Oct 4, 2009, 6:31 PM EDT
With Minnesota completing its three-game sweep of the Royals and Detroit salvaging the finale of a series against the White Sox, the AL Central race ended in a tie, forcing a one-game playoff scheduled for Tuesday.
The ultimate winners in the scenario would seem to be the Yankees, who can look forward to facing a fatigued club to start the ALDS. If there was still any doubt at all, they’re now certain to pick the series beginning on Wednesday, rather than Thursday, to give their opponents even less time to recover.
The Tigers were hoping to have the division all wrapped up by Saturday, but since they failed to take care of business, they were forced to go to ace Justin Verlander on Sunday and now they’ll use Rick Porcello on Tuesday. If they beat the Twins, they’ll still have the ability to have Verlander follow Edwin Jackson and start Games 2 and 5 of the ALDS, but he could be an awfully tired ace. Verlander added to his major league-high pitch total by 120 on Sunday. It’s the fourth straight start that he’s thrown at least 120 pitches, and he hasn’t made a start on more than four days’ rest since Aug. 30.
The Twins may be at just as much of a disadvantage. They don’t rely as much on their top three starters as the Tigers, but they’re going to be stuck using their nominal ace, Scott Baker, on Tuesday. That means he’ll be available to start just once against the Yankees. Nick Blackburn, who came up big in outdueling Zack Greinke on Saturday, is lined up for the Game 1 start now. Either Carl Pavano or Brian Duensing would pitch Game 2. Duensing has performed better than Pavano and has the advantage of being a lefty, but given the confidence that manager Ron Gardenhire showed in Pavano by pitching him on short rest Sunday, it seems likely that the veteran will be the choice.
Tuesday’s matchup of Porcello and Baker should be a good one. Porcello got the nod over Jackson, who could have made the start on three days’ rest. Jackson, though, has struggled in four of his last five starts, whereas Porcello only seems to be getting stronger. The rookie impressed against the Twins in Tuesday’s doubleheader, limiting Minnesota to one run in 6 1/3 innings. He’s 14-9 with a 4.04 ERA.
Baker overcame an 0-4 start to finish 15-9 with a 4.36 ERA. He had a 3.79 ERA in his final 28 starts. Against the Tigers, he was 1-1 with a 6.75 ERA. That win, though, came Thursday, when he allowed just an unearned run over five innings.
So, the starters seem pretty evenly matched. The Twins would seem to have the advantage of a less weary pen, particularly after they were able to give Joe Nathan the day off on Sunday. They’ll also finally be able to give Joe Mauer a real day off on Monday. Being that they have the home-field advantage and are the hotter team, they have to be favored to win. The Tigers, though, do have a nice track record against Baker, particularly Magglio Ordonez and Carlos Guillen.
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