Twins' best chance to chase down Tigers comes this weekend

Updated: September 17, 2009

Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

The Twins will have to chase down the Tigers without the services of injured Justin Morneau.

The closest divisional race remaining is happening in the AL Central, where the Twins and even the White Sox remain in striking distance of the struggling Detroit Tigers. This weekend, the Twins, four games back of Detroit, host the Tigers for three games at the Metrodome.

This weekend is just the beginning for these two teams. It will be the first of seven games between the clubs between now and Oct. 1. (The Tigers also have six more left with the White Sox). The Twins will be playing the rest of the season without first baseman Justin Morneau, who has been sidelined with a stress fracture in his back. That might be enough to keep the Twins from overtaking the Tigers, who aren't playing very well these days. Still, a four-game lead with 15 to play is very difficult to overcome. The Twins almost have to sweep this series, but with those four left in Detroit (Sept. 28-Oct. 1), winning two out of three this weekend would at least keep their hopes alive.

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LINEUP CHANGE

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The Twins are playing well, and they've won four straight games entering the series. They've played well against the Tigers this season, winning seven of 11 games and averaging almost seven runs per game. It has been quite a series between the two teams this year, with scores of 10-8, 8-7, 14-10 (in 13 innings) and 11-9. The last time the teams played (Aug. 7-9), the Tigers won two out of three but allowed 26 runs in the three games. Without Morneau, though, it's hard to imagine the Twins scoring that many runs in this three-gamer.

Featured series: Tigers at Twins
FRIDAY
Tigers (Rick Porcello) at Twins (Brian Duensing), 8:10 p.m. ET
SATURDAY
Tigers (Justin Verlander) at Twins (Carl Pavano), 4:10 p.m. ET
SUNDAY
Tigers (Jarrod Washburn) at Twins (Scott Baker), 2:10 p.m. ET

The Tigers will start rookie Rick Porcello against Brian Duensing on Friday night. Justin Verlander will oppose Carl Pavano on Saturday afternoon; they pitched against each other Aug. 8, and the Twins won 11-0. On Sunday, Jarrod Washburn will face the Twins' best starter, Scott Baker. Washburn lasted only one inning in his most recent start, the shortest of his career. Baker, meanwhile, has lost only once since July 12.

We've learned over the years, especially this decade, never to underestimate the Twins, even in difficult situations such as this. The Tigers did indeed fold down the stretch two years ago, and failed to make the playoffs, but that likely won't happen this year.

Past Baseball Tonight Clubhouses: Sept. 16 | Sept. 15 | Sept. 14 | Sept. 13 | Sept. 10

TOUCH 'EM ALL

Touch 'Em AllWho went deep? Keep track of all the home runs hit each day on "Baseball Tonight" and on the Baseball Tonight Clubhouse page.

For more, check out the Home Run Tracker page.

Home Run Tracker
NAME HR OPPSITUATION
Jason Bay, BOS33SantanaBot 4: 2-0, 1 Out. 1 on.
Miguel Cabrera, DET30ChenBot 6: 0-0, 1 Out. 1 on.
Jose Lopez, SEA24JenksBot 9: 1-0, 0 Outs. None on.
Miguel Olivo, KC21JacksonTop 3: 1-1, 1 Out. 2 on.
Howie Kendrick, LAA9BeckettTop 3: 1-1, 0 Outs. None on.
The complete list of Thursday's homers

ON DECK: WEEKEND WATCH

Giants at Dodgers

Tampa Bay RaysBoston Red Sox The Giants are too far back to catch the Dodgers in the NL West; L.A. will open this series with an 8½-game lead over San Francisco. The Dodgers are five in front of Colorado. But the Giants still have the Rockies in their sights in the wild-card race, trailing Colorado by 3½. Jonathan Sanchez gets the series started for the Giants, which might not be the best news for San Francisco. He is 0-3 with a 6.05 ERA against L.A. this season.

Rockies at Diamondbacks

Texas RangersSeattle Mariners The Rockies, leading the NL wild card, have been streaky the past month. They closed August on a five-game losing streak, which, of course, came after they had won eight of nine. Colorado then opened September by winning 10 of 11, which included an eight-game winning streak. That eight-game run was followed by four losses in a row. So it's hard to figure what to expect from the Rockies this weekend in Arizona. Things haven't gone well for the Diamondbacks, who are 4-11 this month.

Angels at Rangers

Los Angeles AngelsChicago White Sox Last chance for the Rangers. They stand 6½ back of L.A. in the AL West heading into the series. They trail Boston by six in the wild card. Tommy Hunter opens the series for the Rangers, and he is 5-1 since Aug. 1. Scott Feldman follows him. Feldman finally lost in his most recent start, snapping a run in which he was 7-0 in eight starts. Feldman is also 2-0 in three starts this season against the Angels. Derek Holland, who closes the series on Sunday, hasn't had quite the same success as Hunter and Feldman lately. No, he is 0-4 in his past four starts and has given up at least five runs in each outing.

For the rest of Friday's schedule, click here. To see what's on tap for Saturday, click here. And for Sunday's full slate of games, click here.


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BBTN ON THE AIR: FRIDAY

TIME WHO'S ON?
9:30 p.m. ET
ESPN2
Host: Steve Berthiaume
Analysts: Tim Kurkjian, Buck Showalter, Eric Young
1 a.m. ET
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Host: Steve Berthiaume
Analysts: Tim Kurkjian, Buck Showalter, Eric Young

BBTN ON THE AIR: SATURDAY

TIME WHO'S ON?
1 a.m. ET
ESPN2
Host: Steve Berthiaume
Analysts: Tim Kurkjian, Buck Showalter, Eric Youngs

BBTN ON THE AIR: SUNDAY

TIME WHO'S ON?
6 p.m. ET
ESPN
Host: Karl Ravech
Analysts: John Kruk, Peter Gammons, Dave Winfield

BBTN MINUTE: FADING TIGERS

SIMON SAYS

Simon Says ESPN researcher Mark Simon digs deep looking for the night's best baseball numbers.

Tonight, he takes a look at Zack Greinke, who bolstered his Cy Young Award candidacy by pitching five solid innings in a win against the Tigers on Thursday:

Lowest ERA in a season
Pitcher 25 or younger (Since 1969)
Pitchers Year ERA
Dwight Gooden 1985 1.53
Vida Blue 1971 1.82
Pedro Martinez 1997 1.90
Gary Nolan 1972 1.99
Zack Greinke 2009 2.14

Notes: Non-shortened season; age measured as of June 30 within that season.

THURSDAY'S BEST AND WORST

BEST
Cole HamelsCole Hamels took a perfect game into the fifth inning against the Nationals. By the time he handed the ball over to Brad Lidge in the ninth, Hamels had allowed five hits and one run, compiled 10 strikeouts and picked up his 10th win of the year in the Phillies' 4-2 victory.
WORST
• The White Sox led 3-1 heading into the bottom of the ninth against the Mariners. Closer Bobby Jenks couldn't close it out. Instead, he served up a pair of solo homers, including the game-tying shot by Bill Hall with two outs. The Mariners eventually won the game 4-3 in 14 innings.

WEB GEMS

NUMBERS TO KNOW

Brian DuensingBrian Duensing will take the hill Friday against Detroit in hopes of bringing Minnesota within three games of the division lead. Duensing has made only six starts this season, but he has pitched well in three starts this month.

He has a 1.42 ERA in September after posting an ERA of 4.37 through August. A lot of Duensing's success in September can be attributed to his nasty slider, which has been untouchable, even more so than to start the season.

Duensing's Slider
April-August September MLB avg.
BA against .161 .063 .222
BA against with 2 strikes .087 .000 .162
Chase pct. 37.1 56.0 31.2

--Batters are 0-for-12 against Duensing's slider with two strikes in September.

-- ESPN Stats & Information

FANTASY: PREVIEW OF FRIDAY'S GAMES

Fantasy Adam Madison examines the 15 games on Friday's slate.

Madison ranks the pitchers scheduled to take the mound and supplies loads of other information that could help shape your roster for Friday. Daily Notes

HUNT FOR OCTOBER

Here's the latest in the wild-card races:

AL WILD CARD
TEAM W-L GB POFF
Red Sox 86-59 -- 98.8%
Rangers 80-65 6.0 4.7%
NL WILD CARD
TEAM W-L GB POFF
Rockies 83-64 -- 80.3%
Giants 79-67 3.5 10.59%
Marlins 78-69 5.0 2.4%
AL CENTRAL
TEAM W-L GB POFF
Tigers 78-68 -- 77.3%
Twins 74-72 4.0 20.3%
White Sox 72-75 6.5 2.4%

For more on all the playoff races, see the Hunt for October