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.

Phillies owner John Middleton is in Las Vegas with Bryce Harper

Bryce Harper
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Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia reports that Phillies owner John Middleton flew to Las Vegas for a meeting with Bryce Harper on Friday. Per ESPN’s Jeff Passan, it’s “more of a meet-and-greet than a sign-a-deal” affair, but as the club is still at the forefront of trade rumors involving the All-Star slugger, there remains a possibility (however slight) that something could be completed in the days to come.

Even now, the Phillies aren’t alone in the race to sign Harper, but recent rumors have helped whittle down the competition from five or more teams (Phillies, Nationals, White Sox, Giants, and Padres) to three strong contenders. The Giants are said to be interested in a lucrative short-term deal with the outfielder, while the Padres remain in the conversation despite inking Manny Machado to a mammoth 10-year, $300 million contract this week. It’s not yet clear just how far either team would go to outbid Philadelphia as talks with Harper intensify.

As for the Nationals and White Sox, the former officially bowed out earlier today, and MLB Network’s Jon Heyman adds that the latter won’t make a strong play for Harper as they feel the asking price and competing offers are “getting too high” for the 26-year-old’s services. If a mystery team is still in the mix, there’s been no word on their standing with Harper in the last month or so.