The upcoming four game series versus the Twins is the biggest regular season series for the Tigers since 1987. Twenty-two years ago, the Tigers battled the Blue Jays for the American League East division title on the last two weekends of the season. It resulted in seven riveting games, each decided by just one run. The Tigers lost the first three but took the last four and clinched the division title on the last day of the season. It was probably the most exciting week of baseball I've ever experienced as a fan. Mike McClary is writing about that series in detail this week at The Daily Fungo.
We can only hope the series versus the Twins produces the same drama and results. Up by two games with seven to go, the Tigers can clinch the Central division title by taking three of four. If they split the series, they'll take a two game lead into the final weekend which would be a good position for them. If the Tigers win just one game, they'll be tied with the Twins. If the unthinkable happens and they get swept, they they will be two games out. Obviously they want to avoid the last two scenarios.
The first two games of the series are particularly important for the Tigers as their two hottest pitchers - Rick Porcello and Justin Verlander are going. The last two games will be started by Eddie Bonine and Nate Robertson, who are basicaly emergency starters down the stretch. The Twins counter with their top four starters - Nick Blackburn, Brian Duensing, Carl Pavano and Scott Baker. There are no aces there but all four have been solid.
The Twins lead the season series 9-5 but most of the damage has been done at the Metrodome where they have taken 7 of 9. In Comerica, where this series is being played, the Tigers have a 3-2 edge.
As for tonight's game, Blackburn enters with a 4.18 ERA and 89/40 K/BB ratio in 191 2/3 innings. He has allowed 1.13 homers per nine innings and is especially prone to the long ball on the road. He has been strong in in his last two starts holding opponents to just two runs in 13 1/3 innings. The Tigers mauled him in May at Detroit but he pitched a complete game versus the Bengals in July in Minnesota.
Rick Porcello has somewhat similar stats to Blackburn - 4.14 with an 80/49 ratio and 1.24 homers per nine innings. The biggest difference is Porcello's 55% ground ball rate versus 45% for Blackburn. Rick has faced the Twins three times this year - a very good game at home, a pretty good one in the Dome and a bad one at the Dome.
It all starts tonight at 7:05. I can hardly wait.