Detroit Tigers (66-78) at Minnesota Twins (75-69)
Time/Place: 8:10 p.m., Target Field
SB Nation blog: Twinkie Town
Pitching Matchup: LHP Daniel Norris (2-2, 4.43 ERA) vs. RHP Ervin Santana (5-4, 4.73 ERA)
After he missed the first half of the season due to a PED suspension, Ervin Santana ran into a buzzsaw. In his second start of the year, the Tigers tagged Santana for six runs on eight hits in four innings. This ballooned his ERA to 6.00 and Twins' fans' worst fears seemed to be materializing quite rapidly. He had some mixed results afterward; following a pair of shutout outings, Santana allowed eight runs in a loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Cleveland Indians tagged him for eight more runs 10 days later. Santana's ERA has been above 6.00 as late as August 25.
It's a small sample size, but something appears to have clicked lately. Santana is 3-0 in his last three starts, holding opponents to a 1.23 ERA and a .586 OPS in 22 innings. He has 27 strikeouts to just four walks during that span, including a pair of double-digit strikeout performances against the Houston Astros. Part of this could be the competition he has faced -- the Astros swing and miss more than any AL team while the Chicago White Sox are one of the more aggressive teams in the game -- but it could also be due to a more consistent release point.
The last time Tigers fans saw Daniel Norris, he was hitting home runs to dead center field at Wrigley Field. Sure, everyone else homered during that series too, but Norris' dinger was one of the longest the Tigers hit during that offensively-charged two-game set, when the Tigers out-scored the Cubs 25-16.
Norris also pitched during that game, and looked relatively effective given the circumstances. He allowed three runs on a pair of homers, one of which didn't even reach the seats, but struck out six in four innings before departing with an oblique strain. Had he not sustained his injury, it likely would have been Norris' third outing of six innings or more in four starts with the Tigers.
Tigers hitter to fear: Victor Martinez (.400/.444/.640 in 27 plate appearances)
Tigers hitter to fail: Rajai Davis (.200/.238/.250 in 21 plate appearances)
Santana has had plenty of success against the Tigers in his career, holding them to a 3.47 ERA and .693 OPS in 14 starts. Prior to his loss in July, Santana last faced the Tigers in 2013, when he threw 14 shutout innings across two starts. The current Tigers roster has fared much better against him, however, batting .314/.372/.523 in 188 plate appearances. Victor Martinez leads the way with a 1.084 OPS, but Ian Kinsler's .339 batting average in 66 plate appearances may arguably be the more impressive feat. Miguel Cabrera has been held in check, with a .238 average and .333 on-base percentage in 21 at-bats.
We've had to squint at times to find bright spots among this pitching staff, but identifying Daniel Norris as a building block for the future shouldn't take too much effort. The young lefthander has demonstrated his lofty potential, and has quickly become a fan-favorite to boot. Getting to see him pitch tonight, even for a few innings, will be one of the bright spots of this last month of baseball. Enjoy it, especially if the fastball looks sharp.
The Twins feast on the Tigers bullpen to take the series.