Justin Verlander leads the AL with 245 Ks this year. Will it be enough to hold off the surging Twins?

Justin Verlander leads the AL with 245 K's this year. Will it be enough to hold off the surging Twins?

After 150 games, there is only one race in Major League Baseball that really has any major storyline down the stretch.  The Detroit Tigers looked like they had the AL Central all but wrapped up about three weeks ago after dismissing the slumping Chicago White Sox.  The Minnesota Twins were floating around in 3rd place, right around .500 and not looking very dangerous.  Entering today, the Twins stand at only 2.5 games back of a Detroit team that has come back to Earth at a bad time to do just that.  Starting Monday, these two teams will get a chance to determine the final outcome of their race in a four-game set in Comerica Park.  However, the other 7-8 games on the schedule could play just as big of an impact.  Let’s take a look at how each team finishes up:

Minnesota (11 games remaining): Tonight at White Sox; Fri-Sun. at Royals; Mon-Thurs. Oct. 1 at Tigers; Fri. Oct. 2-Sun. Oct. 4 vs. Royals

Detroit (12 games remaining): Tonight & Fri. at Indians; Fri-Sun. at White Sox; Mon-Thurs. Oct. 1 vs. Twins; Fri. Oct. 2-Sun. Oct. 4

Assuming the Tigers win against the Indians tomorrow and pick up the half game, that leaves them 3 games up with 10 to go for both teams.  The weekend series should be interesting for both teams.  Both are on the road, so that isn’t an issue and both are playing teams that are out of the race.  To make it even more fair, both teams are 7-5 against their respective opponents, and both finish their seasons with 3 game homestands against these same teams. So much for analyzing the remaining schedule.

That leaves it up to the four game series in Detroit.  So far this year, the Twinkies have taken 9 of 14 meetings from the Tigers, but they are an even 4-4 in games at Comerica Park.  The pitching matchups could very well determine the outcome of the series, with the Tigers holding a big advantage in the first two games of the series, sending out rookie Rick Porcello and flamethrower Justin Verlander against Chase Blackburn and Brian Duensing.  It’s hard to say that it gets any better for Minnesota with Carl Pavano taking the ball in the next game before their best pitcher in the second half in Scott Baker gets the ball in the series finale.  However, Detroit looks like they will have Nate Robertson and inexperienced Eddie Bonine for the next two games, unless the ineffective Jarrod Washburn can make the start in Bonine’s place, or if the Jim Leyland sees the opportunity of finish off the Twins and sends Edwin Jackson on three days rest, but that would be risky considering that they need to be thinking about the playoffs and matching up with the Yankees in the ALDS.

From an offensive standpoint, it’s hard to argue against the fact that the Twins have been far more productive recently, outscoring the Tigers 54-36 over the last 10 games.  It’s also hard to argue against a lineup that’s anchored by Joe Mauer, who’s hitting .372 with 28 homers and 89 RBIs heading into tonight, and doesn’t appear to have been all that affected by the injury to his partner-in-crime Justin Morneau.

Outside of measuring the tangibles of this race, it’s hugely important not to underestimate the power of momentum.  Right now, the Twins have a lot of Mo’ going into the final stretch, while the Tigers are playing just to hang on.  The Tigers have struggled in September and there always seems to be a team that gets hot just in time to make the postseason.  Will this be enough for Minnesota, or will Detroit keep it together for long enough the grab the AL Central crown?  I personally think the Twins have come too far to fall short now and are poised to go into Detroit and take 3 out of 4 to complete their comeback.  If not, the Tigers are going to have to hope that they’re this year’s version of the ’06 Cardinals, who backed into the playoffs and ended up winning the World Series, ironically enough over the Tigers.

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