Minnesota Twins (79-75) at Detroit Tigers (72-82)
Time/Place: 1:08 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation blog: Twinkie Town
Pitching Matchup: RHP Ervin Santana (6-4, 4.31 ERA) vs. LHP Randy Wolf (0-4, 5.91 ERA)
Ervin Santana has been on a roll lately. After allowing five runs in 2 2/3 innings on August 25, Santana has held opponents to a 1.50 ERA in his last five starts. He is 4-0 during that stretch, with the lone no-decision coming against these Tigers on September 16. Nevertheless, this has been an impressive stretch for Santana, who has 39 strikeouts to just nine walks and one home run in 36 innings. Four of those nine walks came against Detroit, but he only allowed four hits in that game. Overall, he has a 1.00 WHIP during this hot stretch, proof of how dominant he can be when everything is clicking.
There haven't been any major changes that have sparked this hot streak. Santana is still relying heavily on his fastball and lethal slider, the latter of which is inducing swings and misses at a 22.1 percent clip in the last month. He has started throwing his changeup more often over the past two years, nearly doubling his usage from 2013 to 2014. He throws it 26 percent of the time against left-handed batters, and will even use it occasionally with two strikes against righties. It hasn't helped his numbers against lefties yet -- they're still hitting .257/.333/.455 against him this year -- but it may help extend his career if he can develop a bit more feel for it going forward.
After a trio of stinkers, Randy Wolf got back on track with a seven-inning, three-run outing against the Chicago White Sox. It's worth noting that the White Sox can't hit lefties to save their lives -- Kyle Ryan also went seven innings against them earlier that day -- and the Twins are faring much better at .258/.315/.413. Wolf struck out a season-high six hitters in the loss to Chicago, but he also walked four batters for his second start in a row. His command has seemingly evaporated at the major league level after walking just seven percent of batters at the minor league level.
In particular, he is leaving his fastball up in the zone far too often, a big reason why opponents are hitting .370 with a .722 slugging average against it this season.
Tigers hitter to fear: Josh Wilson (.381/.381/.667 in 21 plate appearances)
Tigers hitter to fail: Rajai Davis (.200/.238/.250 in 21 plate appearances)
Santana has had two very different starts against the Tigers this season. On July 10, the Tigers tagged him for six runs in four innings, but a late comeback -- yeah, that late comeback -- let him off the hook. Two months later, Santana held the Tigers to two runs through seven innings, but a leaky bullpen coughed up the lead in a 13-inning loss. The Tigers are hitting .286/.388/.548 against him this season, and their roster has a collective batting line of .299/.364/.490 in his 11-year career.
The Twins held steady in their AL wild card race with Saturday's win, and are 1 1/2 games back of the Houston Astros. Meanwhile the Tigers moved a half-game "ahead" of the San Diego Padres for the No. 8 overall pick in the 2016 draft. The Marlins, at No. 7, are well clear of the muck at 68-87, but there are six teams within two games "fighting" for the last three protected picks. With Santana pitching well lately, the Tigers may inch closer to that dubious (yet important) label.
The Twins get to Wolf early and roll to an easy win.