The Detroit Tigers failed to take advantage of a stretch of games against seemingly inferior competition, and their AL Central lead has been shrinking as a result.
If they don’t start winning again this weekend, that edge could soon disappear altogether.
The Minnesota Twins will have a prime chance to cut into their deficit when the Tigers open a three-game series at the Metrodome on Friday night, and standout rookies Brian Duensing(notes) and Rick Porcello(notes) will both be on the mound amid the pressure of a postseason chase.
Detroit led the Twins by seven games after winning its sixth straight game on Sept. 6, and the Tigers (78-68) figured only to pad the lead with six of their next 10 games against lowly Kansas City.
But manager Jim Leyland’s club dropped five of six to the Royals in that stretch and split a four-game home series with struggling Toronto in between. Minnesota (74-72) has won four straight to inch within four games of Detroit, turning up the intensity as the Central rivals face off seven times in the next two weeks.
The Twins are making their push without 2006 AL MVP Justin Morneau(notes), who is out for the season with a stress fracture in his back. They’ve won their first four games without the slugger, averaging 6.5 runs with Michael Cuddyer(notes) going 8 for 16 (.500) with two homers and eight RBIs in those contests.
“The way we’ve played this year, it’s amazing we still have a chance and it’s sitting in front of us,” Cuddyer said. “At this point we need everybody to contribute. Even the guys that are hurt we need them to cheer us on.”
Duensing (3-1, 3.53 ERA) won the first game of the run, tossing seven strong innings in an 8-0 win over Oakland on Sunday. The left-hander spent most of his first season pitching out of the bullpen, but he’s 3-0 with a 1.74 ERA in five starts since entering the rotation Aug. 22.
“What’s impressive is (Duensing is) stepping in there in a big situation for us when we’ve got pitchers going down and proving that he can pitch at this major league level and use all his pitches like that,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “That’s impressive, and much-needed.”
Detroit has also valued Porcello’s contributions, with the 20-year-old leading all rookies in victories and showing no signs of fatigue deep into his first major league season.
Porcello (13-8, 4.21) earned his most recent win Sunday against Toronto, allowing two runs in six innings of a 7-2 victory and hitting 96 mph on the radar gun.
“I didn’t know how I would feel in this situation - I didn’t even know that I would be here,” Porcello said. “But I feel great. I just want to keep improving, because I don’t think I’m a finished product.”
The right-hander pitched seven innings in a 9-0 win over the Twins on May 5, but he struggled at the Metrodome on July 5, allowing six runs in four innings of a 6-2 defeat.
The Tigers are 1-5 in Minnesota this year, a trend they’ll need to change quickly after their recent swoon. They were outscored 23-7 while dropping two of three to the Royals this week, losing 9-2 in the finale Thursday afternoon.
“There’s no excuses,” Leyland said.