Last night the Minnesota Twins played their 81st game of the 2014 season. That means they’ve now played exactly half of the 162 games that comprise a Major League season.
They lost, which — unfortunately, lately — isn’t surprising. They’re back in last place in the AL-Central, nine games behind the first place Detroit Tigers and seven games below the break-even .500 mark. Most of the stats show a downward trend that doesn’t bode well for the second half of the season.
It appears that earlier optimism about a decent Twins year was unfounded.
I’ll get into the numbers at the end of the post (so those of you with no interest can just skip them at that point). But before that, there are some other things I want to mention.
[This isn’t one of them, but I debated taking a walk this morning before sitting down to write. Getting the blood flowing seemed like a good idea to really wake up my brain. Rain was forecast for this afternoon, so I thought I’d have time after posting. But I see it’s raining right now, so I would have been caught out in it. A rare time when a bit of laziness pays off!]
The first thing I want to mention involves the upcoming All-Star Game (ASG). The so-called “Midsummer Classic” is the main event in Major League baseball’s four-day long annual half-time celebration. Top players from all 30 ball clubs participate, the National league squaring off against the American League.
The managers of each composite team are the two managers who were at the World Series the previous year. The winning League of the ASG gets home field advantage in the “Fall Classic” — the World Series that closes the season.
Except for the home field advantage aspect, the ASG is entirely an exhibition game, which gives some managers and fans a bit of misgiving. One way to look at it is that it gives your top players a chance to injure themselves in a mostly pointless game.
In any event, this year the All-Star Game is held at Target Field here in Minnesota.
Since we don’t have to build a stadium (let alone a once-used stadium), the ASG and its accompanying games (such as the Home Run Derby) offer a nice way to show off our beautiful ball park and rake in a few extra bucks. (Something we need, since attendance — along with the Twins’ performance — has fallen since the place opened in 2010.)
Which brings me to my point. There is a painting that was commissioned to commemorate the occasion. On one level, it’s a really cute, touching painting. But it seems to be only distantly connected with the All-Star Game.
Any reader of this blog knows how much I love baseball. It’s not only the greatest sport, not only one of the things you can be “as American as,” but it’s a sport anyone can play, especially kids.
So on that level, the painting is totally cool, and I love it! It’s just that the connection to the All-Star Game seems a bit… tenuous. And perhaps it’s a bit churlish to point out how many of the visible team names seem to be National League teams or that it might have been cuter to have the NL teams on one side and the AL teams on the other. (But then, which side gets the dog?)
And pledging allegiance to the flag — despite what I just said about “as American as” — somehow seems to deflect from the game. (Yes, I realize they’re actually doing the National Anthem, but kids with hands over hearts staring at a flag looks a lot like that old classroom activity.) Plus Target Field is off in the distant Minneapolis skyline, which seems to exclude St. Paul, the other twin city.
But don’t mind me, these are minor nit-picks. I’m just grumpy about the Twins having yet another crappy season. It really is a charming painting, and baseball does bring out the child in us. After all, it’s a game! They do say, “Play Ball!”
On a much less grumpy note, a fairly easy baseball trivia question involves which teams are named after cities and which are named after states. The two New York teams can trip one up, but it seems clear they are named after the city. And the Nationals are named after the city of Washington, which is in the District of Columbia.
Given that, something I hadn’t realized is that the Minnesota Twins have the distinction of being the east-most team named after the state. The only other team that comes close are the Texas Rangers, and they’re in the AL-West (and geographically west of the Twins). In fact, other than the Twins, all other teams named after states are in the West Leagues.
As a bit of extra trivia, both the Twins and the Rangers began life as the Washington Senators. The original Senators (1901-1960) relocated to Minnesota and became the Twins. The new Washington Senators (1961-1971) moved to Arlington, Texas, to become the Rangers.
There are a couple of gotchas involved here. The Miami Marlins were the Florida Marlins until November of 2011. As as far as the basic trivia question about states and cities, the Angels have variously been the Anaheim Angels, the California Angels and the Los Angeles Angels. Currently they are the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, which is quite a mouthful.
The MLB team code for the Angels is “ana” (Anaheim), so baseball considers them named after the city. As a comparison point, the MLB team code for the Marlins used to be “flo” but changed to “mia” when the team re-branded itself.
The answer to the trivia question is: Four teams are currently named after states and 26 are named after cities. Two of them are NL teams and two are in the AL. I’ve already named two of them here; the other two are left as an exercise for the reader.
And speaking of numbers, it’s time for some stats. Feel free to skip the rest of the post if baseball sabermetrics (even basic ones) aren’t your thing!
To begin with, halfway through the season, the Twins have a 37-44 (.457) win-loss record (upper left of table below). They more or less held their own at home, but road games really slipped starting in May. The difference in close games (±1 run) seems to reflect pitching, whereas decisive games (±5 or more runs) seems more reflective of plate performance.
Next a look at the plate performance. Runs/Game was pretty good in April, fell apart in May and didn’t recover much in June. The irony (see last table) is that pitching got better after April.
Hits/Game doesn’t change too much. The killer is Runs/Hit, which varied widely. The Twins did great converting hits to runs in April, but have really struggled since. Strike-outs/Plate Appearance (K/PA) are fairly constant, but walks (BB/PA) vary considerably. Those walks do inflate the R/H percentage.
And finally, there is the pitching — a Twins weak spot for years. As you can see, May was a good month for our pitchers (pity our batters were so bad). And our bullpen just gets better and better, whereas our pitching seems headed in the other direction. An irony is that starters are pitching a bit deeper into games than they have in the past.
The bottom line is that things seem to be trending downwards. This is nowhere more clear than looking at the Games Above/Below .500 chart:
So while half a season still remains, earlier reports that the Twins might amount to something this year… well, not so much.