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.

Report: Royals and Eric Hosmer have discussed a long-term contract extension

SAN DIEGO, CA - JULY 12:  Eric Hosmer #35 of the Kansas City Royals and the American League rounds the bases after hitting a home run against the National League in the 2nd inning of the 87th Annual MLB All-Star Game at PETCO Park on July 12, 2016 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images)
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Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports that the Royals and first baseman Eric Hosmer have discussed a long-term contract extension. However, Hosmer also indicated that he will head into free agency if a deal is not consummated by Opening Day.

Hosmer, 27, avoided arbitration with the Royals last month, agreeing to a $12.25 million salary for the 2017 season. He is one of four key Royals players who can become a free agent after the season along with Mike Moustakas, Alcides Escobar, and Lorenzo Cain. If Hosmer does reach free agency, he would arguably be the top free agent first baseman.

Hosmer finished the past season hitting .266/.328/.433 with 25 home runs and 104 RBI while making his first All-Star team.

Yankees sign Jon Niese to a minor league deal

PHOENIX, AZ - AUGUST 17:  Jonathon Niese #49 of the New York Mets delivers a pitch during the first inning against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field on August 17, 2016 in Phoenix, Arizona.  (Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images)
Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images
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Joel Sherman of the New York Post reports that the Yankees have signed pitcher Jon Niese to a minor league contract, pending a physical. Assuming the deal is finalized, Sherman notes that the Yankees will have Niese work as both a starter and a reliever in big league camp this spring.

According to Sherman, the Yankees were interested in lefty relievers Jerry Blevins and Boone Logan, but didn’t want to commit at their asking prices. They are looking for a lefty set-up man along with Tommy Lane.

Niese, 30, pitched for the Pirates and Mets last season, finishing with a 5.50 ERA and an 88/47 K/BB ratio over 121 innings.