Unlike every other team surrounding them in the standings, the Detroit Tigers do not have any remaining games against the top six contenders for the two AL Wild Card positions. While they do not have the chance to directly knock out their competition, they do have the luxury of watching their foes take games from each other. Whether they can take advantage of this or not is a whole different issue.
If the Tigers do not find a way to take this series against the Minnesota Twins, they will not deserve a playoff berth, and will be unlikely to receive one. Detroit only managed a four-game series split against them last week and must do much better during this three-game set. The Tigers enter the game within striking distance of the playoffs despite playing just .500 ball over the past month and a half.
Matt Boyd gets the ball in Game 1 for the Tigers after making a terrible start against the Twins seven days ago. Boyd surrendered seven runs and eight hits with just two strikeouts over just 3 2⁄3 innings. However, his previous five starts featured a 2.40 ERA and 1.17 WHIP over 30 innings pitched. With the current state of the offense, the Tigers will need Boyd to bounce back to this form.
Can the Tigers do enough to scrape out the win?
Detroit Tigers (79-70) at Minnesota Twins (55-95)
Time/Place: 8:10 p.m., Target Field
SB Nation blog: Twinkie Town
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: LHP Matt Boyd (5-4, 4.43 ERA) vs. LHP Hector Santiago (12-8, 4.65 ERA)
Hector Santiago has been quite poor this season. His 4.65 ERA is not good, his 5.25 FIP is awful, and his 3.99 walks per nine innings leave much to be desired. His stat line was even worse entering his start against the Tigers five days ago, so, of course, he gave up just one run during the afternoon. The Tigers managed six hits but were unable to get to Santiago, as he exited during the sixth inning relatively unscathed.
To be fair, Santiago has looked alright over his past four outings, pitching 25 innings with a 1.80 ERA. However, his 4.70 FIP during this stretch indicates that he may have been a little lucky. Santiago has walked as many batters as he has struck out during this time frame, and his .211 BABIP seems unlikely to continue. The Tigers will hope to shift these numbers back to normal.
The biggest problem for the Tigers against Santiago last week was being able to drive runners home. The Tigers had two men on base during the third, fourth, fifth, and sixth innings but only managed to push one run across the plate. Santiago has allowed 1.59 home runs per nine innings this season and the Tigers must find a way to exploit this.
Hitter to fear: Robbie Grossman (.750/.857/1.750 in 7 plate appearances)
Hitter to fail: Kurt Suzuki (.167/.250/.167 in 8 plate appearances)
Boyd has done well against the Twins in his career, which made his last start all the more puzzling. His previous two outings against Minnesota resulted in just three runs in 12 combined innings with 14 strikeouts. It would be surprising to see Boyd struggle so greatly again, but anything goes this time of year.
If the playoffs are going to happen for the Tigers this year, the winning needs to happen now. These three games against the Twins are probably the easiest left on the schedule, and with so many teams left in the AL Wild Card race, any dropped game can prove fatal. The Tigers were handled by Santiago last week, but expect them to make the necessary adjustments. This is crunch time, and the big bats need to lead the way.
Boyd pitches well enough and the bullpen hangs on for a close Tigers win.