Sunday, September 21, 2008

Praising Hope, Imbalance, and Swinging for the Fences

Keeping Hope Alive
It's natural to think about a sweep, and that would be great, but the Twins don't need to sweep the White Sox to keep their hopes alive. Two our of three will do just fine.

Taking two out of three would mean the Twins trail the White Sox by 1.5 games with three left to play, but the Twins last three games will be versus the Royals, against whom the Twins are 11-4 this year. Meanwhile, the White Sox will need to play an Indians team that is 31-17 since August 1st. If the Twins gain a game during that series, the White Sox will need to play and beat the Tigers next Monday to win the division. If they lose that game, they'll be playing the Twins for the division title late next week.

Don't get me wrong - a sweep would be absolutely fabulous, but there is still plenty of hope left so long as the Twins win the series.

Division Results
Turns out that 72 games is a big chunk of the season. A big, and very important, chunk.

That's how many games each team in the AL Central plays against its own division, and again this year it is determining whose final weeks are relevent. The Twins are 21-15 against Detroit and Cleveland this year, and the White Sox are even better at 21-11 with several games left. Here are the overall results of each of the division teams against each other:

Chicago 41-24
Minnesota 39-27
Cleveland 34-35
Detroit 27-41
Kansas City 26-40

Not only does the order reflect the actual overall standings, but it even reflects the magnitude of difference between them. Chicago is about two games better than the Twins, who are about five games over Cleveland, who is about seven games over Detroit, who is just a gave over the Royals. It's the same for actual standings. It's uncanny.

The unbalanced schedule is despised by many for what is perceived to be an unfair impact on races. But this year in the AL Central, the division looks like like it was decided by how the teams played against each other, not just against common opponents. And I can't think of a better or more satisfying way to decide a division.

Watching Morneau and Mauer
Even if things do go south, it should be fun to watch Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer this week. I'll admit, I haven't paid much attention to individual batting races since I was about ten years old, but for some reason this year's has me entranced.

First, there is Morneau's pursuit of the RBI title. He's in a three way race with Josh Hamilton and Miguel Cabrera, who are behind him by 4 and 3 RBI respectively. it interests me because a couple of months ago it looked like Hamilton would run away with this award, and because of it's impact on the MVP voting. If the Twins last until the last weekend, and Morneau wins the RBI title, I think he'll end up with that second MVP award, and we'll all get to bask in the righteous indignation directed his way by people who don't like how it's awarded. Delicious.

But that interest pales in comparison to the Batting Average championship that Mauer is chasing. Mauer is also in a 3 way race, but he separated himself this weekend a bit. He's hitting .330, while Dustin Pedroia is at .324 and Magglio Ordonez is at .323. It holds more interest for purely sentimental reasons, because I grew up watching Rod Carew and he was in the mix every year. Batting championships remind me of listening to Herb, chewing cardboardish bubble gum and using my calculator to figure out batting averages. It reminds me of youth.

And, finally, I'm carefully watching another race for Mauer too. Mauer is on the cusp of hitting double-digit homeruns this year, stuck at nine. In a column at the beginning of the year I predicted that Mauer would start to show more power this year, and Kyle Eliason quickly jumped all over me based on Mauer's ground ball percentage. I had him put his money where his EQA is, so we have some sort of eating/drinking bet on Mauer's HR total, with 10 being a push.

And if I had to choose between the quiet satisfaction of a misty memory inspired batting championship and gloating over a few free pints and dinner at the Local, which one would I choose?

Swing away, Joe. Swing for the fences.

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