What’s the best way to balance your excitement about the Twins being in first place with your concerns about their recent struggles? Statistics can provide both comfort and caution as the division races move into the final 6 ½ weeks. Let’s take a look at a few of them.
We’ll refrain from drawing too many conclusions and let you decide how optimistic to be.
What are the odds? It wasn’t long ago when the Twins were seen as having a better than 90% chance of winning the AL Central title, a number that held pretty steady even after Cleveland started chopping into the division lead that was as great as 11½ games. Now, however, the Twins are seen as having “only” a 60% chance of winning the division, according to 538.com, and a 71% chance, according to baseball-reference.com. Both sites still have the Twins as a near-lock to make the playoffs (93% and 96%), but their chances of winning the World Series are pretty much at the “Dream On” level.
How easy is the schedule? You’ve likely been hearing often that the Twins have an easier road in the final weeks of the season than does Cleveland – or any other team, for that matter. You can find an assortment of breakdowns of that data on the web. Here’s an easy-to-follow chart from playoffstatus.com that shows the Twins having the easiest remaining schedule among all 30 MLB teams. Upcoming Minnesota opponents have won 44% of their games, compared to 50% for Cleveland’s remaining opponents.
Schoop vs. Dozier? Earlier in the season, the tradeoff of second basemen for the Twins – trading Brian Dozier to the Dodgers last summer and signing Jonathan Schoop as a free agent – looked like an obvious gain for the Twins. Schoop started the season hot and Dozier cold as the second baseman for the Washington Nationals. Now the numbers aren’t so one-sided. Schoop’s slash line is .252 batting average/.300 on-base percentage/.449 slugging percentage. Dozier’s is .233/.335/.430. Dozier has 17 homers, Schoop has 16. Neither look to be part of their teams’ futures, especially with the Twins having rookie Luis Arraez seeing more and more time at second base.
What about Arraez? Among first-year players with a minimum of 200 plate appearances, Arraez leads the majors in batting average at .348, is second in on-base percentage at .420 and is seventh in OPS at .862. It’s been well chronicled that Arraez hit well at every minor-league level, which earned his promotion to the majors in front of several other higher-profile minor leaguers. He’s also become a better defensive player during his journey through the minors, even though you’re unlikely to hear his name and “Gold Glove” in the same sentence. The best rookie in the American League? Arraez is probably second behind the Houston's Yordan Alvarez, who also brings power to the Astros’ lineup.
All those injuries? Yes, Byron Buxton keeps getting hurt and Nelson Cruz has ended up on the injured list a couple of times. But the Twins haven’t suffered the impact of injuries as much as most other teams, including Cleveland. The Twins have placed 16 players in the injured list this season for a total of 394 days; Cleveland has put players on the IL 17 times for 956 days. Seven Cleveland players have spent more than 70 days on the injured list this season, including key pitchers Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco. The Twins' IL leaders? Willians Astudillo at 65 days and Adalberto Mejia at 62. Here’s the team-by-team list, and a good-natured plea that the clinic advertising on Twins games stops using Buxton as an example. It only adds to the (perceived) pain.