The Minnesota Twins arrived in Detroit for this week’s four-game series hoping to make a strong push for the AL Central title.
They certainly don’t want to leave town after watching the Tigers celebrate the end of that quest.
A win over the second-place Twins on Thursday afternoon would give Detroit its first division crown since 1987, but the Tigers will have to beat Minnesota’s Scott Baker(notes) for the second time in two weeks.
Minnesota’s 3-2 win in the opener of the series and Tuesday’s doubleheader - its 12th win in 14 games - pulled the Twins (82-76) within one game of the Tigers.
But Detroit (85-73) bounced back with a 6-5 win in the nightcap, and it lowered its magic number to two with Wednesday’s 7-2 victory. Nearing the end of a frustrating season, Magglio Ordonez(notes) broke open the game with a three-run double, while right-hander Eddie Bonine(notes) earned his first victory of the season in his fourth start of the year.
“You need everyone on your team to step up right now, and that’s what happened tonight,” manager Jim Leyland said Wednesday.
If the Tigers, who reached the 2006 World Series as a wild card, lose this game, they could need to win two of three games against the Chicago White Sox to secure the division depending on what the Twins do against Kansas City.
“We’re trying to look at (Thursday’s) game like we would any other game,” Detroit’s Brandon Inge(notes) said. “But it is human nature to realize what we can do tomorrow. Even if you don’t want to think about it, you do.”
They’ll have to overcome what seems like a disadvantage in the pitching matchup, with Baker facing off against Detroit’s Nate Robertson(notes), but the Tigers won 6-2 with those two on the mound Sept. 20.
Baker (14-9, 4.48 ERA) gave up four runs and eight hits in 4 2-3 innings in the loss, one of just two defeats for the right-hander in his last 15 starts. He is 8-2 with a 3.64 ERA over that span, but is 0-1 with a 9.00 ERA in three starts against the Tigers this year.
Ordonez is 16 for 36 (.444) in his career against Baker.
“Whatever their numbers are, if you make good pitches you can get those guys out,” Baker said of the Tigers.
Robertson (2-2, 5.56) has spent most of the year in the bullpen or on the disabled list, but the left-hander turned in five strong innings against the Twins. He wasn’t as good in his most recent start, allowing five runs in 3 1-3 innings against the White Sox on Saturday, although the Tigers won 12-5.
Michael Cuddyer(notes) is 10 for 49 (.204) with 15 strikeouts against Robertson, but he’ll try to regroup Thursday. Cuddyer had been 18 for 46 (.391) with 18 RBIs in 11 games from Sept. 13-25, but he is 2 for 10 without an RBI in this series.
They probably need to win their final four games - one of which will be against Kansas City starter Zack Greinke(notes) - and get some help from the White Sox this weekend in order to force a one-game playoff at the Metrodome.
“It doesn’t look very good right now, but it isn’t over yet,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “I’m not a math guy, but I believe that (Thursday) is a must-win situation.”