Brewers Go Into Twins Series With Slight Advantage
In recent years it always seems like the Brewers’ annual home-and-home interleague rivalry series with the Twins comes just in time for Milwaukee and their fans to look over to their neighbor to the west and realize that things could be worse. A year ago these two teams met in April of what was expected to be a down year for the Brewers but was even worse for the Twins, as they started the season with nine consecutive losses. While the Brewers exceeded low expectations in 2016 the Twins continued to slide and finished 59-103, with a .364 winning percentage that was their worst since moving from Washington for the 1961 season.
Fast forward to 2017 and you can once again find Brewers and Twins teams with somewhat parallel seasons, but once again the Brewers are on slightly better footing. Both teams were early season surprises in their respective divisions: The Twins started out hot, peaked at seven games above .500 in May and spent 50 days atop the American League Central, most recently a one-day stay in first place on June 25. FanGraphs currently has their chances of reaching the postseason at 5.5%, down from a season-best 18% on July 8.
The Brewers, meanwhile, peaked a little higher at 11 games over .500 on July 15 and have spent a little more than two weeks longer in first place: They’re currently at 69 days atop the National League Central this season after missing an opportunity to retake the division lead on Sunday. FanGraphs also likes the Brewers’ playoff chances going forward a little more than Minnesota’s, giving them a 12.2% chance of reaching the postseason as of Monday morning.
Both teams have also had recent slides that have greatly lengthened the odds against them playing meaningful baseball in October: Even with wins in four of their last six games the Brewers are 7-13 since July 15 and have seen what was once a 5.5 game division lead fall all the way to a half-game deficit. The division is still in play for them, however, which is not true for the Twins. Entering play Sunday Minnesota had lost ten of 14 contests and fallen from half a game back in the AL Central to seven games out and in third place over that span. They regained a game in the standings with a win on Sunday, but at this point their best shot at the postseason appears to be the second Wild Card.
Both the Brewers and Twins spent the month of July as “will they or won’t they?” teams as it related to the non-waiver trade deadline. The Brewers largely fell on the “won’t” side, opting to make relatively minor deals to acquire bullpen help while otherwise remaining quiet. The Twins, on the other hand, had a much more eventful deadline. On July 24, when they were just a game back of the second Wild Card, they opted to rent starting pitcher Jaime Garcia from the Braves. They won just one game in six opportunities with Garcia on the roster before reversing course and selling him to the Yankees on July 30 and sending former Brewer Brandon Kintzler to the Nationals on July 31.
The Twins received three minor leaguers and some international bonus money in the latter deals, but their farm system also still has some work to do to catch the Brewers going forward. MLB Pipeline recently re-ranked their top 100 prospects across baseball and listed four Twins farmhands, headlined by 2017 #1 overall pick Royce Lewis at #31. The Brewers, meanwhile, had six players on that list. Lewis Brinson was their top ranked player at #15, and 2017 ninth overall pick Keston Hiura cracked the rankings in his first opportunity at #93.
The fact that the Brewers are having a better 2017 season, had (arguably) a better trade deadline and have higher-rated prospects for the future is not, of course, a guarantee that Milwaukee will sweep or even win a majority of the games against their longtime rivals this week. No matter what happens in the next few days, however, the Brewers have held the advantage over Minnesota in the recent past and present and appear poised to do so for the foreseeable future.