Two weeks ago, the AL Central race seemed all but over.
After this weekend, one game could separate the teams at the top.
“You can just feel it in the fans that they want something special,” Twins outfielder Denard Span(notes) said after Saturday’s 6-2 win in front of 43,338, the Metrodome’s biggest crowd since opening day.
Minnesota (76-72) has won a season-high six straight to get within two games of the Tigers, who have dropped four in a row. Their 3-9 slump comes after a six-game winning streak pushed their division lead to seven on Sept. 6.
That gap will be cut to one if the Twins win Sunday. They haven’t been that close since being a game behind co-leaders Detroit and Kansas City on May 15. Plus, Minnesota plays a four-game set in Detroit beginning Sept. 28.
The bullpen has keyed Minnesota’s six-game win streak, posting a 1.13 ERA. That group has allowed two hits in 4 2-3 scoreless innings in this series.
Detroit (78-70) has been limited to four runs in its last three games.
“If we don’t start getting some big hits and knocking some people in and hitting some in the gap with men on, we’ll have problems,” said manager Jim Leyland, whose Tigers are 1-7 at the Metrodome.
Brandon Inge’s(notes) strong season - he’s tied a career high with 27 homers - is one reason the Tigers have the division lead but his power slump may play a role in them losing it. He has no homers and two RBIs in the last 12 games.
While Minnesota sends its wins leader to the mound in Scott Baker(notes) (13-8, 4.35 ERA), Detroit turns to Nate Robertson(notes) (1-2, 5.35) because Jarrod Washburn(notes) is battling a knee problem.
A groin injury forced Robertson out of his Sept. 11 loss to Toronto, but an MRI showed it was pelvic inflammation and a good bullpen session this week convinced Leyland to give him another start.
Since a two-month absence due to an elbow problem, Robertson has made one relief appearance and three starts, the worst of which was his latest. He gave up two runs and six hits with five walks in 3 2-3 innings of a 6-4 defeat to the Blue Jays.
His only appearance versus the Twins this year was a scoreless inning of relief May 5, but he struggled in four starts against them last season, going 1-2 with a 6.85 ERA.
Baker has been awful in two outings against the Tigers this year, allowing 11 runs and 16 hits in 10 1-3 innings, but didn’t receive a decision either time.
The right-hander is 0-1 in his last two outings overall after going 7-0 in his previous 11. However, Baker hasn’t surrendered more than three runs in five consecutive starts and 10 of 12, and he has a 2.10 ERA in his last five games at the Metrodome.
Miguel Cabrera(notes), coming off a three-hit game, is 3 for 6 with a homer and a double against Baker this year. Magglio Ordonez(notes) has hit .424 lifetime against him, but he is in a 1-for-15 slump and hasn’t driven in a run in 14 straight games.
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