Déjà vu isn't a bad thing if the senses rekindled are of a pleasing nature. For the second consecutive year -- and the third time in the past four seasons -- the Twins bring a hardball campaign down to the final week, beginning tonight with a four-game set against a Tiger club holding a two game lead in the Central. Past becoming Prologue wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing for this 2009 version of the Bread Basket, considering that the club ascended past 162 games in both 2006 and 2008 before losing in the ALDS and in game #163, respectively.
The Twins' mantra this past weekend should have been labeled: Gain Ground. And if they indeed monikered their time in K.C. as such, then the club's objectives were realized as we scooped up a game on the Tigers, who dropped two of three to the Chi Sox while the Twins took the first two from the Royals before getting shut down by likely Cy winner Zach Greinke.
The Twins have won nine of 14 versus Detroit this season, including the two of three we took from the Tigers on 9/18-9/20. Previous to those three ballgames in which the clubs combined for 19 runs, the Twins and Tigers had collectively averaged 12.8 runs per in their prior 11 contests. The average for the most recent series? About half that at 6.3. As the adage goes: Offense sells tickets, pitching wins titles. It will be wholly interesting to see which clubs has more (or less) juice to squeeze as the pressure cooker now bubbles at full tilt.
While concurrently charting Joe Mauer's quest for this third battling title since '06 (I'd say about a hit a game -- putting him at about .366 -- would do it), the larger portrait brushes a scenario in which a sweep of Detroit would put the Twins up by two games with the weekend Dome closer still to play. Taking three of the four would find us tied; a spilt would put us in a gritty spot and so forth.
After taking a moment to appreciate the fact that the Boys are even in such a position to compete in the last week of the season after having trailed the Tigers by as many as seven games this month -- the attentions become grounded. And we focus on today, before tomorrow. Here are your Twins & Tigers capsules -- enjoy the pressure baseball:
Tonight: Nick Blackburn (11-11, 4.18 ERA) vs. Rick Porcello (14-9, 4.14)
Blackburn makes his third 2009 start against the Tigers this season, against whom he's 1-1 on the year coupled with a disturbing 5.11 ERA. Seven Tigers hit him at lifetime clip of .300 or better. '09 has proven a polar year for Blackie, however recent starts have found him on the positive end with four Quality Starts in his past five outings.
There are those that believe that the "P" in the 20-year-old Porcello's surname stands for Prodigy. The likely AL Rook of the Year has had a stellar season, accruing the most wins for a sub-21-year-old since Doc Gooden in 1985. Tonight marks his fourth start versus the Twins, the most recent of which was a 9/18 outing in which he was outdueled by Brian Duensing. All told, Porcello is a pedestrian 1-2 with a 3.71 ERA in his previous three against Minnesota; of great note is Jason Kubel's success, hitting at a 7-for-8 (.875, yep) clip against the kid.
Tomorrow night: Brian Duensing (5-1, 3.33) vs. Justin Verlander (17-9, 3.41)
Duensing is now a stellar 5-0 as a starter, although dude is coming off his worst outing to date, a 5.2 inning, 3 run effort (and win) against the Chi Sox last Wednesday. He's had great success against Detroit this year in both relief and starting roles, allowing just one run in 14.2 innings pitched.
Verlander's 17 wins are tied for second-most in baseball, although it's well-worthy of mentioned that there are a few ghosts behind that bulky total, most notably: he's tied for just 18th in Quality Starts (64 percent) and gets a boatload of run support at 6.14 per nine innings -- good for 6th most in the AL. Verlander is 0-2 with a bulky 5.49 against the Twins this season; he hasn't beat the Bread Basket in four straight starts dating to last year.
Wednesday night: Carl Pavano (13-11, 4.86) vs. Eddie Bonine (0-1, 4.60)
Pavano's last "biggest start" since 2004 is usurped by this next start. After tossing 6 innings and giving up 4 runs in his Friday win over K.C., Pavano is pitted against a Tiger club that he has thus far owned in '09. To wit: the vet of 206 MLB starts is 4-0 with a 1.69 ERA in five starts against Detroit (between his time here and in Cleveland). While six Tigers hit him at .300 or better, he has surrendered just one HR and a lone walk to their collective batsmen.
Bonine makes just the fourth start of his season and ninth of his career on Wednesday night. He has yet to face the Twins this year, although in a July 2nd start against Minnesota from last season he gave up a whopping seven hits and two walks in just 2.2 innings of work. He sports a sound 3.03 ERA as a starter, although Eddie is apt to give up a few bombs, as evidenced by his 7 HR's allowed in less than 30 innings pitched.
Thursday afternoon: Scott Baker (14-9, 4.48) vs. Nate Robertson (2-2, 5.56)
Like Pavano, Baker earned a weekend win over K.C. despite a less-than-inspired performance. He'll need a stellar outing in this afternoon set to change his fortunes against Detroit, versus whom he's 0-1 with a wild 9.00 ERA in three starts this year. Carlos Guillen just kills him lifetime, sporting a .725 slugging percentage in 25 at-bats. On a more sanguine note: Baker owns a career 14-10 record in day games.
Which is better than the wholly average Robertson, who offers a cruddy 18-27 career record in day starts, coupled with a 9-10 lifetime mark against the Bread Basket. Seven Twins hit him a at career clip of .300 or better. Robertson was very recently shifted back into a starter's role, in which he's rewarded his betters with just a lone Quality Start (over lowly Cleveland) in five August/September outings.