Friday, March 18, 2011

Irregularly Scheduled

I took my first look at the Twins' 2011 schedule the other day, and there are some unusual things on the calendar for this year.

First off, the season opens on a Friday. This was, presumably, to keep the World Series from extending into November. I think they could accomplish the same thing by cutting about 2/3 of the off days from October, but I guess the broadcast networks aren't interested in that. Anyway, I was expecting more or less a normal regular season that just began and ended a little early, so I was really surprised to see how few off days the Twins have, especially in the early going. They play 28 games in April, 27 in May, 27 in June, 28 in July (all 3 days off coming over the All-Star Break) and 29 in August.

If you're counting, that leaves just 23 games for September. At that point, I was expecting to see the season end on Sunday, the 25th, maintaining the pattern with just a couple of off days in September and getting the playoffs started before October. But actually, the season ends on Wednesday, the 28th, giving the Twins 5 days off over their final 4 weeks. I guess that leaves plenty of time to make up rainouts (or get acclimated to all the downtime coming in the postseason). Still, that densely packed first 5 months is going to include some brutal stretches, especially a span of 20 straight game days to close out August. Gardy will have to be more conscientious than ever about providing his regulars with breaks in order to keep them from wearing down by the stretch run.

The second surprise in the 2011 schedule is the lopsided distribution of Home/Away games. Through June 8th, the Twins are slated to play 41 road games and just 22 home games. That imbalance will be evened out by the end of July. The Twins were essentially a .500 road team last year, but had the league's best record at home. Bear that in mind: if the Twins are only 4-5 games over .500 by the 2nd week of June, they're actually right on track.

The schedule is also front-loaded with non-divisional games, a collection of opponents against whom the Twins were barely over .500 last year (47-43). But they kicked ass against their divisional rivals (47-25). They play 63 of their 90 interdivisional games in 2011 before the All-Star break. And those 63 games are disproportionately against the AL East (28, with just 17 against the West), the only division in the league against which the Twins had a losing record in 2010. Add in an interleague schedule which includes a series against the defending champs and the usual 6 games against a much improved Brewers team, and it's easy to see that the 1st half sets up to be much more difficult than the 2nd. If they can keep their heads above water through that, they'll be well positioned for a stretch run.

Last year, the Twins were buoyed through their June and early July doldrums by a hot, 21-11 start to the season. That's going to be difficult this season. Through their first 35 games this year, they'll play just 11 times at home. Half of their 24 road games in that stretch will be against AL East powerhouses New York, Boston and Tampa. If they can pull through the 1st 5 weeks of the season anywhere close to .500, be happy. If they can get through it over .500, they'll be sitting pretty.

The 1st week of the season is a nice microcosm of the schedule. The Twins open with 3 games in Toronto and 4 in New York. Since 2006, they're 5-13 (.278 Win%) at Rogers Centre and 3-14 (.176) in Yankee Stadium. It's hard to imagine a less advantageous way for the Twins to begin the season. If they come home from that 1st week 3-4, we should be ecstatic.

The upshot of all this is: be patient. All is not lost if the the Twins are struggling through the first couple months of the season. They should consider themselves in the hunt as long as they're within single digits of the division leader in July. If they are the division leader, they could be on their way to another successful season.

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