The Twins collectively woke up Tuesday morning with a five-game lead in the American League Wild Card race with six games to play.
Regardless of what source you choose, the Twins’ chances of reaching the playoffs are tantalizingly close to 100 percent. Baseball Prospectus has them at 99.6 percent. FanGraphs is a little more couched at 97.7 percent.
Either way, it’s an amazing climb from Aug. 1. On the day after the nonwaiver trade deadline, the Twins were given about a 5 percent chance of reaching the postseason. Now their magic number is two. They’re so close.
But as close as they are, they’re not in yet. And if anyone is going to remind the Twins of that, it’s manager Paul Molitor. Now, he’d probably be doing it regardless of his past experience because it’s a manager’s job to keep his team focused on the tasks at hand.
Molitor, though, can add a personal cautionary tale to his message to players.
Molitor was a standout on a loaded 1982 Brewers team that also featured AL MVP Robin Yount and several thumping power hitters. Starting on Aug. 1, Milwaukee was either tied for the AL East lead (back when the Brewers were in that division) or leading it outright. By the final week of the season, they had pulled ahead of Baltimore by four games — with five left to play.
I’m not sure they calculated playoff odds in 1982, but you would imagine the Brewers’ odds were pretty good — maybe not quite as good as the Twins’ odds because of circumstances I’ll get to in a moment, but certainly 90 percent or better. Remember, this was back when only the two division winners in each league made the playoffs.
And then things got dicey. The Brewers lost at Boston on a Thursday (attendance in that great baseball city for what was the Red Sox home finale at Fenway Park: 21,268). Baltimore won, cutting the lead to three games.
Milwaukee then had to go to Baltimore for a four-game season-closing series spanning three days. The Brewers were swept in a doubleheader Friday, cutting their lead to one game. They were blown out Saturday, putting the teams into a tie. That set up a one-game, winner-take-the-division finale Sunday in Baltimore. A seemingly safe lead had evaporated quickly.
The finale was a matchup of future Hall of Fame pitchers: Don Sutton for the Brewers vs. Jim Palmer of the Orioles. Finally, Milwaukee at that point had lost five consecutive games to Baltimore that season by a combine scored of 40-11.
But in that finale, Milwaukee’s bats finally woke from their slumber. Sutton pitched eight strong innings. The Brewers won 10-2, giving them a record of 97-65 and the AL East title. They ended up reaching the World Series, where they lost to the Cardinals in seven games. (The Orioles finished 96-66 and missed the playoffs, but they won the World Series the next year).
Now, Baltimore surely had a better chance of catching Milwaukee than the Angels have of catching the Twins since they had four head-to-head matchups with them.
But yeah, it’s never over until it’s over. Molitor will be sure to remind his team of that.