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.

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.