1. Entering Thursday’s games, the Twins are a longshot. Baseball Prospectus, which updates its statistics daily, currently gives the Twins a 6.7 percent chance of making the playoffs. By comparison, the Angels are at 23.8 percent, Houston 66.1 percent and the Yankees 99.7 percent, according to the web site’s latest report.
2. There’s a busy, suspenseful weekend of baseball ahead: The Twins play one more game in Cleveland on Thursday night before returning home for a three-game series against the AL Central champs Kansas City. Sunday’s finale is at 2 p.m. at Target Field.
3. The Twins need the Houston Astros to lose, primarily. The Astros are in the driver’s seat. Houston has a half-game lead over the Los Angeles Angels and a 1.5-game lead over the Twins for the American League’s final of two wild-card spots.
4. The Twins don’t mathematically absolutely need to win their last four to make it, but they would need the Astros and L.A. Angels to falter in any other scenario beyond a four-game Twins winning streak.
5. The cleanest way for the Twins to make the playoffs: Win their four remaining games, have the Rangers beat the Angels a couple times and have Houston lose a couple times in Arizona. The Astros have three games remaining, all in Arizona against the mediocre Diamondbacks (77-81). The Angels have four games remaining, all in Texas against the Rangers (86-72), who are trying to hang on to their first-place position in the AL West. (The Angels could actually win the West with a sweep, demoting the Rangers to the wild-card mess.) The Twins need to take care of their own business, but Twins fans are rooting for the Rangers and D-Backs along the way.
6. If the probable pitcher schedule holds, the Twins will face four starting pitchers in their remaining four games who each have won at least 10 games.
7. About those possible ties for the final wild-card spot: As many as five teams could make this thing a massive mess: the Yankees, Rangers, Angels, Astros and Twins. There are enough scenarios to make your head spin, but know this: If two or more teams tie for the final wild-card spot, they’ll play more games to settle it. If two teams tie, they’ll play Monday in that extra game, often called “Game 163.” If it’s the Angels and Twins, the game will be in L.A. If it’s the Astros and Twins, the game will be at Target Field.
8. If the Twins do clinch the AL’s second wild-card position, they will play in the AL wild-card game. That’s a one-game, winner-moves-on game, and it will most likely be played at Yankee Stadium, as New York, while slumping, remains in good position to grab the AL’s top wild-card spot.
9. The winner of the one-game wild card game moves onto the best-of-five American League Division Series against the top division winner, which will be Toronto or Kansas City.
10. Could there be home games at Target Field in the playoffs? Well, before the playoffs, there are tiebreaker scenarios (see No. 13 below for the most exciting of those). The Twins definitely would not host the one-game wild-card game because the best they can do is get the second wild-card spot. And if the Twins make the ALDS (that’s a long way from here!), they’ll be on the road for the first two and back home for Game 3. So, Target Field fans most likely will need to be lucky and then patient.
11. Ervin Santana, one of their best pitchers down the stretch, can’t play in the postseason due to his drug suspension this season. He could pitch in the Game 163 tiebreaker.
12. Yes, it certainly is OK to be surprised by all this. The Twins lost over 90 games the past four seasons and only the boldest forecasters had them being in the playoff hunt this late in the season.
13. There’s a slight chance of a three-way tie among the Angels, Astros and Twins, which would create a two-day baseball circus at Target Field. If those three teams end the regular season tied, Los Angeles would own the tie-breaker and would have the choice, per league rules, of playing either (a) one road game against the winner of a Game 163 game between the Astros and Twins, or (b) two home games against both Houston and the Twins, with the first game being against the Astros. Prevailing wisdom, however, is that the Angels would choose to play once on the road rather than twice at home, meaning the Twins could host two tiebreaker do-or-die games to close the regular season, against the Astros first on Monday and, if the Twins win, the Angels on Tuesday. That would be, as the kids say, epic. Two footnotes to this “epic” Target Field scenario: One, there’s a chance the Rangers, not the Astros, fall into that three-way tie with the Angels and Twins if the Astros sweep. And two, there’s a very, very, very slight chance of a four-way tie for the two wild-card spots, but we’ll save all of those whiteboard scribbles for another day.
Compiled by Star Tribune sports editors who now need a nap.