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.

Red Sox Pitcher Jon Lester Pitches No-Hitter

By: Sean Speirs

As Boston Celtics fans had a sigh of relief this past weekend, Red Sox fans were witnessing poetry in motion.

 

Last night, 24-year-old Red Sox pitcher Jon Lester proved once again that he is not done pulling off miracles, as he threw a no-hitter against the Kansas City Royals in a 7-0 win at Boston’s Fenway Park.  Lester, who has a win-loss record of 3-2 and a 3.14 ERA, ended the night with nine strikeouts, two walks and one error with a total of 103 pitches thrown.

 Jon Lester Pitching Against Royals--MSNBC.com

Lester’s shut-out marked the 18th no-hitter in Red Sox history, which is the second most shutouts by any team. However, this accomplishment is not the only feat that this pitcher has pulled off in his life. 

 

In 2006, Lester was diagnosed with cancer, most notably a rare form of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.  Throughout the following year, Lester continued to condition himself into proper pitching form as he was getting chemotherapy treatment.  With such dedication and multiple treatments, Lester conquered this rare disease, which was completely cured.

 

After a full recovery, the young lefty pitcher proved his true heart and strength to the fans of Boston last October, when he had his first Red Sox postseason start against the Colorado Rockies in Game 4 of the World Series.  Lester threw five shutout innings to win the game and seal another championship season for the Boson Red Sox.

 

In conjunction with Lester’s pitching streak against the Royals last night, much credit still goes to the rest of the Boston Red Sox team, as outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury, shortstop Julio Lugo, and first-baseman Kevin Youkilis backed up Lester with impressive fielding plays that kept the shut-out game going.

 

Once Lester’s final pitch, clocked at 96 mph (the fastest pitch of the night), struck out Royals’ second-baseman Alberto Callaspo, the Red Sox team came together and lifted Lester in the air as fans congratulated him with a standing ovation that was ongoing since the seventh-inning.

 

While Lester puts down another astonishing achievement within his list of life accomplishments, this game will not only forever be remembered by Boston fans as another reason why the Boston Red Sox are “the best in the league”, but it will also be rightly viewed as an inspirational story for any athlete playing in a competitive sport while juggling life’s obstacles. 

 Lester after pitching no-hitter--YahooSports.com

According to columnist Jeff Passan, during the news conference after the game, Lester said, “I threw a couple [no-hitters] in high school…but [this] one is a little different.”

 

Little does he know, this game will never compare to any others he has pitched.  The road Lester had to endure to reach such a life career will be one of the top encouraging stories in sports history. 

 

If anything, Lester’s tale teaches those to never give up; something that all athletes need to understand when standing toe-to-toe with competition.

 

Sean Speirs

 

SportsZone Fact:  Unfortunately, for the Kansas City Royals, this is not the first time they have been told “no-no” from a pitcher.  Their first given shutout was delivered by pitcher Nolan Ryan in 1973 when he played for the California Angels.  That same no-hitter game was marked the first out of seven no-hitters Ryan will go on to pitch throughout his career.

 

Images Courtesy of MSNBC.COM and YAHOOSPORTS.COM