The Detroit Tigers put in a fine day's work on Thursday. Led by Justin Verlander's solid outing, they wrapped up a 4-2 victory to take the double-header, and sweep the series from the Minnesota Twins. In addition, the Fighting Dave Dombrowski's of Boston took it to the Baltimore Orioles again. The Tigers now hold a half-game lead for the last wild card spot.
For once, the Tigers' offense started Justin Verlander off with a lead. After Ervin Santana struck out the side in the first, a leadoff single by Victor Martinez preceded consecutive walks to J.D. Martinez and Justin Upton, and put the Tigers' in prime shape to score in the second. Erick Aybar made it three walks in a row, forcing in the game's first run. Jarrod Saltalamacchia drove a ball just shy of the warning track in right to plate the Tigers' second run with a sacrifice.
Verlander on the other hand, mowed down Twins even as he sought for the feel on his breaking pitches. As the slider, and especially the curveball, got dialed in, the strikeouts added up. He had five through three innings, facing just 10 Twins hitters. However, as is his custom, he allowed a solo shot to catcher Jose Centeno in the third, to make the score 2-1.
Things got dicier in the fourth. Verlander allowed a walk, a single and a hit batter to load the bases with two outs. The strikeouts and some iffy command drove his pitch count toward 80 pitches. He rebounded though, striking out Jose Centeno on a 92 m.p.h. slider down-and-in to escape the jam. It was his eighth punch-out on the night, but the inning left the Tigers likely needing some heavy lifting from the bullpen.
Things got worse in the fifth. After a long fourth inning for Verlander, the heart of the Tigers order succumbed to Ervin Santana in the blink of an eye. Verlander returned to the mound, and, in a 3-2 count, surrendered a rocket to centerfield off the bat of Byron Buxton to knot the game at two runs apiece. He quickly rebounded to get three outs, but the lengthy inning left him at 94 pitches through five innings.
However, the Tigers' offense responded. Erick Aybar singled home Justin Upton and later took advantage of two passed balls to circle the bases and put the Tigers up 4-2.
Verlander added to his strikeout total in the sixth, running it up to 11 on the night, but his pitch count climbed over 110 as he blew away Eduardo Escobar with a 96 m.p.h. heater to wrap up the inning. Things would depend on a somewhat depleted Tigers' bullpen the rest of the way.
Justin Wilson gave up a walk, but struck out a pair in the seventh. Bruce Rondon, looking absolutely dominant over the past month, allowed a lead-off walk in the eighth. He responded by mowing down the next three hitters on strikes, running the Tigers' total to 16 strikeouts on the night. In the ninth, Francisco Rodriguez quickly put the Twins away for his 44th save in 48 tries, and the Detroit Tigers had themselves a sweep, and a grip on the final postseason ticket.
The Tigers had a 24 percent jump in playoff odds today— Nolan (@JOS_Tigers) September 23, 2016
Justin Verlander: Our expectations are off the charts for the Tigers' ace, but this was still a good outing. 54 pitches between the third and fourth kept him from going deep, but that also tends to happen when you rack up 11 strikeouts. Just not very efficient on a night when the Tigers were a bit short-handed after the day game. Meanwhile, home runs continue to be the one thing standing between Verlander and a return to his former status as the best pitcher in the league.
Erick Aybar: Drew a bases loaded walk in the second inning and singled in Justin Upton in the sixth, giving the Tigers a lead both times. He also advanced on Dozier's throwing error in the sixth, took third and then scored on a pair of wild pitches. Nice to have a solid veteran on the bench!
Bruce Rondon: Bounced back from a lead-off walk to strikeout the next three batters. More and more, Rondon looks like the monster reliever the Tigers hoped he'd become.
Jose Iglesias: Three hits and a RBI from the leadoff spot, filling in nicely for his double-play partner.
Francisco Rodriguez: No drama in sight.
That's not a hiss, it's the sound of a thousand tiny brooms sweeping the Twins into the offseason.
STATS AND REACTIONS:
- The Twins ran themselves into quite a few outs in today's double-header, courtesy of the arms of James McCann and Jarrod Saltalamacchia. McCann dusted a pair of runners trying to steal in game one, including Byron Buxton. Salty added another one in the first inning of the night game to erase Jorge Polanco.
- In his last few starts, Verlander seemed to lean more on his slider, but he didn't really have it tonight. Instead the curveball, and more of a 11-5 version than his usual 12-6 hammer, was his best secondary pitch, freezing Twins hitters all night.
- Twins relievers had allowed a franchise record 300 runs coming into this one. (h/t FSD)
- Bruce Rondon has 28 strikeouts(31.1%), versus just seven walks in 21 2/3 innings since the All-Star break. His FIP in that time frame? 2.39.
- Left-handed hitters are 0-for-26 against Francisco Rodriguez dating back to mid-August. That's what a great changeup will do for you.
WIN PROBABILITY GRAPH: