One-game playoff preview: Twins vs. Tigers

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Will the Twins’ dramatic late-season turnaround continue long enough for them to defeat the Tigers in a one-game playoff tomorrow and then make some noise in the playoffs for the first time since 2002?
Who knows. Minnesota’s one-game playoff against Chicago last year ended in disappointment and the Twins’ last furious late-season comeback against Detroit merely led to being swept out of the postseason.
However, unlike last season tomorrow afternoon’s one-game playoff is in Minnesota and the Twins are clearly the favorites with Scott Baker facing Rick Porcello at the Metrodome.
All of which isn’t to suggest that Porcello is a pushover. He may be a 20-year-old rookie, but he’s turned in one of the best seasons of all time for a 20-year-old pitcher and has shown no signs of slowing down thanks to the Tigers smartly limiting his workload for most of the year. Porcello is 5-2 with a 3.19 ERA in 12 starts since August 1, including 6.1 innings of one-run ball versus the Twins last week.
He doesn’t miss many bats with just 81 strikeouts in 165 innings and subsequently has allowed a .270 opponents’ batting average, but makes up for it by inducing the most ground balls in the league. Don’t expect the Twins to do much power hitting, but they’ll have some chances to string hits together and Porcello’s modest workloads should mean several innings from the Tigers’ often shaky bullpen.
And of course the guy taking the mound for the Twins is pretty good too. Baker got off to a terrible start, beginning the season on the disabled list before going 0-4 with a 9.15 ERA and eight homers allowed through four outings. However, since then he’s 15-5 with a 3.79 ERA in 28 starts, including five innings of one-run ball versus Detroit last week. Nick Blackburn has thrived in big-game situations, but Baker has been the Twins’ best starting pitcher over the past two years.
While the Twins were going 16-4 without Justin Morneau and 30-14 since mid-August, the Tigers went 11-15 after extending their lead to a season-high seven games in early September. They’re also just 36-46 on the road, while the Twins are 47-33 at home, and as we saw (and heard) yesterday the Metrodome isn’t going quietly. All of which means surprisingly little, because anything can happen in one game for everything. Hell, as this weekend and the past month or so have shown, anything can happen, period.
What we do know is that the Twins are playing at home with their best starter on the mound as slight favorites for a spot in the playoffs, where the slate is wiped clean, 11 wins equals a championship, and flaws and injuries give way to luck and small-sample-size heroics. By tomorrow night the Twins and Tigers will be either finished playing until next spring or heading to New York for a first-round matchup against the Yankees. And for the first time all season the latter possibility is actually more likely for Minnesota.

Check out Minute Maid Park without Tal’s Hill

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During the offseason, the Astros finally got rid of Tal’s Hill in center field. It was a throwback to older stadiums, some of which had uneven topography — Crosley Field, namely. As unique as it was in the age of cookie cutter sports stadiums, most of us were holding our collective breaths hoping no one ruptured an Achilles or suffered another brutal injury trying to navigate the hill while attempting to catch a fly ball.

We saw what it looked like during reconstruction:

And now, via Julia Morales of ROOT Sports, we see what it looks like after all the work has been done:

The Astros are allowing fans with Lexus Field Club tickets to stand on the new warning track to watch batting practice and shag fly balls as well, Morales notes. Lexus Field Club is where Tal’s Hill used to be.

Good riddance, Tal’s Hill.

Jhoulys Chacin will start Opening Day for the Padres

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Jhoulys Chacin will start on Opening Day, April 3 against the Dodgers in Los Angeles, Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union-Tribune reports. It will be Chacin’s second Opening Day start, the other coming in 2013 with the Rockies against the Brewers. He’ll be the fifth different Padres pitcher in as many years to start on Opening Day.

Chacin, 29, inked a one-year, $1.75 million contract with the Padres in December. The right-hander spent the 2016 season with the Braves and Angels, compiling an aggregate 4.81 ERA with a 119/55 K/BB ratio in 144 innings.

Lin notes that Chacin will be followed in the rotation by Clayton Richard and Jered Weaver. It will be an interesting rotation, to say the least, as it will arguably be the worst in baseball.