After taking two of three from the Royals this past weekend while the Tigers dropped two of their three games in Chicago, the Twins now sit two games out of first place entering this week's pivotal four-game series against in Detroit.
Now, the real work begins. The Twins are set to venture into enemy territory knowing that each game is essentially a must-win. A series split would leave them facing a two-game deficit entering their final series and essentially needing a miracle in the season's final weekend to have a shot at the division crown. Taking three of four would leave the two teams tied for first place. And of course, a series sweep would put the Twins in the driver's seat, two games ahead of the Tigers and needing simply to take care of business at home against the Royals next weekend.
The Twins have not swept a four-game series all year. In fact, they haven't even won one. Now, they'll be looking to take at least three of four in what is sure to be an intensely raucous environment. That's not good. However, there are a few things that bode well for the Twins as they head into this critical four-game set:
1) The Tigers have Eddie Bonine and Nate Robertson scheduled to pitch on Wednesday and Thursday.
Bonine is somehow managed to take a no-hitter into the sixth inning against the White Sox on Friday night (a game he eventually lost), but he is not a very good pitcher. He holds a 4.98 ERA and 25-to-15 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 56 career innings at the major-league level and had a 4.52 ERA in 766 1/3 career minor-league innings. A right-hander with mediocre stuff, the Twins should be able to feast on him. Robertson, meanwhile, has a 5.56 ERA and 1.79 WHIP in 27 big-league appearances this year and has been one of the worst starting pitchers in the majors over the past two seasons. He handled the Twins when he last faced them just over a week ago, but like Bonine he's not a guy that should be trusted in crucial games.
2) The Twins have had success against Rick Porcello and Justin Verlander, the starters in the first two games.
Porcello is having a fine season and is a strong contender for the American League's Rookie of the Year honors, but against the Twins he has allowed 19 hits while posting a 7-to-6 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 17 innings while going 1-2 in three starts. Verlander, meanwhile, is enjoying an excellent year and leads the league in strikeouts, but for whatever reason the Twins have been able to get to him. In three turns against the Twins this year, Verlander is 0-2 with a 5.49 ERA and 1.42 WHIP.
3) The Twins are hot.
Despite yesterday's loss to the best pitcher in baseball, the Twins have been playing exceedingly well lately. They've won 11 of their past 13 games and have scored six or more runs in nine of those games. Joe Mauer and Michael Cuddyer have been in top form and some of the lineup's lesser players are contributing more than they have all year.
4) The Tigers are not.
They managed a road sweep over the hapless Indians prior to their latest series in Chicago, but still have been struggling overall recently. The Tigers have dropped 11 of their past 18 games and have failed to take care of business against low-quality clubs like the White Sox and Royals. They have seen their division lead drop from a season-high seven games on September 6 to just two games as we enter tonight's series opener. It's possible that the Tigers will amp up and get back on track this week now that the Twins are within striking distance, but momentum is certainly not on Detroit's side.
Both these teams are going to be putting it all on the line over the next four days. This is going to be intense, postseason type baseball. After a long and sometimes seemingly hopeless season-long pursuit, the Twins now have the opportunity to climb into first place in the AL Central for the first time since May 14.