By H. Jose Bosch and Andy Weise
The Detroit Tigers and the Minnesota Twins are the only real reason to keep track of baseball this week. For those of you lost in college football and the NFL, the Tigers are just two games ahead of the Twins and tonight is the first game of a big four-game series between the two clubs.
Twins fan Andy Weise and I exchanged e-mails about tonight’s game and the series.
HJB-My first question to Andy is why, WHY! do the Twins always come back despite being so mediocre during the regular season? I mean, off the top of my head I can remember just one season in recent memory where the Twins were clear cut better than everyone else. The rest of the time they just seem to stew in crappiness with everyone else until the last few weeks of the season. (I ask this because I respect the hell out of them for balling up late in the season, something the Tigers have had trouble doing.)
AW-Well it's nice to see the respect. I don't have the hatred for the Tigers like I have had for Cleveland and Chicago White Sox but I was disappointed last year in the Tigers vs. White Sox game that if Detroit one, the Twins would win the division and head to the playoffs.
The Twins overachieved last year, in my opinion. They had an extremely young staff that did fairly well and Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer finishing in the top five for the MVP race proved that they have the star power to carry this team. It's clear though that inconsistency in pitching has hurt them a lot this year. Guys like Glen Perkins and Francisco Liriano have been big time busts, they lost Kevin Slowey to injury and they've had to rely on guys like Carl Pavano down the stretch, not ideal!
What about the Tigers? Where do you see the problems on your team that have put them in a position where they could lose the division this week? They seem to have some big names in pitching and hitting but why haven't they closed this thing out yet?
HJB-Those big name pitchers and hitters haven't gotten the job done consistently. Edwin Jackson, who was a pleasant surprise of a Cy Young candidate, has gone 6-5 with a 4.80 ERA in the last two months of the season. Magglio Ordonez, who can reach base, just doesn't have pop in his bat. Curtis Granderson is an electric player, but this season he's been an awful lead off hitter. And the bullpen has chosen the final weeks of the season to pitch like we all thought they were: mediocre.
Don't even get me started on the Jarrod Washburn deal. I would make that trade again but I want to just take a golf club to that freaking knee and put it out of commission for good.
And don't be down on Pavano. He's been a Tiger killer of late. Speaking of pitchers, look at the probable match ups:
Nick Blackburn (11-11, 4.18) v. Rick Porcello (14-9, 4.14)
Brian Duensing (5-1, 3.33) v. Justin Verlander (17-9, 3.41)
Carl Pavano (13-11, 4.86) v. Eddie Bonine (0-1, 4.60)
Scott Baker (14-9, 4.48) v. Nate Robertson (2-2, 5.56)
There are only two pitchers on this list I'd trust (Verlander and Pavano since he's been a Tiger killer of late). Everyone else would make me nervous. Who do you like in this series?
I'm going to be optimistic and say Porcello, Verlander and Robertson can pull off wins. What's your perspective?
AW-I thought the Tigers getting Edwin Jackson was going to be a huge move. He looked good with Tampa Bay last year and I always see the Tigers making moves I wish the Twins would make. And you're right on Pavano; he's given the Twins a boost that they really needed with more than half of their rotation not helping this year.
As I look at the match ups for this series, tonight's game features two guys who really need to step it up and show their team's they can pitch in a big game setting. I do think Porcello is the better pitcher of the two right now but Blackburn has a little more experience. Tuesday's match up with Duensing and Verlander will probably feature the best match up of them all. If the Twins can keep it close and get to the bullpen once Verlander goes out, I think Minnesota can come away with that one. Do you like Bonine against Pavano? I don't know much about your guy but that might be a slugfest of a game. And finally, Baker versus Robertson is a good one given that the Twins haven't hit good against lefties. Baker needs to rebound after his loss to the Tigers a couple Sunday's ago and I think he can do that.
Offensively, Michael Cuddyer has to keep playing the way he has been playing. The Twins need production from some the lower part of the order too. Nick Punto looks like he's finally getting some good at-bats and Jose Morales has proved that his bat can help too.
I think the Twins have to win 3/4, they can afford to lose one but not two. I think game two and four will be the ones where the Tigers are favored to win.
HJB-I'm conceding the Bonine game right now. I have zero confidence in him. I agree with your assessments of the other games, which worries and excites me at the same time. As a Tigers fan I'm going to be a nervous wreck but as a baseball fan I know these are going to be some epic games and a nice appetizer for the postseason, especially for the guy whose team makes the playoff (*cough*me*cough*).
The only thing that worries me about the Verlander game is he has a tendency to give up a big inning late in his start and as you alluded to earlier, the Twins bullpen is pretty solid Detroit's has shown flashes of brilliance but I'd rather spot them a 2-3 run lead rather than go into the bullpen with a tied game or (eeek) trailing.
Everyone in the lineup is a tough out; they just haven't done it on a consistent basis (except for Miguel Cabrera). If there was ever a time for the line up to be clicking on all cylinders, it's during this series. Some of the changes the Tigers made, like getting Adam Everett and Gerald Laird, were done because we didn't need more sluggers and we needed a better defense in tight games. Now we'll see how the moves pay off. These are going to be tight games and I don't think Detroit can expect to slug its way into the postseason during this series.
Last question Andy. If you asked me the one thing I NEED to see in this series to make me feel good it's a solid bullpen. As I said, I think these games are going to be close and Detroit will need the 'pen more than ever (especially when Bonine and Robertson start). What's the ONE aspect of the Twins' game you want to see at its best during this series?
AW-One? Haha, I don't know if there is just one. Off the top of my head I have two right now -- starting pitchers cannot afford to let the game get out of reach early. If the starting pitchers for the Twins struggle early and let the game get out of hand, I'm going to worry. I've seen plenty of comebacks lately and some big innings from the Twins but I just don't think they have the firepower to do that too much more. The pitchers have to keep the games close or protect leads if we have them.
The other thing like I pointed out earlier -- Twins need to get offensive production from the infielders outside of Cuddyer. Punto, Matt Tolbert, Brendan Harris, Brian Buscher and Alexi Casilla, whoever they send out from all these guys, they have to produce some offense. It hurts the Twins big time if they can't get some guys on base for the top of the order to hit home.
It's nice that the race is only two games right now and the teams have four games head-to-head. You can't ask for anything more exciting at this point. Overall both teams have been extremely inconsistent and probably do not deserve to make the playoffs but rules are rules, the division winner will make the playoffs and head to New York to face the Yankees when all is said and done.
This post also appears in The Sports Bank.