For the large majority of the season, Minnesota has been the best team in the American League Central, however they have been knocked off that lofty perch like a bunch of Russian spies, having lost to 11 of 16 and passed by Detroit and Chicago. Where have the Twins (45-40, -2.5 units) gone wrong, it’s simple, but it gets complicated. Minnesota is 19-10 (+4.4) in AL Central games, yet is 19-23 on the road. The Twins can still return to the top of the heap by winning division tilts; however they still have to play 40 more road contests, which will necessitate better results to climb up that ladder.
Detroit (46-37, +7.9) has jumped to the front of line, being winners of seven of last 10, thanks to flexing muscles with the heavy lumber. The Tigers have average 5.9 runs per contest in this stretch and reached double digit hits eight times, including last six outings. The always dangerous Miguel Cabrera is hotter than Jennifer Aniston in Smart Water ads, sporting a 16-game hitting streak. In his last dozen games, Cabrera is batting scorching .467, with nine extra base hits among his 21 base knocks and 13 RBI’s. “I’m looking forward to Friday,” said Cabrera. No kidding the way is swinging the bat.
The Twins trail the Tigers by two games in the standings and the opener sets up as good pitching matchup. Francisco Liriano (6-6, 3.32 ERA) gives it a go against Detroit, who is 15-9 this season against left-handed starters. Liriano however is 4-2 (3.49) lifetime vs. the Tigers and the Twinkies are tough on Friday nights with 27-12 record since last year.
Detroit ace Jason Verlander (10-5, 3.85) will toe the rubber for his club and is a -127 money line favorite at many online sports betting outlets. Verlander is just 5-7 (4.03) against Minnesota, nevertheless is 34-14 when playing on real grass (Tigers record). Detroit is 28-12 at home vs. teams averaging 2.75 or less extra base hits per game this season.
Game 1 Edge: Detroit
The biggest reason for the Tigers leapfrogging to division leadership is their play at Comerica Park. Detroit is an American League best 30-12 on home turf (MLB finest +15.9 units to start the weekend), batting .287 as a team with an on-base percentage of .354. Their play of late has been even more impressive, having won 15 of previous 17 in MoTown.
Manager Jim Leyland hands the ball to Jeremy Bonderman (4-6, 4.81), who after making seven of eight quality starts didn’t have much to show for it (2-3 record). He’s been racked in last three outings (25 hits and15 runs in 16 1/3 innings), with his slider not having usual bite and been hanging too many pitches. The Tigers have dropped last five contests at home when Bonderman faces winning club.
Minnesota will hope Justin Morneau can go for this battle if not the opener after suffering a mild concussion (loose term unless you suffered one) when he was accidentally kneed in the head Wednesday night. Morneau starts the series tied for second in hitting in the AL with .345 average and has 18 home runs along with 56 RBI’s.
For this Fox 4:10 Eastern conflict, Nick Blackburn (7-6, 6.00) will be Minny’s middle game starter. Blackburn is in danger of falling out of the rotation, allowing four or more earned runs in six of last seven starts, leading to capacious ERA of 9.28. That figure is actually lower than his 9.40 earned run average in road starts and Minnesota is languid 3-15 in Blackburn’s pitching attempts in road uniform.
Game 2 Edge: Detroit
Like Saturday, the last contest before the All-Star break will be a day game. This is an area Detroit has flourished with 22-13 record compared to Minnesota’s 14-17 mark.
Earlier this week skipper Ron Gardenhire flipped-flopped starting pitchers Carl Pavano and Kevin Slowey to give Pavano (9-6, 3.58), the club’s most consistent starter, one more outing before the break. The Twins right-hander pitches to contact, but doesn’t get into a great deal of trouble by limiting walks. Minny could likely use a strong outing from Pavano since they are 20-39 in road games vs. a good bullpen whose ERA is 3.75 or better over the last three seasons.
Detroit will go with 22-year old Andrew Oliver (0-2, 5.93) who is making just his fourth big league start and second versus the Twins. The lefty throws a late moving mid-90’s fastball and if can be more consistent around the plate with slider and change, could develop into a top quality starter.
Game 3 Edge: Minnesota
Both teams feature excellent bullpens, which suggest how the starters perform, will likely determine the series. Detroit has opening game edge and Minnesota in the closer. That leaves the middle encounter as possible decider. The Tigers are playing solid baseball, with tremendous home record and 27-20 mark in games decided by three or less runs. Though the Twins have taken six of first nine meetings in 2010, Detroit looks like the best series wager.