Showdown in Motown for Twins and Tigers

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Barring a complete collapse by the Rockies seven of the eight playoff spots have already been decided, with baseball’s worst division offering the lone intrigue for the final week as first-place Detroit hosts second-place Minnesota for four games beginning tonight.
The weekend went well for the Twins, as they won two out of three in Kansas City, losing only to the top pitcher in the league Sunday, and the Tigers lost two out of three in Chicago, winning only when the White Sox coughed up a 5-0 lead Saturday.
With seven games remaining the Twins now trail the Tigers by two games heading into the four-game series in Detroit, which basically means that Minnesota needs to win at least three of these four matchups to have more than slim playoff odds going into the final weekend:

TONIGHT:
Nick Blackburn      192 IP    4.2 SO/9    1.9 BB/9    45.4 GB%    4.85 xFIP
Rick Porcello       159 IP    4.5 SO/9    2.8 BB/9    54.6 GB%    4.56 xFIP
TUESDAY:
Brian Duensing       78 IP    5.7 SO/9    3.2 BB/9    45.3 GB%    4.97 xFIP
Justin Verlander    224 IP   10.3 SO/9    2.4 BB/9    35.6 GB%    3.40 xFIP
WEDNESDAY:
Carl Pavano         189 IP    6.5 SO/9    1.7 BB/9    44.5 GB%    4.16 xFIP
Eddie Bonine         29 IP    4.9 SO/9    3.1 BB/9    55.8 GB%    4.49 xFIP
THURSDAY:
Scott Baker         189 IP    7.5 SO/9    2.0 BB/9    33.9 GB%    4.34 xFIP
Nate Robertson       44 IP    6.8 SO/9    5.8 BB/9    41.8 GB%    5.40 xFIP



* xFIP stands for Expected Fielding Independent Pitching, which is generally a better measure of pitcher performance than ERA.
Based on the pitching matchups each team has a pretty clear edge in two of the games. Detroit has an edge with Justin Verlander, who’s one of the five best pitchers in the league, and Rick Porcello, who’s one of the five best rookies in the league. Minnesota has an edge against Eddie Bonine, who’s 28 years old and making his ninth career start after posting a 4.10 ERA in 62 starts between Double-A and Triple-A, and Nate Robertson, who’s 9-13 with a 6.19 ERA since the beginning of last season.
There’s certainly a lot more room for analysis, but at this point we’re essentially talking about a series of four coin flips, with each one weighted somewhere in the range of 50-50, 55-45, or 60-40. A split is the most likely scenario and would leave the Twins needing to finish with a sweep of the Royals while the Tigers lose at least two of three to the White Sox in the final weekend. However, a 3-1 series win for the Twins would put them in a relative driver’s seat and a 4-0 sweep would all but lock up the division title.
As a wise man once said, “There’s one word in America that says it all and that word is youneverknow.”

Video: Andrew Toles hammers grand slam in Cactus League win

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Dodgers’ left fielder Andrew Toles crushed his first spring training home run on Saturday afternoon. With the bases loaded and a two-run deficit hanging over their heads in the fourth inning, Toles stepped up to the plate against Oakland right-hander Jesse Hahn and unloaded a grand slam on the second pitch he saw.

Third baseman Justin Turner was quick to follow up with a solo jack of his own, bringing the score to a comfortable 7-4 lead by the end of the fourth. Another three-run outburst in the fifth and an eighth-inning RBI single by Austin Barnes raised the final score to 11-6… which, coincidentally, was the same score the Reds used to defeat the Athletics’ second split-squad lineup on Saturday (albeit with a few more RBI walks than grand slams).

Toles, 24, is approaching his sophomore season with the Dodgers in 2017. He slashed .314/.365/.505 with three home runs and an .870 OPS in his first major league season in 2016 and is expected to platoon with the right-handed Franklin Gutierrez in left field this year.

David Price’s season debut could be pushed back to May

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David Price showed “strength improvements” in his elbow on Saturday, but Red Sox’ manager John Farrell still doesn’t think the left-hander will be ready to throw by the start of the season — or for a few weeks afterward. According to ESPN’s Scott Lauber, the 31-year-old might not be ready to debut until May at the earliest.

Price hasn’t thrown off of a mound this spring after experiencing soreness in his left elbow on March 1. Surgery doesn’t appear to be necessary, but the Red Sox are playing it extra safe with their No. 3 starter in hopes that rest and rehabilitation will return him to full health sometime during the 2017 season. For now, Price has been restricted to short games of catch until he’s cleared to resume a more rigorous throwing program. Via MLB.com’s Ian Browne:

[There were] strength improvements to the point of putting the ball back in his hand a little more consistently,” said manager John Farrell. “Today’s the first step for that. A short game of catch. That’s what he’s going through. Not off a mound but just to get the arm moving with a ball in flight, and he will continue in this phase for a period of time. There’s no set distance and volume yet to the throws.

The lefty is coming off of a lackluster 2016 season, during which he delivered a 3.99 ERA, 2.0 BB/9 and 8.9 SO/9 over 230 innings for the Red Sox.