Twins still howling into that good night
Amidst an unparalleled and wholly electric span of days that found our Twin'd Cities holding a marathon, hosting a Gopher vs. Badgers game in the dapper environs of "The Bank," and celebrating Brett Favre's vengeance against Packer brass -- our Minnesota Twins have
blended an historic recipe of equal parts Magic and Nostalgia to schedule at least one more day of 2009 baseball.
It's almost as if the club is leaving a nest that isn't quite ready to let go of its sons.
While Sunday eve's postgame Metrodome salute proved wholly entertaining and brilliantly organized -- the event was also wonderfully premature. The Twins' 13-4 win over K.C. secured
a Central Division tie with the Tigers, whose 5-3 victory over the Chi Sox salvaged their nearly six-month stronghold on the division. The teams meet this afternoon (4 p.m. CST) in a one-game tiebreaker to determine which club's season will end, and which will make travel plans to New York for an American League Divisional Series with the Yankees. The Twins are 11-7 on the year versus the Tigers.
Based on the breadth of games in baseball, numbers (as the below will evidence) dominate the game like no other sport. But for the situation in which the Twins will find themselves today -- numbers are oft-usurped by magic and timing.
Down by 7 games in the Central less than a month ago, the Twins proceeded to win 16 of their last 20 to grab a piece of the divisional lead on Saturday for the first time since May 14th. Crazy. The insanity ensues when considering:
- The Twins are playing in a game #163 for an unprecedented second consecutive season. The one-game tiebreaker event has occurred just seven times previous in MLB history.
- Should the Twins defeat the Tigers, they would become the first team ever to make the playoffs after being down 3 games with 4 to play.
- As noted in this space previously: since the Red Sox moved to Fenway Park in 1912, 11 A.L. teams have moved to new stadiums -- Not one of them made the postseason in their final year at their old ballpark.
- The Twins have paved this road missing their still-leading RBI guy in Morneau (done since 9/12), without their top defensive infielder in Crede (just two games since 8/21), and sans their still third most-winning starter in Slowey (shut down in early-July).
Timely hitting, the A.L.'s top defense (tied), some gutsy starting pitching, September sizzles via the bats of Cuddyer & Young, a wonderfully consistent Kubel, MVP candidate Joe Mauer becoming the first catcher to ever winning three batting titles, and Magic. That's how we got to today. Here's the tiebreaker capsule to see if we can now get to New York:
Tuesday Afternoon (4 p.m. CST, on TBS) -- One-game tiebreaker. Tigers vs. Twins at Metrodome
Rick Porcello RHP (14-9, 4.04 ERA) vs. Scott Baker RHP (15-9, 4.36 ERA)
This marks Porcello's fifth start against the Twins in '09, and third time he's faced the Bread Basket since 9/18. The 20-year-old Rookie of the Year candidate was stellar in the opener of last Tuesday's doubleheader, giving up just a run in 6.1 innings of work -- his 111 pitches was his highest count of the season. Overall on the season versus the Twins, Porcello is 1-2 with a strong 3.09 ERA; however his mark in two Dome starts is a less-than-impressive 0-2 with a 6.30. Five active Twins knock at a .333 clip or better, led by Jason Kubel's sterling .727 mark (8-for-11). It's also worthy of note that Porcello throws the A.L.'s highest percentage of ground balls (54.4 percent), meaning the Twins will be behooved by a few seeing-eye-singles in both double play, and hit-and-run situations. Lastly: this is a really huge spot for a dude that can't even legally drink yet. Hell, when the Twins won in 1991 he was just two years old. The Dome has proven hellish for guys in his situation.
For our Boys, Scott Baker goes to the hill, coming off of last Thursday's win at Detroit where he earned the victory with 0 Earned Runs allowed in 5 innings -- that was by far his best outing of the year versus Detroit, against whom he's now 1-1 with a 6.75 ERA in four starts. Four active Tigers hit Baker at a lifetime clip of .400 or better, led by Magglio Ordonez' crazy .462. For Baker to succeed, he's really going to need to show why he's got the 16th-best K-to-Walk ratio in baseball (3.48) and the 15th-best Walks and Hits per Inning Pitched (1.186). Strikeouts in tight spots will be key, just as keeping baserunners and runs to a minimum in the early innings will be huge toward holding sound levels at maximum din.
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