Every Major League Baseball team plays 19 games against each of its division mates. That means 76 games per season (46.9% of the schedule) occur against a division foe. The surest path to a division title includes dominating the teams directly vying for your desired playoff spot. However, since MLB expanded to two wild card teams in 2012, how important is a club’s intra-division record on their march to the AL Central crown? WFNY investigates.
Not surprisingly, each of the Central’s past five winners earned a winning record against divisional foes.
For example, last season Cleveland put up a stellar 49-26 (.653) record against the division with a winning record against the other four clubs. Since 2012 the average division winner won 45.2 intra-divisional games. Let’s round that down and say a team needs 45 divisional wins to have a reasonable chance at winning the Central. Perhaps most impressively the division champ enjoyed a winning record against each opponent except for the 2014 Tigers vs. Minnesota, the 2013 Tigers vs. Kansas City, and the 2012 Tigers vs. Cleveland. Those match ups were no worse than two games under five hundred. In other words, a champ can afford to have a losing record against one opponent, but should run up the score against the others to make up for it.
As for 2017, the table is as follows:
In order to reach the 45 division wins threshold, the Central’s teams would need to post the following records the rest of the way.
Cleveland: 24-12, 0.667
Kansas City: 32-10, 0.762
Minnesota: 23-11, 0.676
Detroit: 26-17, 0.605
Chicago: 26-11, 0.703
Can the Tribe reach the prescribed pace? Cleveland has eight three-games divisional series left on the schedule and three four-game divisional series. Winning each of those would give them 25-11 with a 46-30 record overall. Plus winning those series means divisional foes will be denied the series wins or sweeps they need. Win every divisional series the rest of the way, don’t mail it in against other opponents, and the Indians will be well on their way to their second straight AL Central crown. No brooms necessary.
It bears repeating that correlation does not imply causation. It is entirely possible for the Indians to finish with the highest winning percentage in the AL Central but still find themselves on the wrong side of the standings. If history is any guide, however, then a strong finish in the Central bodes well for the Tribe’s chances at October. They will get their first pass at this task when the Motor City Kitties come to town over the weekend. Baseball is a marathon, but it’s not unreasonable to start looking at the standings with fascination. The Tribe would do well to win the division. As Cleveland learned in 2013, the Wild Card Game is best observed from a distance.