As I write this, six teams have already reached 90 wins. Another three teams still could. Four teams have won at least 60% of their games, which is the highest total for the league in more than a decade, and that doesn’t include the Yankees, who have baseball’s second-highest run differential. It also doesn’t include the Cubs, who last year were one of the better teams in recent memory, and who this year picked up Jose Quintana, among a few others. The Dodgers, who are great, added Yu Darvish. The Astros, who are great, added Justin Verlander. The Nationals, who are great, added Sean Doolittle, Ryan Madson, and Brandon Kintzler. And so on. The top of the league is always good, by definition, but this year the best teams seem particularly strong. Particularly talented, and particularly deep. This year has marked a step away from what had been a trend toward greater parity. Now the parity is simply among the elite.
The great teams are going to the playoffs. That’s what’s supposed to happen. The Twins, also, look like they’re going to the playoffs. It’s not yet locked up, but it’s just about there, with the Twins looking ahead to a date in New York. Playoff entry, of course, is everything, because each of the final 10 teams gets a chance to win it all. It’s inarguably true that the 2017 Twins could win the World Series in a month. The question is, would that be a good thing or a bad thing? It’s a question I’m actually posing to you, but not before I go over each side.
I don’t write this to specifically pick on the Twins. It could almost as easily be written about the Rockies. The Rockies have a slightly better actual record, but these are both the second wild cards, and according to BaseRuns, both the Twins and Rockies have played like .500 ballclubs. If you’re a Twins fan, I don’t mean to offend. It’s just, well — the Twins aren’t great. The Twins aren’t great. Other teams are great. The Twins aren’t. That’s the point. The shot at the World Series is the other point.
At the end of this post is a poll, for your consideration. This is all about your own opinion, specific to you. If the Twins were to keep winning until there was nothing left to win, would that be more of a good thing for baseball, or more of a bad thing? Before the poll, some brief position summaries.
The argument for good
It’s hard to imagine a better Cinderella story. The Twins are a young club, with a new front office, and last year they finished with baseball’s worst record. And not just baseball’s worst record — at 59-103, the Twins were worse than the next-worst team by nine whole games. Those Twins were legitimately bad, and these Twins were expected to be as well, with our own preseason projections pegging them at 75-87. These Twins weren’t supposed to become a contender. As late as early August, they were under .500. Never forget that this team tentatively tried to buy, and then it immediately sold, in response to a slump. The Twins’ own front office didn’t see this coming.
How great is that? How great of a movie would this make, if this team, these Twins, toppled all of the giants? You don’t need me to say how fun it is to root for an underdog, and playoff teams don’t get much more underdog-y. The Twins have played well before their time, with players like Byron Buxton and Jose Berrios beginning to blossom. It would bring hope not just to Minnesota, but to locales all over the place, cities and states with middling ballclubs. If the Twins could win, why couldn’t the Braves? Why couldn’t the Reds? Why couldn’t the White Sox or Padres or A’s? The Twins have been where they all are. The same Twins who could win the dang title. A last-place team wouldn’t feel so much like a last-place team, not, at least, before the season has started.
The Twins would cover the underdog angle. They’d supply a definite breath of fresh air. And, not to be lost, there might be certain roster-building implications. I think fans everywhere would prefer teams not have to tear down and rebuild, even if they understand the reasoning behind the decision. No one wants for their team to be intentionally non-competitive. If the Twins won it all, it would be a reminder that a championship team doesn’t have to be great — simply good enough. You don’t need to worry about winning 95, if 85 could get the job done. A Twins World Series might stop the next rebuild in its tracks, and you could argue that would be good for everyone. Sports aren’t supposed to suck for years at a time.
The Twins aren’t one of the very best teams. That much cannot be argued. You can’t frame the numbers in such a way that the Twins look even close to as good as the Indians. But the Twins could beat the Indians, and all of their opponents. It’s in our nature to pull for the little guy. This October, these guys could be the littlest. Isn’t that just what we want?
The argument for bad
It all comes down to the cheapening of the regular season. It’s the same argument that’s been made against the introduction of the second wild card in general; this would just be an argument against one second wild card, specifically. The playoffs are one month. The season is six months. You need to do well during the season to gain entry into the playoffs. Some people could say a team only needs to be good enough, that it doesn’t matter if you’re team number 10 as long as you aren’t team number 11. Yet, until recently, the line was between team number eight and team number nine. Is this expansion of the playoff field actually good? Do we want for there to be postseason underdogs, if they’re going to be underdogs of this magnitude?
In theory, you could design a 30-team playoff field. It would be weird and complicated, but possible. If that existed, then there would be a chance that, say, the 2017 Tigers would win out. That would be interesting and everything, since they’re not good and all, but what would that mean? What would even be the point? Why have those playoffs, and why have that regular season? Why play six months to allow teams to separate, if, at the end, you end up with teams all the way from the Dodgers to the Twins?
Not that there’s anything to be done right now about the playoff format. It is what it is. But the cheapening could at least be ignored or brushed aside if the Twins lost early on. If they were to get clobbered by the Yankees next week, well, that’s what happens when you’re not as good as the competition. You need a certain amount of faith that baseball can sort itself out. If the Twins went on a run, it would highlight the fact that they made the playoffs in the first place due to recent playoff expansion. It would be entertaining, there’s no question, but maybe the randomness would come off as too extreme. It was good that the Cubs won last year because, in all honesty, they should’ve. The Twins aren’t those Cubs.
And as for other implications: how would teams even know how to respond? Do you want a league to so immediately reward an organization that didn’t believe in itself right before the trade deadline? Oh, sure, if the Twins won it all, maybe that would make the next would-be rebuilder think twice. But it would also make the next would-be buyer think twice. There would be less reason to be the next team to make a Darvish or Quintana or Verlander-level splash. Baseball seems like a better game when those trades are made. Teams might come away somewhat stuck. If the Twins could win, anyone could win. And that just leads to paralysis.
It’s in your hands, now. Thank you in advance for your participation.
Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.