Everything is on the line for the Detroit Tigers and Minnesota Twins at 5:00 p.m. ET today, in a one-game playoff to determine the winner of the AL Central division. It's rookie right-hander Rick Porcello for the Tigers, and more experienced righty Scott Baker for the Twinkies.
Clearly the question on everybody's mind, who's it gonna be? Who has the advantage, and why?
Well, my money is on the Tigers. It's difficult to have faith in a 20-year old starting pitcher, but I don't believe today's playoff is going to come down to pitching. I expect a 7-5 or 6-4 victory for the Tigers, with neither starting pitcher "wow"ing their audience.
Porcello is a sinkerballer who attacks the strikezone and pitches to contact, while Baker is looking to collect more strikeouts, but doesn't necessarily succeed. Neither starter is spectacular, though both are serviceable. Baker has had the better second half of the two, but those statistics lose some of their luster when we're looking at a one-game-for-all-the-marbles situation.
Since both starting pitchers are right-handed, they'll have to be especially concerned about the left-handed hitters in the opposing lineups. Unfortunately for the youngster Porcello, Minnesota's top three hitters are lefties. The good news is that one of those lefties, former AL MVP Justin Morneau, is out of commission. The others, Joe Mauer and Jason Kubel, are more than ready to go. Kubel's been on an absolute tear of late.
On the other side, Baker will be wary of Curtis Granderson, the veteran Aubrey Huff, and Carlos Guillen (a switch-hitter). The Twins' lefties are better and more dangerous right now, but the Tigers have Miguel Cabrera in their possession, and it doesn't matter who is pitching against him. Cabrera, a right-handed clubber, is -- in my opinion -- the second-best hitter in the major leagues. He trails only Albert Pujols, as far as natural ability and versatility to hit with power to all fields go.
In the end, I like the Tigers because they've been the better team all season. They've collapsed in the final month, but The Little Engine That Could can only chug for so long. The Twins failed to put any offense together in last year's one-game playoff, and they had Justin Morneau that time around. He's out of the picture this time, and it's difficult to replace a bat of that caliber when the season hangs in the balance.
Minnesota has the homefield advantage, and the place will be rockin', but the Tigers have a better opportunity to explode offensively. The Twins' offensive performance of the past two weeks has been an aberration in comparison to their past three seasons, and I'm not quite sure they can strike lightning in a bottle again.
As I said earlier, it's Tigers 6, Twins 4. Best of luck to the fans of both teams.
("JFro," aka John Frascella, is the author of "Theo-logy: How a Boy Wonder Led the Red Sox to the Promised Land."
It's the first full-length book centered on Boston Red Sox's popular
general manager Theo Epstein. Preview or purchase it online at Amazon.com, Barnes
and Noble or Borders. It's currently stocked in Barnes and Noble stores
throughout the U.S. Also, check out John on Twitter.)