It's Not A Playoff Game: Your Tigers-Twins Preview

↵Fine, football in Minnesota got Monday night, but the game with far more immediate importance is tonight's contest between the ↵Minnesota Twins and Detroit Tigers to determine the winner of the American League Central. Remember, this is technically not a playoff game. Today is the last regular season game in the history of the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome before the Twins move to their new digs in Target Field next year. That said, a win today could extend the life of that terrible roof for baseball and trash bag-fenced home run walls for a few more weeks. Nobody wants to play in the Metrodome in the playoffs. Well, except the Twins. ↵

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↵You know how we got to a one-game (do not call it a) playoff between the Tigers and Twins: Detroit finished the season 4-6 in their last 10 games to Minnesota's 7-3. That said, the Tigers weren't terrible down the stretch while holding a division lead over the Twins. Minnesota was better. From the start of September to the close of the season, the Tigers finished September 17-15 to the Twins' 20-11 record over the stretch. The Twins had separate win streaks of six, five and four games. In addition, the Twins beat the Tigers in four of their seven games over that final month-plus, while beating up on the rest of the AL Central (13-4 against the rest of the division to the Tigers 9-9 record against the same teams). The Twins are, in fact, the hot team heading into this game. ↵

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↵Pitching Matchup ↵
↵Having to use Justin Verlander for Sunday's game, the Tigers will be throwing 20-year-old Rick Porcello. Porcello is 14-9 on the season with a 4.04 ERA in 30 starts. Two years ago he was pitching for Seton Hall Prep in high school, and after a year in the minor leagues, Porcello earned a spot as a starter for Detroit in spring training. Now their playoff hopes are in his hands. Or should I say, on his arm. ↵

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↵Porcello ↵ ↵faced the Twins four times this year, going 1-2 while giving up 26 hits and eight earned runs in 23.1 innings. He was lights out the first time the Twins faced him, going seven innings on four hits with no runs. But the next two outings, the Twins had his number, knocking him out of a July 5th game after just four innings and tabbing him for eight hits and three runs on Sept. 18, both Tigers losses. Porcello did fare better against the Twins lineup in a no-decision last week, going 6.1 innings while giving up seven hits but just one run in an extra-innings loss. ↵

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↵This season, Porcello has kept the Twins in the ballpark, having given up only one home run to a Minnesota batter in his four starts -- Justin Morneau -- so Porcello has never given up a homer to a player in tonight's game. That said, he has been hit around by players you'll likely see on the bases tonight. Jason Kubel had eight hits in 11 at bats this season against the youngster. Delmon Young has four hits in nine at bats. And oh yeah, the Twins have Joe Mauer, only the best hitter in baseball this season. Porcello had the best of the slugger in the regular season, holding him to just 1-for-9 at the plate in four games. It would be an overstatement to call one matchup a game-decider, but how Mauer fares against Porcello could determine a lot tonight. ↵

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↵The Twins will throw 27-year-old Scott Baker against the Tigers. Baker is 15-9 with a 4.36 ERA in 32 starts this season. In his five years in the big leagues, He's 43-33 with a 4.27 era in 110 games. Baker leads the Twins in wins this season and is second among Minnesota starters in ERA. Baker also faced the Tigers four times this season – the two pitchers did not face each other – going 1-1, giving up 15 earned runs on 29 hits in just 20 innings. In other words, outside of a solid five-inning performance on Oct. 1, Baker got shellacked by the Tigers this season. In two of his outings, the righty couldn't get out of the fifth inning. Of his 32 starts, Baker pitched into the sixth inning or beyond 23 times, but just once in four starts against the Tigers. ↵

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↵Of his 29 hits given up to the Tigers lineup, just six were extra base hits. And he did strike out 15 to only five walks. But his .333 average and .379 OBP are much higher than Twins fans would like. ↵

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↵Closers ↵
↵Tigers closer Fernando Rodney has 37 saves in 38 opportunities this season. But he has a 4.33 ERA for the season and has given up 14 runs on 19 hits in 16 games since September 1. Yikes. ↵

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↵Joe Nathan, long one of the top closers in the game, does have five blown saves, recording 47 in 52 chances. But he boasts a 2.15 ERA this season and following a blown save on Sept. 2, has 12 saves in as many chances while surrendering just two runs on five hits. In his three outings in October, Nathan hasn't allowed a hit. In his nine appearances against the Tigers this season, Nathan has surrendered just four hits and two runs and is 4-for-4 in save situations. ↵

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↵Miggy Factor ↵
↵If the Tigers lose today, will the entire city blame it on Miguel Cabrera? And how does Cabrera respond to the spotlight being squarely placed on him? Cabrera has only been to the playoffs one time in his career, when he won a World Series with the Marlins in 2003. A rookie then, it will be interesting to see how he handles an opportunity to get back to the postseason, with everything swirling around him right now. And no, that wasn't a .26 pun. Okay, fine, it was. ↵

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↵Verdict ↵
↵All signs point to the Twins winning tonight. They have the more seasoned pitcher, the better closer, the best hitter in the game and far less controversy. And they're the hotter team. But I wouldn't count out the Tigers, including the likes of Curtis Granderson who can really change a game with his bat, his legs or his glove. I don't know why, but I expect the Tigers to win. Minnesotans can't have that good a week, can they? ↵

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This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.

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