Tigers, Twins set for showdown in Minnesota

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With Minnesota completing its three-game sweep of the Royals and Detroit salvaging the finale of a series against the White Sox, the AL Central race ended in a tie, forcing a one-game playoff scheduled for Tuesday.
The ultimate winners in the scenario would seem to be the Yankees, who can look forward to facing a fatigued club to start the ALDS. If there was still any doubt at all, they’re now certain to pick the series beginning on Wednesday, rather than Thursday, to give their opponents even less time to recover.
The Tigers were hoping to have the division all wrapped up by Saturday, but since they failed to take care of business, they were forced to go to ace Justin Verlander on Sunday and now they’ll use Rick Porcello on Tuesday. If they beat the Twins, they’ll still have the ability to have Verlander follow Edwin Jackson and start Games 2 and 5 of the ALDS, but he could be an awfully tired ace. Verlander added to his major league-high pitch total by 120 on Sunday. It’s the fourth straight start that he’s thrown at least 120 pitches, and he hasn’t made a start on more than four days’ rest since Aug. 30.
The Twins may be at just as much of a disadvantage. They don’t rely as much on their top three starters as the Tigers, but they’re going to be stuck using their nominal ace, Scott Baker, on Tuesday. That means he’ll be available to start just once against the Yankees. Nick Blackburn, who came up big in outdueling Zack Greinke on Saturday, is lined up for the Game 1 start now. Either Carl Pavano or Brian Duensing would pitch Game 2. Duensing has performed better than Pavano and has the advantage of being a lefty, but given the confidence that manager Ron Gardenhire showed in Pavano by pitching him on short rest Sunday, it seems likely that the veteran will be the choice.
Tuesday’s matchup of Porcello and Baker should be a good one. Porcello got the nod over Jackson, who could have made the start on three days’ rest. Jackson, though, has struggled in four of his last five starts, whereas Porcello only seems to be getting stronger. The rookie impressed against the Twins in Tuesday’s doubleheader, limiting Minnesota to one run in 6 1/3 innings. He’s 14-9 with a 4.04 ERA.
Baker overcame an 0-4 start to finish 15-9 with a 4.36 ERA. He had a 3.79 ERA in his final 28 starts. Against the Tigers, he was 1-1 with a 6.75 ERA. That win, though, came Thursday, when he allowed just an unearned run over five innings.
So, the starters seem pretty evenly matched. The Twins would seem to have the advantage of a less weary pen, particularly after they were able to give Joe Nathan the day off on Sunday. They’ll also finally be able to give Joe Mauer a real day off on Monday. Being that they have the home-field advantage and are the hotter team, they have to be favored to win. The Tigers, though, do have a nice track record against Baker, particularly Magglio Ordonez and Carlos Guillen.

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.

Yadier Molina will not enter contract negotiations during the 2017 season

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Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that Cardinals’ catcher Yadier Molina is still open to extension talks during the last week of spring training. Once Opening Day rolls around, however, Molina has preemptively nixed any contract negotiations until the end of the 2017 season, when he’s scheduled to hit free agency.

Molina wants to stay with the Cardinals, or so he’s telling reporters, but he’s also “not afraid” to test the free agent market this fall should a deal fail to materialize. Via Goold:

I would love to stay, but at the same time I’m not afraid to go to free agency. I’ve still got many years in the tank. Believe me. I feel great. I feel like a 20-year-old kid. I’m not afraid to go to free agency.

The 34-year-old backstop is entering his final year under contract, though Goold points out that he has a $15 million option for 2018 that he can choose to decline in the event that it’s exercised by the team. He’s reportedly searching for a figure closer to those made by other top catchers like Buster Posey and Russell Martin.

The 2017 season will mark Molina’s 14th year in the Cardinals’ organization, building on a career that has spanned seven All-Star campaigns, nine postseason runs and two World Series championships in St. Louis. He batted .307/.360/.427 with eight home runs and a .787 OPS for the club in 2016.