Let’s face it: the biggest sports question you have right now — and one of the only local sports items you will care about in the next several weeks — is whether the Twins are going to make the playoffs.
So let’s attempt to get to the bottom of this with the universal language: math. (I would also accept “love” as a universal language, though I’m not sure how well that will help us project the AL wild card race.)
The Twins are 50-42 and on pace for 88 victories. Since 1996, no MLB team has claimed a wild-card spot with fewer than 88 wins. Since the expansion to two wild-card teams per league in 2012, the “second” wild-card team, out of a combined six total (three in each league), has had exactly 88 wins three times.
But every year is different; this particular year in the American League is very different because it is filled with so much mediocrity. The Twins, with their 88-win pace, entered Monday as the first wild-card team; the Astros were essentially tied with them as the second wild card. And literally every other non-division-leading AL team — 10 of them — entered Monday between 3½ and eight games behind in the chase for one of those two spots. So that’s good! But …
According to Baseball Prospectus (which supplies the data for some wonderful graphs on mlb.com), the Twins currently have a 38 percent chance of making the playoffs — an 8 percent chance of winning the AL Central and a 30 percent chance of being a wild card. That’s based on a simulation of the rest of the season taking numerous factors into account.
That tells us that the math is crouching in a corner, waiting for the other shoe to drop on what has, so far, been an unexpectedly nice season. Some of it, too, has to do with the logjam of teams within striking distance. Even if the Twins keep up their pace, it wouldn’t take unreasonable efforts from other teams to overtake them. The math liked the Twins a lot more (48 percent) immediately before the two losses to Oakland, so we also know this is a volatile thing.
But what about things beyond the math? This is loosely defined as, “Does this feel like a playoff team?” The answer to that question, too, is volatile. Sometimes it does. Sometimes it doesn’t.
Chuck Klosterman skewered probability in an essay that stuck with me over the years, writing that math is a “lie” and continuing: “Everything is 50-50. Either something will happen, or something will not.”
Maybe that’s all the math we need right now with the Twins. At least we have 70 more games to find out.