And when we hit the twin cities, I didn’t know that much about it
I knew Mary Tyler Moore and I knew Profane Existence

– Craig Finn

Don’t ever apologize for the 2006 Cardinals winning the World Series. I’ve heard more than one person say that they really needed 2011 to happen so they could finally admit that the 83-win 2006 squad was something of a farce or even illegitimate.

That is utterly ridiculous.

Or, it’s only as much of a farce as the 2004 Cardinals – who won the most games in the National League since the 1986 Mets (and that’s still true, too) – losing the World Series to a team who didn’t even win their division. You can make a similar case with the 2005 team. Or the 1985 team, the best team in baseball, who lost the World Series to an inferior Royals squad with help from a poorly-timed blown call by an umpire.

None of this was illegitimate, just baseball being baseball. Throw in the expanded playoffs and it’s not a huge wonder that the 2006 Cardinals were able to happen.

And besides, they had already sort of happened in the pre-wild card era, only the Cardinals were on the short end. The year was 1987 and the team was the Minnesota Twins.

Here are some facts about the ’87 Twins:

  • By wins (85), they were the ninth best team in baseball;
  • They had a negative run differential (-20);
  • They played in a 7-team division (the old AL West) and only finished ten games ahead of the team who finished last; and yet
  • They won their division, steamrolled through a juggernaut Tigers team in the ’87 ALCS, and beat the Cardinals in the World Series in seven games.

Jack Buck imploring everyone to go crazy in 1985 was my first baseball memory, but the ’87 team was the first I actually followed. It was the first year I attended a game. The first year I checked the standings in the paper on a regular basis to see how much separation the team had from the no-good Mets. For all intents and purposes, it was the year I became a baseball fan.

And it could have had a perfect ending but for that dang white roof at the Metrodome and a banged up Jack Clark. The ’87 Cardinals were a team of stars and their biggest moment in the series came from this man.

I was only in the third grade and fell asleep before the conclusion of Game 7. When my parents went to bed, they woke me up and told me that the Cardinals lost (I was the only Cardinals fan in my household and therefore the only one with a visceral reaction to this news). The next morning I convinced myself that perhaps it was all a dream. Maybe that conversation didn’t happen. Maybe the Cardinals won. Nope, it was real. I had to be told for the second time that my favorite team lost the World Series to a team I had barely heard of. Word is I cried.

But 2006 was the penance.  I cherish it and don’t feel the least bit guilty about it. We deserved it.

The Cardinals are in Minneapolis tonight for oddly their second series with the Twins in barely a week. The last one did not go so well. The all-time series is tied at twelve wins apiece (not counting the ’87 World Series, of course), and the Twins hold a +6 run differential. Getting outscored 13-1 last week at Busch certainly did not help matters here.

The most memorable interleague contest between the two (according to the author) occurred in 1997 when Willie McGee hit a walk-off home run to win the game 2-1. (McGee hit three home runs that season and two of them were walk-offs. The other one occurred in the home opener.) After the game, McGee asked the media to apologize for him to Twins manager Tom Kelly for understandably pumping his fist while rounding one of the bases. Some people probably find that to be lame, but I am not one of them. Everyone should be themselves and all of the evidence points to Willie McGee being nothing if not a very nice man.

As for the next two installments in this series, here are the starting pitchers and win probability for the Cardinals, courtesy of FanGraphs.

Screen Shot 2018-05-14 at 8.32.31 PM

Jose Berrios has been a good pitcher, thus far. He’s not going to allow many free bases – his 4.8 percent walk rate is the sixth best in the American League – and he is right in line with the league average almost everywhere else. He’s not above giving up the home run, though, and being that the Cardinals are not against hitting them, this could be a good strategy.

And we all know and appreciate Lance Lynn. It pains me to say but he is not having a good year. Unlike last season, he is not outperforming his peripheral stats although one hopes not when carrying a 7.34 ERA. For the fourth year in a row, his walk rate has increased and has reached an offensive 15.2 percent, which trails only Lucas Giolito for pitchers in the AL who have thrown at least 30 innings.

As for the other side, the Twins are one of the worst hitting teams in the AL. This is what John Matejka had to say last week on the matter.

The Twins are still the best team on the base paths this year, but their team wRC+ has dipped below 100. That’s not to say they don’t have some dangerous hitters. 29-year-old Eduardo Escobar is enjoying a breakout season, sporting an absurd .311 isolated slugging percentage which is suspiciously high given his career profile. His .338 BABIP isn’t totally out of the ordinary, but when we look at his wxOBA, it’s sitting at .371 a few spots below *squints* Alex Gordon and Kevin Pillar. So, yeah, he’s probably due for some heavy regression. Still, he’s hot now, so watch out. Joe Mauer is still a really good hitter and boasts .291/.434/.388 line that might actually be a little low given his .424 wxOBA. Byron Buxton has been sidelined for the past few weeks with a fractured toe. Eddie Rosario and Max Kepler are having fine starts to the year, and the aforementioned Dozier, while off to a slow start, is likely to pick it up at some point.

Again, it’s barely been a week so not much has changed. Entering today, the Twins have scored the second fewest runs in the league. Byron Buxton is back although he’s off to an awful start and is just 1-for-11 since returning, lowering his season wRC+ to 20. As a whole, only the Rangers, Royals, and Orioles have a worse team wRC+, and all three are on pace to lose over 100 games.

The Twins are not that bad. They are on pace to lose about 85 and yet they still sit in second place because, well, it’s still pretty early in the season, and they play in the dreadful AL Central and therefore play a lot of games against other dreadful teams. According to FanGraphs, two teams in the AL Central already have a zero percent chance of making the playoffs. Another has a 0.1 percent chance.

The Cardinals are imperfect but hardly dreadful. FanGraphs still has them at better than 2-to-1 odds to make the playoffs. And after losing four of their last six against these same Twins and the Padres, it would be nice if the randomness that is a 162-game baseball schedule could steady itself and result in a couple of wins. We know what Miles Mikolas has done this year, we know that Jack Flaherty has thrown a lot of useful bullets in Memphis. And since the Cardinals (and the rest of the division) are gifted with the AL Central as their interleague foe, they might as well take advantage.

So the Cardinals should destroy the Twins – just as they should have in 1987.

 

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