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.”

Royals sign Michael Saunders to a minor-league deal

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Free agent outfielder Michael Saunders has agreed to a minor-league contract with the Royals, the team announced Friday. While the move comes just two days after Saunders agreed to terms with the Pirates, he allegedly asked for his release after the club acquired outfielder Corey Dickerson in a multi-player swap with the Rays on Thursday.

After earning his first spot on an All-Star team in 2016, Saunders followed up a solid campaign with a career-worst performance in 2017. The 31-year-old split the season between the Phillies and Blue Jays’ camps, batting a combined .202/.256/.344 with six home runs and -0.7 fWAR in 234 plate appearances. Although he remained healthy throughout the year, with no sign of the lingering hamstring strain that has plagued him on and off since 2013, he wasn’t productive enough to merit a full-time role on either roster.

With Dickerson slated for a starting role in Pittsburgh, it was unlikely that Saunders would have commanded anything other than a backup role in 2018. Now, however, he’ll compete for playing time amid a slew of outfield options, including Alex Gordon, Cody Asche, Jorge Bonifacio, Tyler Collins and Paulo Orlando.