Twins: A final weekend, a final push
After a heated, contentious, and season-saving 8-3 win at Detroit yesterday, the Twins return home with enough breath left in their 2009 season to keep the Metrodome inflated for at least three more games. Thursday's nooner victory gave the Twins a split for the four-game series, keeping the Tigers magic number for the Central at 2 games, meaning any combination of Twins losses & Tiger wins that reaches said number will ascend Detroit to the postseason.
The Twins hope to dull that magic with a sweep of the Royals in what will be the final regular season ballgames at the Dome. Meanwhile, the Tigers aim to make memories of 2008's last-place finish wholly vanish with a three-game set at home against the White Sox, versus whom they're 8-7 on the year. Chicago has been fielding a really soupy lineup in the season's final week; however they offer Twin hopes in both manager Ozzie Guillen's adoration of our club, and also a trio of pitchers -- Jake Peavy, Freddy Garcia, and John Danks -- that sport a collective lifetime record of 18-9 with a 3.73 ERA against the Tigers.
The heat of the weekend is stoked with irony via the Garcia start. Recall last season's makeup game #162 for the Chi Sox? They needed a win to tie the Twins and play onward to our #163. That ballgame was against Detroit who offered Garcia as their starter. Freddy was respectable in that 8-2 Detroit loss, albeit far from dominant, surrendering 2 runs in 5 innings of work. Perhaps he can do the Bread Basket a bigger favor this weekend.
Scoreboard ogling will no doubt be in play throughout the next three days as the Twins have come off their finest month to give us a chance to sweat out the final weekend of play and guarantee a worthy sendoff of a stadium that housed two World Champions.
Before we look ahead to the series capsules, may I offer one final look back through the annals of hardball history: Since the Red Sox left the confines of Huntington Avenue Grounds for Fenway Park in 1912, 10 other American League clubs have preceded the Twins' stadium switch. Their collective records from their last home series? 21-13.
Let's make that 21 into 24 and hope for a little White Sox pluck to boot. Here's a look at Twins vs. Royals:
Lenny DiNardo (0-2, 7.52 ERA) vs. Jeff Manship (0-1, 5.81)
The Twins seemingly couldn't be more fortunate in this series opener than to face DiNardo, against whom they tallied 8 hits, 3 walks, and 7 runs (3 earned) just seven days ago. This will be Lenny's second career Dome start; his first was back on 7/13/07 when, as an Oakland A, he scored a C+, giving up 2 runs in 5 innings. Four active Twins hit this guy at a .429 clip or better.
Which means that all we need from young Jeff Manship is not to implode. Manship gets the nod as Francisco Liriano was dreadful in his Sunday start at K.C., allowing 3 runs in just 1.2 innings. This will be Manship's fifth start of the season and his first against the Royals. He has twice faced K.C. in '09 relief stints this year, offering a measured line of 2 runs in 4.2 innings pitched. This is probably the biggest game this kid's pitched since the 2006 NCAA's when he struggled in relief for Notre Dame in a season-ending loss to Kentucky.
Zach Greinke (16-8, 2.06) vs. Nick Blackburn (11-11, 4.08)
Anyone who watched Greinke go for K.C. on Sunday doesn't need me to explain how absolutely nasty this guy is right now. In brief: dude entered that ballgame with a 2.08 ERA and lowered it, giving the likely Cy Young winner his 26th Quality Start of the season. While Twins regulars Mauer, Kubel, Cabrera, Cuddyer, Punto and Span hit this guy .252 (28-111) collectively, it's worthy of mention that also-rans Redmond, Buscher, Harris and Morales clip Greinke to a hot tick of .538 (7-for-13). When it comes to Greinke: caveats may be the only hope.
As per our side, Blackburn has proven himself pretty damn cool in situations such as these. For a fella with a 22-24 lifetime mark, he seems to have some Big Game nerves. Furthermore, he's tossed three straight Quality Starts and as coming off of Wednesday's 7 inning, 1 run gem.
Luke Hochevar (7-12, 6.24) vs. Brian Duensing (5-2, 3.69)
Luke's force has been dismal in '09's second half, as well-evidenced by his 2-9 mark since the break. Still, he's been solid against Minnesota this year, presenting a 1-0 mark with a 1.93 ERA in two previous starts. Eight active Twins hit him .222 or worse. This will be Hochevar's first (and last) Dome appearance.
Duensing is coming of his first loss as a starter, surrendering 5 runs in just 4.2 in Tuesday eve's loss to Detroit. Those concerned may be assuaged to know that the kid is 3-0 with a 2.87 ERA in 11 overall appearances at home.
There's also the chance that vet Carl Pavano could try to make good, post his lame Wednesday night performance in Detroit. He's struggled against K.C. on the year, going just 3-3 in six starts between the Tribe and Twins; yet there are those familiar with Pavano's Big Game acumen that have never forgotten his classic 2003 World Series performance in Game 4, whereupon he outdueled Roger Clemens in the Marlins eventual win over the Yanks in 12.
Hell -- if the Twins get this far, whomever tosses this game #162 will either be a Minnesota folk hero, or an answer to a trivia question that we'll all want to forget.
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