickname bestowed by WhiteSoxBlog) decided to do today. Ironically, as I tweeted earlier, if Punto has surgery and misses the rest of the season, the odds of him being with the Twins next year go up significantly: the hip injury will reduce his defensive value, which means all his value. The Twins were going to decline his $5 million option for next year (or so I certainly hope), and this makes it much more likely he’d accept a cheap “make-g00d” deal back with the Twins as a utility infielder. Luke Hughes got his roster spot, and I would really like to see him get a couple starts.

  • In other injury news, Clay Condrey had a setback, and there is no timetable for when he resumes throwing.
  • Tomorrow is an off day. Hallelujah.
  • Tuesday, the Twins will pitch the rearmed F-Bomb against Justin Verlander. In terms of my hopes for the Twins, I certainly hope Francisco Liriano is as good as he’s been. In the interest of my fantasy team, however, I want Verlander to strike out 10 Twins through five innings and leave a game tied 0-0, so the Twins can come back and destroy the Tiger bullpen. Life is much more complicated when my fantasy players face the Twins.

I feel better after all those bullets. Cheers!

Around the Division: The Tigers Realize their Mistake

This is the first in a series of four, each focusing on the Twins’ division opponents this year. Though the Twins looks like it might be the Twins’ to lose, there is a lot more that any dedicated Twins fan should know, and it’s my job to try to help you out with that. As always, follow me at @calltothepen on Twitter and subscribe to updates of this page via the link on the sidebar!

The Detroit Tigers have been a mystery for the last few years. Few teams have been so hyped, then so derided, then so doubted, then so resurgent. Last year the Tigers nearly made the playoffs, and would have if not for the Twins’ desperate late-season charge and a slight fade of their own. This year, though the blogocracy seems to be united in the belief that the Tigers are rebuilding, and that they won’t do much to challenge the Twins, though they could theoretically end in second place in the division.

So, let’s take a look at the Tigers, below the fold.

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