Broken down, here are five reasons why the Twins have a very good chance to catch the Tigers and steal the AL Central.
Outside of the four game series the two teams will have starting on Sept. 28th, the Tigers will match up against the White Sox five more times, with two of those coming on the road and a three game home series to end the season.
The Tigers are 7-6 against the White Sox this season but Chicago is sure to be up for these games. Ozzie Guillen always wants to play for something and since his team has been mathematically eliminated, this is like a mini-playoffs for him.
On the other side, the Twins will play five games against the Royals to close out the year. The twins have won eight of 13 games over the Royals this year, and while Kansas City will be trying to help Zach Greinke make his case for the AL Cy Young, there is clearly less for them to play for. Greinke will get two starts against the Twins to make things interesting, but the fact remains the Twins have an easier path.
While the Twins’ pitching staff has won more games (58) than the Tigers (57) have, it’s clear that the starting pitching edge still goes to the Tigers. However, baseball is a game of what have you done for me lately, and it’s clear that the Twins are rolling right now. In September, Minnesota pitching has sported a 3.53 ERA, good for third in the AL.
On the other hand, Detroit’s September stats include a 4.66 ERA, which is ninth in the American League.
Justin Verlander, Edwin Jackson, and Rick Porcello make for an outstanding trio in the Tigers’ rotation and each will make two more starts before the year is over, but Jarrod Washburn’s status is up in the air and the back of the Tigers’ rotation is in question.
The Twins have stayed afloat with their starting pitching but their bullpen is what has really kept them close in the AL Central. Joe Nathan is as good as it gets in the ninth inning and the Twins bullpen ranks fifth in the AL in ERA from their bullpen. Minnesota has blown 15 saves this season compared to Detroit’s 23.
Baseball is a team game and it is hard for just one player to completely take over a game, but if there was one guy who was going to accomplish that, my pick would be Joe Mauer. The Minnesota catcher has been unbelievable this season after missing time to start the year, and is the No. 1 reason the Twins are in position to creep up on the Tigers.
The All-Star has hit .378 in the month of September and, since Aug. 1, has struck out just 15 times in 216 plate appearances. If the Twins are able to make the post season, Mauer has to be considered the front-runner for the AL MVP.
Against Kansas City this year, Mauer is batting a gaudy .457 (21-46) with two home runs, ten RBI’s, and 11 walks. Look for him to have huge success the rest of the way as he leads the Twins down the stretch.
Head to Head Matchup
As important as the remaining schedule is for both teams, the fact of the matter is whoever comes out on top during the four game series is going to have the head up on the division.
Three wins in the series means two games in the standings, while a four game sweep would mean four games in the standings and more than likely a division win for whoever completed the sweep.
This season, Minnesota has won nine of 14 matchups between the two teams and will look to add to that total. The series will take place in Detroit which has to help the Tigers who are 48-26 at home, while the Twins are just 35-40 on the road.
In the season series, the Tigers have won three of five games at home and are scheduled to have Porcello and Verlander get starts in the series. If the final game of the series is an important one (it more than likely will be), then the Tigers will have the option of bumping Edwin Jackson up a day and pitch in the series finale. For the Twins, all starters but the struggling Francisco Liriano will make starts.
So many times in baseball, the team playing better baseball at the end of the season will take down a team that has more talent. The Twins have gone 14-8 in September while the Tigers have gone 13-10. That difference is less than two games in the standings but for a team like the Twins who are chasing, it means everything. For the Tigers, every loss is another day they do not pick up more ground.
Detroit has played well in the season but Minnesota is now starting to play just that much better. Pressure is on both sides, but Minnesota is playing somewhat of a Cinderella-type role while the Tigers are trying not to choke away the season. Advantage: Minnesota.