As the baseball season breaks for the All-Star Game, one of the bigger storylines is that the Twins won't be running away with the Central Division.
After trailing by as many as 11.5 games in mid-June, the Cleveland Indians are red-hot and have cut their double-digit deficit to 5.5 games. Minnesota still has an 85.8 percent chance to win the division, but this race might wind up being fun to watch after all, so long as the Indians aren't similar to the 2011 Twins.
So far, the 2011 Twins and the 2019 Indians have some similarities, and if the similarities continue, it won't be good for the Indians. Look at some of this coincidental comparisons between the two clubs:
Records and deficit on June 1
- 2011 Twins: 19-39, 16.5 games back
- 2019 Indians: 29-29, 10.5 games back
Records in the month of June:
- 2011 Twins: 17-9
- 2019 Indians: 17-9
Records and deficit at the All-Star Break
- 2011 Twins, 41-48, 6.5 games
- 2019 Indians, 50-38, 5.5 games
The 2011 Twins were in a similar position as the 2019 Indians are now. Just like the 2019 Indians, the 2011 Twins were viewed as favorites to repeat as division champs.
On June 1, 2011, the Twins were 19-39 and 16.5 games back of the Detroit Tigers after a disastrous start to the year. Joe Mauer missed 58 games from mid-April into June and Justin Morneau was still feeling the effects of a concussion that ended what would've likely been an MVP season the year before.
Then something clicked and from June 2 to the All-Star break, Minnesota went 24-11; cutting their division deficit by 10 games and finding themselves just 6.5 games back in the Central.
The Twins kept it competitive for the entire month of July and found themselves just six games back entering August, which is when the wheels fell off.
Minnesota won just 13 of their final 53 games and finished 63-99. In the process, their deficit in the division went from six games to 32 (!) as the Tigers ran away as Central Division champs.
The Tigers went 14-4 against the Twins that season.
To give Cleveland some credit, they haven't been as bad at any point this season as the 2011 Twins were to start. But on the other hand, one might argue the Twins' pre-All-Star break comeback was even more impressive considering how many games they were down.
This year's Indians team was still playing .500 ball (29-29) on June 1, but they did suffer injuries to core players and slumps by other stars, namely Jose Ramirez.
Francisco Lindor missed the first three weeks of the season but has recently been his usual stellar self. Meanwhile, Ramirez (like Morneau was in 2011) has been a mess this season, slashing .218/.308/.344 – a stunning drop after back-to-back seasons of in the top three of the MVP vote.
And we haven't event mentioned the injuries to their starting staff – their biggest asset – as Corey Kluber, Mike Clevinger and Carlos Carrasco have all been or remain on the injured list.
They persevered through it all and are now breathing right down the Twins' neck, just as the 2011 Twins were doing to the Tigers. But look how that turned out.
The point: What if Cleveland's strong June is an outlier in what might otherwise be a .500 season? If it is, Minnesota could still easily run away with the division title.
Yet, the Twins-Indians series in Cleveland this weekend is the biggest for both teams so far this season.
Maybe the Twins go into Ohio well rested, sweep the Indians and push them to 8.5 games back. Or, maybe Cleveland stays hot and wins three straight and cuts Minnesota's lead to 2.5 games.
The series will be the start of 13 meetings between the division rivals over the final two and a half months of the season.
Another factor favoring Minnesota is their schedule. Minnesota has some tough competition this month, but things get easier down the stretch with 20 more games against the bottom-feeding Royals and Tigers, including 10 of them to end the regular season.
As pointed out by Aaron Gleeman, the Twins have the easiest remaining schedule based on opponents winning percentage.
This year's Indians probably won't be losing 99 games but they'll have a lot more in common with that Twins team if they fall on their faces in the second half.