Detroit Tigers (65-77) at Minnesota Twins (74-68)
Time/Place: 8:10 p.m., Target Field
SB Nation blog: Twinkie Town
Pitching Matchup: LHP Kyle Lobstein (3-7, 5.31 ERA) vs. RHP Tyler Duffey (2-1, 4.18 ERA)
Righthander Tyler Duffey wasn't on anyone's radar to begin the 2015 season. Coming off a solid season at Double-A in 2014, Duffey was ranked as the 20th-best prospect in the Twins' system by Twinkie Town. He started the season back at Double-A, but quickly moved up to Triple-A after eight dominant starts. Duffey shined in his first lengthy stint in the International League, posting a 2.53 ERA and 2.38 FIP in 85 1/3 innings. He only struck out 19.5 percent of the batters he faced, but walked just 5.2 percent of opposing hitters for a 3.78 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Opponents hit .235 with a .277 on-base percentage against him in 14 starts, nine of which went six innings or longer.
The impressive showing led to a major league call-up in August ahead of uber prospect Jose Berrios, a 21-year-old righthander with electric stuff. Duffey, whose fastball sits at 91-92 miles per hour, was rocked in his debut, allowing six runs in two innings against the Toronto Blue Jays. After a brief trip back to Rochester, Duffey has made five starts against non-juggernaut lineups, posting a 2.67 ERA with 29 strikeouts in his last 30 1/3 innings. Duffey's command has not been as sharp, with 15 walks in 32 1/3 total MLB innings this year, but he has a 50.5 percent ground ball rate and is inducing whiffs at a 9.3 percent clip.
It remains to be seen how effective Duffey can be as a long-term starter. He has primarily worked with two pitches since being called up -- his fastball and a lethal curveball that he throws two-thirds of the time in two-strike counts. He has mixed in the occasional changeup, but is likely headed for the bullpen in 2016. Whether he develops a third pitch or not, keeping the ball down in the strike zone like he has thus far is an encouraging sign for his future.
Like Justin Verlander, Kyle Lobstein is going through a bit of a rusty period since returning from a lengthy stint on the disabled list. Lobstein has allowed 11 runs on 15 hits in 10 innings since returning to the Tigers' rotation, resulting in a pair of bad losses. While two starts is a very small sample, Lobstein has allowed much more power than usual. Eight of the 15 hits he has allowed have gone for extra bases, compared to the 14 extra-base hits he allowed in eight starts prior to his injury. The main culprits have been Lobstein's fastball and changeup. Both of them have lost movement since he returned from the disabled list, and opponents have sat on them for 13 of the 15 hits Lobstein has allowed.
Hitter to fear: Joe Mauer (.333/.500/.667 in 8 plate appearances)
Hitter to fail: Eric Fryer (.167/.167/.167 in 6 plate appearances)
I wasn't even aware that a player named Eric Fryer existed, but Lobstein handled him well in two matchups late last season. Unfortunately, he is about the only Twins hitter that Lobstein has fared well against. They scored nine runs in 10 1/3 innings against him last fall, and tacked on another six runs in 2 1/3 innings on May 13. While not that adept at hitting lefties overall, the Twins are batting .333/.403/.556 in three meetings with the 26-year-old lefthander.
Thanks to an unbalanced schedule, the Tigers are only seeing rookie sensation Miguel Sano for the second time since he was called up at the beginning of July. He did plenty of damage in that series with a pair of doubles and a home run, and is hitting .272/.387/.574 with 16 home runs in 243 plate appearances. Despite Sano's efforts, however, the Twins are still a below average offensive unit. They are scoring just 4.3 runs per game in the second half, though things have picked up lately, as the Twins have gone 14-7 in their last 21 games. There is still a bit of a horseshoe effect with this team -- they're six games above .500 with a negative run differential -- but they have the bats to punish a bad pitching staff.
Duffey keeps rolling and the Twins win their fourth game in five nights.