Everyone expected the AL Central to be a one-horse race before the season began, but calling the division in early June seemed like a stretch at the time. However, 60 games into the year and it seems likely that this division is over. Congratulations on a fourth-straight division title Clev... What’s that? The Indians are in second, 10.5 games behind first??
Indeed, it is the Minnesota Twins who have run away with the AL Central, already sitting 21 games above .500 and looking far and away like the most complete team. A team 121 wRC+ sits second in all of baseball, and a 90 FIP- is good for sixth-best. While the Indians are falling apart by the day and the other three squads not even trying to contend, the division has turned into the runaway like everyone expected, just with a different team ahead of the pack.
The Tigers will do their best to stop this train, and they did recently split a four-game set in Minnesota. Hopefully some of that momentum will carry over.
Minnesota Twins (41-20) at Detroit Tigers (23-36)
Time/Place: 7:10 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation site: Twinkie Town
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, fuboTV, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Michael Pineda (4-3, 5.34 ERA) vs. LHP Matthew Boyd (5-4, 3.01 ERA)
Game 60 Pitching Matchup
Matthew Boyd might be the best part about this season for the Tigers. Name a stat and he probably is featuring a career-high, including his dazzling 3.01 ERA, 2.76 FIP, or 1.02 WHIP. What stands out most though, is probably his 30.8 percent strikeout rate, sitting over nine points above his career mark. Couple this with a 4.8 percent walk rate, and it is easy to see why he is featuring his best season to date and one that should drive him to his first All-Star appearance barring any major meltdowns.
All of this success has made Boyd an interesting trade candidate to discuss. While it does not appear that the Tigers are overly eager to move what might be their best pitcher right now, his trade value may never be higher. Boyd is already 28 years old but is under inexpensive team control for a few more seasons. As Detroit looks to eventually exit this rebuild, swapping Boyd for a couple of future contributors could make a lot of sense, but they’ll need a haul to justify it.
The Twins have activated RHP Michael Pineda in time to start on Friday. The veteran right-hander has been on the injured list with a knee issue, but it appears that he should be good to go on Friday. Pineda has a 5.34 ERA in 11 starts this season with reduced strikeout numbers and elevated homers. A 45.1 percent fly ball rate and a 41.5 percent hard-hit rate tell most of the story of his early season.
The Tigers have already faced Pineda twice this season, scoring three runs against him in both games. The oft-injured right-hander still has a decent fastball, but he’s lost some mustard from it over the past few season. Meanwhile, the dynamic slider he featured earlier in his career as a strikeout artist with the Yankees has faded into a mediocre offering that doesn’t generate whiffs the way it used to and he’s struggling with the long ball.
On what is shaping up to be a glorious summer evening at the ballpark, the Tigers may be able to flex their muscles a bit against Pineda.
Key matchup: Boyd vs. boredom
There is no sense in sugar-coating it: the Tigers are not great this season. The on-field product can be hard to watch, but Boyd has been one of the few bright spots on the team. He had a mediocre outing last time out, but that was preceded by back-to-back scoreless starts of six innings each. When he, or Spencer Turnbull for that matter, take the mound, you’re seeing the best product the Tigers are capable of running out there right now. At least until they loosen their grip on some of their more advanced prospects.
Meanwhile the Twins are a juggernaut, dominating the AL Central and out to the best record in baseball. Just last night, Max Kepler hit three bombs off of a scuffling—by his standards—Trevor Bauer. This is a good team, and a hot one, and the Tigers need to back their best starter with some offense to cool the Twins off.
The Twins score some runs, but Boyd does enough to start the series with a win.