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.”

Brewers hold off the Dodgers to force Game 7 of the NLCS

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Down 3-2 in the NLCS, the Brewers faced a must-win situation during Game 6 on Friday. Any residual uncertainty they might have felt about their chances of extending the series was all but resolved in the first inning, however, when Jesús Aguilar, Mike Moustakas, and Erik Kratz combined for a four-run spread to take an early lead. Powered by those early-game RBI, as well as masterful performances from Wade Miley, Corey Knebel, and Corbin Burnes, the club surged to a 7-2 win to pull even with the Dodgers and force a Game 7 tiebreaker.

Left-hander Wade Miley trounced the Dodgers in 4 1/3 innings of two-run, four-strikeout ball. He was bested by David Freese in the very first at-bat of the night, which culminated with a 402-footer to right field to put Los Angeles on the board, 1-0. After a few scoreless innings from the Dodgers, Freese returned to torment Miley in the top of the fifth, this time with an RBI double that narrowed the Brewers’ advantage from four runs to three.

Things didn’t go nearly as smoothly for opposing lefty Hyun-Jin Ryu. In the bottom of the first inning, Ryu allowed a leadoff single to Lorenzo Cain, followed by a four-pitch walk to Ryan Braun. Jesús Aguilar came up to bat with two out and two on, then smacked a two-RBI line drive double to right field. Moustakas and Kratz went back-to-back-to-back with Aguilar, putting up another three runs on an RBI double and single, respectively.

The Brewers kept rolling in the second inning. Christian Yelich and Braun each collected a double off of Ryu, bringing Milwaukee’s lead to 5-1 over Los Angeles. Braun advanced to third on a Travis Shaw groundout, but with Aguilar up to bat, Ryu wasn’t going to chance a repeat of the Dodgers’ first-inning debacle. He intentionally walked Aguilar, then whiffed Moustakas on three straight fastballs to cap the inning.

By the time both Miley and Ryu were forced from the mound, the Brewers stood 5-2 above their opponents. Right-hander Corey Knebel worked a scoreless 1 2/3 innings, striking out Manny Machado to eliminate another potential rally from the Dodgers in the fifth inning and retiring all four batters in the sixth (save for Joc Pederson, who reached base after taking a 96.3-MPH fastball to the wrist). The righty received another significant opportunity to do some damage against the Dodgers in the bottom of the fifth, when he came up to bat for the first time in his professional career with the bases loaded and two outs… but saw just four pitches before swinging at a 1-2 pitch to end the inning.

After Ryu’s unexpected departure in the third, Dodgers skipper Dave Roberts cycled through five pitchers — Julio Urías, Alex Wood, Dylan Floro, Caleb Ferguson, and Kenta Maeda — in an attempt to squelch the Brewers’ comeback. The bullpen combined for four consecutive scoreless frames, but was ultimately foiled in the seventh, when, with runners on second and third and two outs, a wild pitch from Maeda ricocheted off the front of home plate and allowed Aguilar to plate yet another insurance run. Still not content with a two-hit, two-RBI performance, Aguilar came back in the bottom of the eighth with an RBI single — only moments after a failed double play that would have ended the inning — to bring the Brewers to a cushy 7-2 advantage as they entered the ninth.

No similar last-minute rallies awaited the Dodgers there. Rookie right-hander Corbin Burnes orchestrated another flawless 1-2-3 inning in the ninth, retiring Pederson and Puig with consecutive strikeouts and inducing a game-inning, series-extending pop-up from Matt Kemp to wrap the win.

Game 7 is set for 8:09 PM EDT on Saturday. The starters for both clubs have yet to be announced.