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.”

Yordano Ventura represented the best and worst of baseball’s culture

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 28:  Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals delivers in the first inning during a game against the Boston Red Sox on August 28, 2016 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
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It was reported this morning that Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura was killed in a car accident in the Dominican Republic. Former prospect Andy Marte was also killed in a separate car accident. Along with Jose Fernandez and Oscar Taveras, the baseball world has lost a lot of young, exciting talent in a very short amount of time.

Ventura was, like all of us, a complex human being. At his best, he was an exciting, talented, emotive pitcher who featured an electric fastball which sat in the mid-90’s and occasionally touched 100 MPH. At his worst, he was an immature, impressionable kid trying to fit in by exacting revenge against batters he felt had wronged him by slinging those electric fastballs at vulnerable areas of their bodies.

Baseball needed Ventura when he was at his best. It is players like him and Fernandez, not Mike Trout, that bring in new fans to the sport. To baseball die-hards, Angels outfielder Mike Trout is the pinnacle of entertainment because we know he’s an otherworldly talent. But to the average fan, Trout is just another player who hits a couple of homers and doesn’t do anything particularly interesting otherwise. Trout is milquetoast. Ventura was never an All-Star, but fans knew who he was because he made his presence felt every time he made a start. He was fun, if sometimes vengeful.

Ventura’s baseball rap sheet is rather lengthy for someone who only pitched parts of four seasons in the big leagues. Early in the 2015 season, Ventura found himself in a handful of benches-clearing incidents in quick succession. On April 12, he jawed with Trout, apparently misunderstanding the motivation behind Trout yelling, “Let’s go!” Though catcher Salvador Perez intervened, Trout’s teammate Albert Pujols ran in from second base and the benches cleared shortly thereafter. On the 18th, some drama between the Athletics and Royals continued. Ventura fired a 99 MPH fastball at Brett Lawrie, resulting in his immediate ejection from the game. More beanball wars ensued in the series finale the following day. Finally, on the 23rd, Ventura hit White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu with a 99 MPH fastball in the fourth inning. Ventura was not ejected… until after the completion of the seventh inning. Walking back to the dugout, Ventura barked at White Sox outfielder Adam Eaton and — you guessed it — the benches cleared. All told, Ventura was fined for his behavior with the Athletics and suspended seven games for the White Sox incident.

In August 2015, Ventura called Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista a “nobody” and accused him of stealing signs. He apologized shortly thereafter. Two months later, during his start in Game 6 of the ALCS against the Blue Jays, Ventura got into it with Jays first base coach Tim Leiper. Nothing happened beyond that, but apparently it was part of the Jays’ plan to try to put Ventura “on tilt.”

Most recently, in June this past season, Ventura hit Orioles third baseman Manny Machado with a pitch. Machado charged the mound and got in at least one punch before the players spilled out onto the field in a blob of royal blue and orange. Ventura was suspended for eight games.

Ventura was by no means a model of civility, but he was a product of baseball’s intransigent culture forcing players to assimilate or be ostracized. The old culture taught players to never show emotion. Hit a home run? Put your head down and circle the bases in a timely fashion or risk taking a fastball to the ribs. Players like Fernandez and Bautista — typically players from Latin countries — challenged those old cultural norms and are, as a result, the vanguard of the new culture. Ventura displayed aspects of each, the worst of the old culture and the best of the new. He was not a one-dimensional person; he was strikingly complex. At one moment willing to use a fastball as a weapon, the next stopping by some kids’ lemonade stand and giving out fist bumps. Baseball is made more entertaining and more interesting by its personalities and Ventura’s was a behemoth, for better or worse. His absence from the sport will be felt.

MLB remembers Yordano Ventura and Andy Marte

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 28:  Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals delivers in the first inning during a game against the Boston Red Sox on August 28, 2016 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
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Following the tragic passing of 25-year-old Yordano Ventura and 33-year-old Andy Marte, both of whom were killed in separate car crashes on Sunday morning, players and executives from around Major League Baseball expressed an outpouring of grief and support for the players’ families and former teams.

Fans have gathered at Kauffman Stadium in memory of the former pitcher.