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Showdown in Motown for Twins and Tigers

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.”