By splitting the first two games of their four-game set against the Tigers on Tuesday, the Twins put themselves in position to control their own destiny. If they could win last night's favorable match-up, they'd have had the opportunity to move into a first-place tie with another victory today. Given that the Tigers had a weak right-hander taking the hill last night while the Twins were countering with a starter who has been one of their best, things seemed aligned for a key victory that would back the Tigers into a corner entering this afternoon's contest.
Unfortunately, Carl Pavano collapsed against a team he has dominated all year. Despite entering last night's start with a 4-0 record and 1.69 ERA in five turns against the Tigers this season, Pavano was knocked around for seven runs on seven hits in 4 2/3 innings of work, watching the Twins season circle the drain as the Tigers teed off time and time again on his meatballs.
There were certainly a number of forces working against Pavano. He didn't have his best stuff and might not have had his best command due to the chilly conditions. Perhaps most damaging to Pavano's chances was home plate umpire Marvin Hudson, whose strike zone was roughly the width of a grapefruit. Hudson would call no strikes on either outside corner, which is where Pavano typically lives. That forced the right-hander to bring his mediocre fastball over the middle of the dish, and the Tigers took full advantage.
Unfortunately, the Twins' hitters couldn't do the same. The tight strike zone worked both ways, but the Twins managed only two walks in five innings against substandard Tigers starter Eddie Bonine and repeatedly got themselves out by swinging at bad pitches. They jumped all over Bonine in the first inning for two runs, but that was all they'd register against him over frames in what -- considering the circumstances -- has to be viewed as the most disappointing effort we've seen from this offense all year.
Every now and then, all teams are going to lose to a bad pitcher. It hadn't happened to the Twins for a while, as their only two losses in the past eight games had come against Zack Greinke and Justin Verlander. But it happened last night, and at a very inopportune time.
The Twins face another bad pitcher today in Nate Robertson. If they can beat him, their postseason hopes will remain alive, but the heartbeat will be faint. The Twins would need a home sweep against the Royals in conjunction with a White Sox series victory over the Tigers in Detroit (or a series victory against the Royals with the Tigers being swept) this weekend in order to move into a first-place tie and force another one-game playoff.
It's tough to like those odds. In all likelihood, the Twins missed their chance last night. They deserve credit for battling back from a big deficit earlier in the month and earning that chance, but I doubt that serves as much consolation for them or their fans right now.