Tigers and Twins hit the road with AL Central title still up for grabs

Updated: September 24, 2009

Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Carl Pavano, 3-3 since joining the Twins, gets the series going for Minnesota in Kansas City.

The Tigers and Twins are involved in the only remaining pennant race. Detroit leads the AL Central by three games and spends the weekend in Chicago. The chasing Twins, meanwhile, go visit the Royals.

Twins at Royals

The Twins' pitching staff lines up pretty well against a Royals team that is hot right now. The Royals have no pressure on them because all they are doing is trying to play spoiler.

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Twins manager Ron Gardenhire is so good, and this team is so fundamentally sound. Minnesota can't go out and get big free-agent pickups and spend a lot of money. Instead, the Twins focus on the fundamentals and work hard to perfect them. They are great with runners in scoring position. They can't rely on the long ball, so they hit behind runners, run well and take the extra base.

Michael Cuddyer has been ridiculously good this month (seven homers, 21 RBIs). His production has served as a quick pick-me-up for the Twins. The trade for Orlando Cabrera to solidify the shortstop position was huge because defensively he is one of the best. Offensively, he has so much experience in playoff baseball that he is always taking a good at-bat or coming up with a big hit with runners in scoring position.

The Twins and Royals last met Aug. 21-23. Minnesota swept Kansas City at home in that three-game series, but this is a different Royals team. The biggest difference about the Royals this time around is Zack Greinke. This will be the first time this season the Twins are going up against Greinke, who pitches Sunday.

The Royals already are thinking about next year, so you have a lot of guys fighting for positions. This last week and a half is critical because everyone wants to play and leave a good impression on the coaches before going home for the offseason.

Even though the Royals have been playing better than before, the Twins will win this series.

Tigers at White Sox

The Tigers allowed the Twins back into this race, but they have played well lately to keep Minnesota from coming all the way back. The Tigers have Nate Robertson, Eddie Bonine and Edwin Jackson going this weekend against Jake Peavy, Freddy Garcia and Daniel Hudson for the White Sox.

White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen has been pressuring his players to make an impression at the end of the season and finish strong. The Tigers' offense has been clicking lately. Placido Polanco gets big hits in big situations. As the pressure grows, he gets better.

Ultimately, the White Sox have a lot of guys who want to make a lasting impression and crush the Tigers' spirits.

Defensively the Tigers have been great with Adam Everett and Polanco up the middle. Plus, they have Brandon Inge over there at third. Curtis Granderson can be a big force from the leadoff spot, and Miguel Cabrera has been on fire of late.

Even though Chicago has a solid lineup and a healthy Peavy, this series means too much for Detroit. The Tigers should win this series and maintain that edge in the AL Central.

Past Baseball Tonight Clubhouses: Sept. 23 | Sept. 22 | Sept. 21 | Sept. 20 | Sept. 17

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
Troy Tulowitzki, COL30RichardBot 1: 0-0, 1 Out. 2 on.
Matt Kemp, LAD26MartinTop 1: 0-0, 0 Outs. 2 on.
David Ortiz, BOS26LerewTop 4: 1-2, 0 Outs. None on.
Jack Cust, OAK23FeldmanBot 4: 1-2, 1 Out. None on.
Jimmy Rollins, PHI20SuppanTop 5: 2-2, 1 Out. 2 on.
Franklin Gutierrez, SEA17RomeroTop 3: 1-2, 1 Out. 1 on.
Shin-Soo Choo, CLE17RodneyBot 9: 2-2, 2 Outs. 1 on.
Vernon Wells, TOR15HernandezBot 6: 0-0, 0 Outs. 2 on.
Rafael Furcal, LAD9VilloneTop 8: 1-0, 1 Out. None on.
Nick Hundley, SD8HammelTop 5: 0-0, 1 Out. None on.
Lastings Milledge, PIT3ArroyoBot 7: 1-0, 0 Outs. None on.
The complete list of Thursday's homers

ON DECK: WEEKEND WATCH

Red Sox at Yankees

Can the Red Sox go into the Bronx and sweep the Yankees, thus making it at least a little interesting in the AL East heading into the postseason? Both teams are headed to the playoffs, but who knows what a big weekend from either team could do to the other's psyche. Jon Lester and Joba Chamberlain get things going in the opener.

Cubs at Giants

The series kicked off Thursday, and it carries some significance for the Giants. They remain in the NL wild-card race, trying to chase down the Rockies. Also, Tim Lincecum is vying for his second consecutive Cy Young. He heads to the mound in an intriguing matchup Friday, when he faces the Cubs' Carlos Zambrano. Lincecum beat the Cubs earlier this year at Wrigley Field.

Cardinals at Rockies

The Rockies are trying to hang on to that NL wild-card berth. At the same time, they will be trying to help out at least one member of the pursuing Giants in a way. On Friday, the Rockies face Chris Carpenter. On Saturday, they get Adam Wainwright. Those two pitchers are the top contenders, along with Lincecum, for the NL Cy Young Award.

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

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ESPN2
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Analysts: Fernando Vina, Orestes Destrade

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

BBTN MINUTE: BIG WEEKEND FOR TIGERS, TWINS

SIMON SAYS

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

Tonight, he takes a look at the AL Cy Young race after Felix Hernandez bolstered his case with an 11-strikeout effort in a 5-4 win against the Blue Jays:

AL Cy Young battle
Past six starts
Felix Hernandez Zack Greinke CC Sabathia
W-L 5-0 4-0 4-0
ERA 1.57 0.63 2.16
BA against .191 .155 .227
K's per 9 IP 6.7 9.8 9.9

THURSDAY'S BEST AND WORST

BEST
Clay Buchholz• While Felix Hernandez and Justin Verlander were strikeout machines, Clay Buchholz continued his run of solid starts for the Red Sox. Buchholz tossed 6 2/3 innings of scoreless ball in a 10-3 win against the Royals, striking out eight against zero walks to win his sixth consecutive decision.
WORST
Scott Feldman's quest to win 20 games hit a significant roadblock against the A's. Feldman, 8-1 since August started, gave up seven hits and seven runs in 3 1/3 innings of a 2-3 loss. But that wasn't all -- he also handed out five walks.

WEB GEMS

NUMBERS TO KNOW

Tim LincecumChris CarpenterCy Young candidates Chris Carpenter and Tim Lincecum take the mound Friday night in two series that will go a long way to determining the NL wild-card winner.

The two right-handers have combined for 30 wins so far this year (Carpenter 16, Lincecum 14), thanks in large part to their off-speed dominance.

Carpenter vs. Lincecum
Off-speed dominance
Carpenter Lincecum MLB avg.
BA against .174 .151 .226
Chase pct. 31.6 35.0 29.7
Miss pct. 33.3 39.0 29.8

The Cardinals travel to Colorado to face the wild-card leader. The Rockies are an average off-speed hitting team (.230 BA, fifth in NL) and chase just 28.1 percent of those pitches (fourth-lowest in NL).

The Giants are at home against the Chicago Cubs, the worst-hitting team against off-speed pitches in the NL at a .206 clip. They also chase the second-most off-speed pitches in the NL, swinging at 32.6 percent of those outside the strike zone.

With time running out on the Giants and Lincecum, successful off-speed stuff could vault him to the top of the Cy Young race and, if Carpenter can have the same off-speed success in Colorado, the Giants closer to the playoffs.

-- 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:

NL WILD CARD
TEAM W-L GB POFF
Rockies 86-67 -- 79.7%
Braves 82-70 3.5 12.5%
Giants 82-71 4.0 4.2%
Marlins 82-71 4.0 3.5%
AL CENTRAL
TEAM W-L GB POFF
Tigers 82-70 -- 81.4%
Twins 79-73 3.0 18.6%

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