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Twins 4, Tigers 3: Bullpen squanders a stellar Skubal start

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Well folks, that’s probably a wrap on our wild card hopes.

Detroit Tigers v Minnesota Twins Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Saturday’s matchup with the Minnesota Twins felt like “must win” territory for the Tigers. Unfortunately, they blew two leads, with the offense squandering scoring chances and the bullpen melted down to lose this one in walkoff fashion by a score of 4-3.

For six innings, Kenta Maeda and Tigers’ rookie Tarik Skubal gave us a fantastic pitching duel with very contrasting styles. The precision of Maeda’s splitter-slider heavy approach carried him through six frames, while the power of Skubal’s heater did the same for him. Ultimately things came down to a battle of the bullpens.

Victor Reyes continues to flex his nascent power game, and he led off the contest with a rocket over the right field wall to make it 1-0. Maeda shook that off and proceeded to carve up the Tiger offense, recording 18 straight outs.

Meanwhile, Skubal was absolutely dominating with his fastball and not much else. He mixed in his changeup and threw a few breaking balls, but really didn’t have the feel for much beyond the heater. It didn’t matter. Other than a fourth inning walk to Josh Donaldson, who was quickly erased by a double play ball, Skubal didn’t really break a sweat until the fifth inning.

In the fifth, Brent Rooker led off with a single, which was the first Twins hit of the day. The next hitter, Miguel Sano, striped a fastball away into right field to put runners at first and third. Skubal induced a double play ball back to himself with a slider to Eddie Rosario. He wisely resisted the urge to throw home, and the literal Twin killing snuffed out the rally as Byron Buxton was quickly dusted with three straight fastballs to end the inning. Skubal allowed a walk in the sixth, but rather easily cleaned up after himself from there to end an excellent outing.

Six innings, one earned run on two hits, and two walks, with six strikeouts, will get a round applause for anyone, rookie or not. Austin Romine called a nice game, judiciously mixing Skubal’s changeup and slider into the mix and urging him to keep them out of the heart of the plate. But really, this was just a demonstration of what an elite fastball can do for you even with just major league average command.

Maeda’s magic finally wore thin in the seventh inning. Jonathan Schoop drew a leadoff walk, and scampered first-to-third on a Miguel Cabrera single. Twins manager Rocco Baldelli lifted Maeda in favor of Tyler Clippard at that point. It didn’t help, as Jeimer Candelario, Willi Castro, and Jorge Bonifacio followed with three straight singles to plate two runs and leave the bases loaded with no outs.

Unfortunately, a weak bouncer from Christin Stewart, a strikeout from Austin Romine, and a lazy fly ball to center field from Isaac Paredes stranded the bases loaded. The Tigers had a 3-1 lead, but no one was feeling too comfortable.

Lloyd McClendon—manager Ron Gardenhire was feeling under the weather for this one— turned to Joe Jiménez in the seventh. There’s really no point in complaining about bullpen usage now as the Tigers are in the midst of playing 12 straight games, mostly on the road, in just 10 days. It’s all hands on deck time.

Jiménez looked good briefly, punching out Nelson Cruz on a nasty slider and setting Jake Cave down as well. However, he then hung a meatball of a slider right in Miguel Sano’s wheelhouse, and the big first baseman dented the facing of the second deck in left field with it. He also rubbed it in Jiménez’s face a bit, returning what he claimed was some Jiménez smack talk from last season. McClendon turned to Gregory Soto against Eddie Rosario, and Soto quickly dispatched him.

The two clubs went quickly in the eighth, and Jose Cisnero got the call this time to close this one out in the ninth. In his first shot at the closer role, Cisnero committed the cardinal sin. He was far too deferential to leadoff man Josh Donaldson and issued a leadoff walk. He got a would-be double play ball off the bat of Nelson Cruz, but the hard grounder hit Cisnero in the thigh and there was no play. Yes, things were getting quite uncomfortable.

The Twins had Jake Cave try to bunt the two runners over, which predictably led to Cave getting rung up, but it wasn’t enough. Miguel Sano drilled a grounder into left and pinch runner Ehire Adrianza came around from second with the tying run. An Eddie Rosario groundout to first base moved Cruz to third, as Jeimer Candelario’s throw to second went high, preventing a potential, though perhaps unlikely, double play that would’ve ended it. Byron Buxton slapped a grounder to shortstop that Willi Castro couldn’t turn over fast enough, and Buxton won the footrace to first. Cruz rumbled home in the process, and that was all she wrote.

The Tigers have now lost four in a row to kick off the toughest part of their schedule this year. Casey Mize will look to turn the tide, but after squandering three straight games in which they got strong starting pitching, their goose is just about cooked.

Notes

-Obviously the positive here was Tarik Skubal’s strong outing. With only a few weeks of work under his belt, the lefty with the monster fastball is already capable of mastering a tough lineup full of power-hitting right-handers. As his command, and hopefully his slider, improve, he has a good chance of outshining his fellow top prospect pitchers.

-Victor Reyes continues to produce and play quality defense. We saw a bit of home run power show up in Toledo last year, and he’s beginning to tap into it in the majors. He collected another two hits tonight, as did Willi Castro.