If you're a baseball fan you're probably already familiar with two kinds of comments--the hyperbolic, and the cliche. If you want to see the hyperbolic just read a twitter feed with the "Twins" hashtag after yesterday's game and you'll see things like: "Season's over" and "Winning this series means nothing--we will get swept in Chicago", and more insults to Joe Mauer's manhood than there are lakes in this state.
While fans erupt in hyperbolic fury, players and coaches tend to rely on cliches to soothe the savage beasts and make things seem a little rosier. These are things we've all heard like "we gotta take them one day at a time", "they really battled their tails off out there", etc., etc., etc. These simple, familiar phrases that are at least partially true but are also so overused that eventually you ignore them all together lest your eyes start to bleed.
But cliches are part of baseball, and just because they're hackneyed doesn't mean they're wrong. Tom Kelly spouted one of my favorite cliches yesterday: "Every team's going to win 54 games, every team's going to lose 54 games, it's what you do with the other 54 that matters". Like all cliches it's partly true (in the past 50 years only four teams have lost fewer than 54 games, and 7 non-expansion teams have won fewer than 54), and since this year's Twins are neither as awesome as the '69 Baltimore Orioles nor as hapless as the '03 Detroit Tigers we can assume it will hold for our current season too. So I wondered, if I did the math could I see whether we should cling to the hope in that little cliche, or join the torch and pitchfork carriers?
So, let's look at the math in the Twins' record so far. Right now the Twins are 38-47. Of those 47 losses, 19 have been one-run losses; games where a different bounce a different call might have altered the play of the game enough to give us a win. Of course 18 of the wins have been one-run wins that might have gone the other way had an ump made a different decision. So let's say that these one-run games fall into the "What you do with the other 54" category.
Taking away the one run games the Twins are 20-28. Now we could put all those games in the "54 you're going to win/54 you're going to lose" categories, but that might be a little too simple (after all--some one-run games you're totally overwhelmed by a great pitcher, and some two or three run losses all pivot on a blown strike three call). But I think we can definitely put the blowouts (wins/losses of 5 runs or more) in these categories. The Twins have gone 10-16 in blow-outs, giving up 63 more runs than they score. So we've definitely got the "losing the 54 games you're supposed to lose" thing down; hopefully we'll figure out the other thing in the second half.
Take away the blowouts and the toss-ups and we have just 22 games left. The Twins are a nail-biting 10-12 in those games. For the sake of my argument (and considering that we gave up 12 more runs than we scored) let's say 7 of those games we won like we should have, and 8 we lost like we ought (I might be wrong...but how would anyone know?). The 7 games that could have gone either way seem to have broken 3-4 against us.
Tally it all up and we have cheered for 17 of the games we were bound to win; we've fallen in 24 of the games we were doomed to lose; and in the final 54? We've gone 21 and 23--leaving just 10 toss up games left. If we balance everything out from here on in, winning 37 that we're supposed to, losing 30 we're supposed to we'll be at 75-77.
If we can win our 10 remaining toss-up games will get to 85-77, not our best record, not a guaranteed play-off berth, but definitely a positive outcome for a team that floundered for the first two months. Maybe it's foolish to break the wins and losses into a silly cliche. Maybe I'm pulling these numbers out of my butt [okay, not maybe...definitely] but when I break down the numbers in this little corner of the blogosphere, there's no reason to turn off the games or bury the team just yet.
Hyperbole might be more fun to write than cliche; but honestly, Tom Kelly is probably right "you're going to win 54, you're going to lose 54, it's what you do with the 54 that matters".