Posted by: Peter | October 6, 2009

An Improbable Journey

After two straight years of this, I’m beginning to forget that baseball’s regular season is only supposed to last for 162 games.

My prediction that Joe Mauer would almost certainly not hit .400 has been borne out, and yet something just about as improbable has happened instead. Suffice it to say that at the outset of the season, nobody was predicting that things would end with the Twins making up a seven game deficit in a few weeks and becoming the first team ever to make up a three-game deficit in the final four games, all with Justin Morneau on the shelf.

And now we get something uniquely random and unpredictable in baseball: a one-game playoff. The playoffs are, in general, a crapshoot, as Michael Lewis wrote in Moneyball, due to the importance of luck in a short series. A one-game playoff is an order of magnitude moreso.

It’s hard to even know how to assess the probability of a Twins win, because one-game playoffs are so uncommon and unusual. Going by their records, of course, these two teams are evenly matched. Going by the five previous play-in games in the wild-card era, you’d say that the home team is a heavy favorite, since only 1 of 5 road teams has won one of these things. And according to both the Vegas odds and a simulation-based prediction posted over at Twinkie Town, the Twins have about a 60% shot at winning.

And of course, none of this takes into account the unmeasurable implications of a star Tiger player getting into a drunken fight with his wife on the eve of a critical game.

But as we saw last year, it can all come down to one pitch. So there’s nothing to but sit back, cross one’s fingers, and hope to squeeze a little more magic out of the old Metrodome.

Below is an overview of our two starters this afternoon, who turn out to be fairly similar pitchers.

First, Scott Baker:

Scott Baker

Scott Baker

Next, Rick Porcello:

Rick Porcello

Rick Porcello

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