Monday, September 27, 2004

Playoff Previews: The Picture Begins to Focus…Sorta

Before this weekend began, I was one of those who believed much of the American League’s playoff picture would be all but decided. Someone, I thought, would make a statement. The Yankees would sweep or take two of three from the Red Sox. The Athletics would finally right their ship and put away the Angels. The Twins would snap out of their doldrums and take three of four from the Indians, thereby securing home field advantage in the ALDS.

As is true with most of my premonitions, absolutely none of those things occurred.

The Red Sox battered a much-maligned Yankee staff Saturday and Sunday, outscoring the Bombers 23-9 in taking two of three. The Angels made a statement against Oakland, convincingly winning their weekend series with the A’s to move within a game of first. And our Twins managed to tread water while battling the late-season injury bug, splitting a four game series with the Tribe.

Right now, here is what the overall standings look like in the American League:

x-New York Yankees9759.622--
Boston Red Sox9362.6003.5
Oakland Athletics8867.5688.5
Anaheim Angels8768.5619.5
Texas Rangers8669.55510.5
x=clinched playoff berth; y=clinched division

Just one quick glance will tell you exactly what we know for certain about the AL playoff picture: absolutely nothing. The Yankees could still conceivably finish second in the AL East; the Twins could easily still wind up with the third-best record among division champions; and either the Athletics, Angels, or Rangers could wind up as the AL West champion. The fact that all these possibilities still exist with only six or seven games to play in the regular season is truly amazing. Here are the four most likely playoff match-ups for the ALDS:

Scenario 1: Oak/Ana/Tex @ New York, Boston @ Minnesota
Scenario 2: Oak/Ana/Tex @ Boston, New York @ Minnesota
Scenario 3: Minnesota @ New York, Boston @ Oak/Ana/Tex
Scenario 4: Minnesota @ Boston, New York @ Oak/Ana/Tex

There are also two other mathematically possible scenarios (Ana/Oak/Tex @ NYY, Oak/Ana/Tex @ MN and Ana/Oak/Tex @ NYY, MN @ Oak/Ana/Tex) but they are all highly unlikely, given that the Athletics, Angels, and Rangers are 5, 6, and 7 games behind Boston respectively with only 7 to play.

All this mathematical posturing begs a few questions. Which one of these possibilities is most likely to occur? Which would favor the Twins the most? How the hell has Texas managed to stay in the race this long?

The short answers? One, One, and I have no idea.

Now, I know you didn’t come all the way to Twins Chatter to be satisfied with just one-word answers, so I will elaborate somewhat (at least on the first two questions). First of all, my guess is that the playoff picture will remain as it is now. The Athletics host the lowly Mariners for four games this week, and I suspect that the A’s, perhaps out of sheer desperation, will take care of business (although the M’s did take two of three from the Rangers this weekend). I’m predicting that Oakland takes three of four. Meanwhile, the Rangers and Angels will tango four times this week. The pitching match-ups do not grossly favor either team, so I’m going to go the safe route and predict a split. That would leave the A’s two games up on the Halos and three up on the Rangers, meaning the A’s would only have to win one game in their three-game set against Anaheim this weekend to take the division crown. Things could very easily pan out much differently, but that is what I’m envisioning.

As for our Twins, I’m going to go out on a limb here (albeit a very sturdy, conservative limb, complete with matching wooden hand rails) and say they finish the season 3-3 to finish 93-69 overall, an extremely respectable mark. Tomorrow’s Lohse vs. El Duque match-up isn’t particularly favorable, and the team has the double misfortune of facing Scott “I-pitch-like-Cy-Young-against-the-Twins-and-Scott-Elarton-against-everybody-else” Elarton and giving Terry Mulholland his final start of the season this weekend against Cleveland. 3-3 (or possibly 4-2) sounds about right to me, and it will probably give the Twins home-field advantage in the ALDS.

As for the Yankees-Red Sox, I’m thinking that this thing is probably decided. The Sox needed to sweep the Yankees this weekend to win the division, and they did not. The Twins are struggling with the injury bug a little bit, and I don’t think that they’re in a position to sweep the Yanks in the Stadium this week (although 2 of 3 is a definite possibility). Once the BoSox clinch a playoff berth, which will probably happen within the next couple days, I suspect they will rest some regulars and set up their rotation for the playoffs. I think it’s likely that both teams will finish the season right where they stand today.

So there you have it. Even though this weekend didn’t exactly solidify a ton of things in the push for playoff posturing, it did clarify a few things somewhat:
-The Yankees will win the East and the Red Sox the Wild Card
-The Twins aren’t going to totally collapse over the season’s final six games
-The AL West is still very much up for grabs, although the A’s hold a slight advantage

Be sure and check back here tomorrow, when we continue our “Playoff Previews” series. No doubt John will have some wise nuggets of wisdom to share with all of us, as he taps his vast reservoir of exquisite baseball knowledge. Take care, everyone.

-Ryan Maus

Playoff Perspectives

...will be taking the day off. Almost all of the information you would have found here is covered in today's post. This feature will be back tomorrow.

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