Aces Duel to Open Twins Series


Minnesota (45-40) vs. Detroit (46-37)

The Tigers and Twins will do battle over the next three games, leading up to the all-star break. Minnesota, who lead the AL Central by 4.5 games less than a month ago, now finds itself trailing both Detroit and the second-place White Sox, who have won 22 of 27 lately.

This series is probably more important for the Tigers than it is the Twins, as Detroit has dropped six of nine against Minnesota so far this year. It doesn’t bode well for the Tigers if their struggles against the Twins persist. But the Twins may be in the process of having the wind knocked further out of their sails. Not only is star first baseman Justin Morneau a question mark, he’s dealing with the after-effects of a concussion, but there are multiple reports that the Yankees, not the Twins, are closing in on a trade for Mariners starter Cliff Lee.

No matter how this series ends up, neither of these teams will have ultimately won or lost the division this weekend. Chicago will be a factor, even without Jake Peavy, and both of these clubs have enough talent to stay in the race, and probably not enough to pull away, as currently constructed. That said, as we learned last year, every win counts, so get as many as you can whenever you can. (more after the jump)

The Tigers are the best home club in the American League and are fresh off a sweep of Baltimore. Minnesota comes in limping after dropping two of three in Toronto, but the Twins have their top three starters lined up for this series.

FridayFrancisco Liriano (6-6, 3.32) vs Justin Verlander (10-5, 3.85)

Liriano has faced the Tigers twice this year, splitting two decisions. On April 27, Liriano shut out the Tigers at Comerica Park over eight innings, earning the win in a 2-0 game. He then gave up six earned over six frames against the Tigers at Target Field a couple of weeks ago and took the loss. In his career, Liriano has made six appearances (four starts) at the CoPa, going 2-1 with a 4.13 ERA. He has struck out 35 batters in just over 28 innings career at Detroit.

While the Tigers might struggle to make a lot of contact against the Minnesota southpaw, the heart of the Tigers order has hit him hard. Magglio Ordonez (.333), Miguel Cabrera (.357), and Brennan Boesch (.333) have combined to go 14-for-41 (.341) against Liriano, hitting seven doubles, three home runs, and driving in 13. It might be a good idea to start Ryan Raburn over Johnny Damon tonight, Raburn has homered against Liriano, part of a 3-for-12 career performance, while Damon is just 1-for-5 career. Brandon Inge has fanned 13 times in 26 career at bats, hitting just .154.

Verlander has made 10 career home starts versus the Twins, including losing the matchup with Liriano on April 27. Verlander allowed two runs over 5.2 innings on that day. Over 62.2 innings at home, Verlander has posted a 4-5 record and 3.87 ERA against Minnesota.

The Twins have been a thorn in the side of Verlander since he came up, and several of their hitters have had great success against him. Jim Thome, who has homered more often against Detroit than any other franchise, has taken JV deep seven times in just 41 at bats, also walking 13 times, and has an OPS of 1.182 against him. Thome is just one of the many that enjoy seeing the big right hander on the mound. Denard Span, Joe Mauer and Jason Kubel has gone 34-for-81 (.420) against Verlander with 14 of those hits going for extra bases.

SaturdayNick Blackburn (7-6, 6.00) vs. Jeremy Bonderman (4-6, 4.81)

Yep, you read that right, Blackburn has a winning record despite having an ERA of 6.00. While he hasn’t been great at home this year, Blackburn has really been up against it away from Minneapolis. In eight road starts in 2010, Blackburn has an ERA of 9.40 and has averaged less than five innings pitched per start. Remarkably, he’s won twice in those starts.

Blackburn earned a win at home against the Tigers on June 29, and also beat them at Comerica on May 27. In those two starts he combined to pitch 16 innings, allowing 18 hits and seven earned runs, pitching to a 3.94 ERA.

Tigers batters have hit .289 combined in their careers against Blackburn, and Miguel Cabrera (.455 in 22 AB) is one of four Tigers with better than a .300 average against him. Don’t expect much from Inge, again, as he has struggled versus the righthander.

Bonderman earned the win in a 7-5 decision over the Twins in Minnesota on June 28, but he was hit pretty well in doing so, allowing nine hits and four earned in just six innings of work. He’s 2-3 at home this year, but his ERA is nearly three runs better at home than on the road. In his career, Bonderman has worked in eight games at home against the Twins, starting six of them. He has a 2-1 record and 4.30 ERA in those games.

Thome hasn’t gone any easier on Bonderman than he has on Verlander, mashing four taters versus Bondo. Micheal Cuddyer has three triples and a .313 average against him, and Delmon Young is 6-for-12 career. On the other hand, Bonderman has owned Kubel and Orlando Hudson, holding them to a combined .161 average.

SundayCarl Pavano (9-6, 3.58) vs. Andy Oliver (0-2, 5.93)

Pavano is a name that makes Tigers fans cringe. We are all too well aware of the dominance he showed against the Tigers in 2009 and while Detroit hung a loss on him when they met at Comerica on April 29, they didn’t exactly light him up in doing so. Pavano allowed just seven hits and two earned over eight innings of that game, dropping a 3-0 decision. He’s 3-2 career at Detroit, posting a 3.34 ERA in five starts.

While Damon and Ordonez have both hit Pavano well, no other Tiger with at least seven at bats has had success. Carlos Guillen is 0-for-12 career and even the mighty Cabrera is hitting just .238 (5-for-21) against him. Pavano has never allowed a home run to any current member of the Tigers.

Oliver will make just his fourth career start on Sunday, but it will be his second against the Twins. Oliver took the loss on Jun 30, allowing five runs (two earned) over six innings of work. There isn’t a Twin with more than three at bats against him, but on the plus side, he did strikeout Thome is all three at bats when they last met.