Three years ago, the Minnesota Twins gave the Tigers all they could handle down the stretch as Detroit marched toward their fourth consecutive AL Central title. While the Tigers ultimately won the crown with a 90-72 record, it came down to the slimmest of margins. The biggest reason for that slim gap? A Twins team that beat Detroit in 10 of 19 meetings and outscored them 85-60 in their 11 games after the All-Star break.
The two teams have taken on opposite roles this year, and so has the script. Detroit entered this weekend’s series with a chance to decide Minnesota’s fate; seven of the Twins’ final 10 games are against these Tigers. With a slim 1 1⁄2 game lead over the Los Angeles Angels as of Thursday morning, Minnesota needed to take care of business against the reeling Tigers.
We’re only two games in, but Detroit has provided little resistance against a Twins ballclub that had lost five of their last six heading into the series. Tigers pitchers have ceded 18 runs in two games, and the offense has looked lifeless after I praised their post-trade efforts last week.
Unfortunately, this late season sputter has all but cost baseball fans another close playoff race. Minnesota has already extended their AL Wild Card lead to three games, and could basically lock things up with a couple more wins this weekend.
Minnesota Twins (80-74) at Detroit Tigers (62-92)
Time/Place: 6:10 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation site: Twinkie Town
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Ervin Santana (15-8, 3.34 ERA) vs. LHP Matt Boyd (6-10, 5.33 ERA)
Game 155 Pitching Matchup
Ervin Santana has had a bit of a resurgence in his mid-30s. As a relatively homer-prone starter even during the offensive dead periods of the last decade, his numbers have always been subject to a little more volatility than most. However, he has taken a liking to pitching in Minnesota. In three years with the Twins, Santana has managed a 3.50 ERA with a solid 1.20 WHIP. Advanced metrics aren’t quite as high on his performance during that time frame, but measures like FIP have never liked Santana due to the home run issues.
This year isn’t much better than what he has produced in the past. If anything, it has been a step back from 2016 due to some home run regression. However, Santana has acted as a capable ace for a young Twins team hurtling towards the playoffs. He has been one of the more efficient starters in the American League, averaging more innings per start than players like Dallas Keuchel, Carlos Carrasco, and, yes, Justin Verlander. Santana will top 200 innings for the first time since 2013 and sixth time in his career. He even leads the majors with five complete games and three shutouts.
Santana just simply eating innings has been important for the Twins. Until Kyle Gibson’s start on Friday, Santana was the only Twins starter with more than 150 innings pitched on the year. He is one of just three Twins starters with at least 100 innings under their belt, and has been a bellcow for a rotation that has been without veterans Phil Hughes and Hector Santiago for most of the season.
Key matchup: Twins hitters vs. solving left-handed pitching
The Twins have had one of the more productive offenses in baseball this year, scoring nearly five runs per game. Advanced metrics bear that out as well; the Twins are tied for eighth among MLB teams with a 101 wRC+ this year, and have supplemented that with the best baserunning in the American League.
For whatever reason, however, lefties have given them fits. The Twins have only managed a .736 OPS against left-handed pitching this year, a 93 wRC+. This ranks in the middle of the pack among MLB teams, and is rather surprising for a team that rosters lefty mashers like Brian Dozier and Miguel Sano. However, the Twins have been undone by a lack of power against lefties; their .147 isolated power (ISO) against lefties is the sixth-lowest in the game (fun fact: the Tigers are #1 in MLB by a mile.
This bodes well for Matt Boyd, who has struggled against righties and with the home run ball in his career. The Twins have fared a little better against lefty starters than relievers, but still struggle to get things going at times.
Pick to click: Nicholas Castellanos
Santana has had problems with the home run ball throughout his career, and this season has been no exception. The 34-year-old righthander has given up 30 dingers in just under 200 innings. It’s the sixth time opponents have hit at least 25 off him in his career.
Speaking of 25 home runs, Castellanos reached that plateau for the first time in his career on Friday evening. He now has an .808 OPS, and is tied for fifth in the American League with 69 extra-base hits. He has also hit well against Santana in a limited sample, collecting six hits (but no homers) in 13 at-bats.
The bullpen spoils another strong start from Boyd and the Tigers lose their sixth in a row.