With playoff baseball is two weeks away, the American League postseason picture has been painted for the most part. Just the AL Central winner is needed for the finishing touch, and the team that comes out victorious in the lackluster Central will earn itself a reservation for two in the Bronx starting Oct. 7.
The Tigers have watched the wheels begin to fall off on their 2009 season, while the Twins have crept closer in Detroit's rearview mirror, the same way the 2006 season unfolded, which was the last time either of the two teams reached the postseason.
After losing seven games in 10 days, the Tigers dropped another two to the Twins over the weekend to set the stage for a wild race to close out the regular season. And now after months of worrying about CC Sabathia against Justin Verlander in Game 1 of the ALDS, it might be time for the Yankees to think about Ron Gardenhire's group rather than Jim Leyland's.
The Twins have 10 games left this season, trailing the Tigers by just 2 1/2 games. Out of Minnesota's 10 games, four are against Detroit for a chance to potentially control its own postseason destiny. The other six are against the last-place Royals. Talk about a generous schedule.
Not only have the Twins making the postseason become a possibility, it is nearly becoming a reality, given their favorable schedule and recent streak of nine wins in 10 games. And for the Yankees, the home stretch in the Central couldn't be playing out any better.
The one thing that made the tristate area nervous about the Tigers was the potential Sabathia-Verlander matchup in Game 1 and the rotation issues that followed. But with the Twins, there is little reason to worry, if at all, about any of their starters.
Minnesota's starting pitching has been good enough to put the Twins in position to extend their season past September, but when faced against baseball's elite, after an emotionally and physically draining finish to the season, how much can be expected out of the already unknown group?
The current rotation for the Twins includes Nick Blackburn (11-11, 4.18), Carl Pavano (12-11, 4.82), Scott Baker (13-9, 4.43), Brian Duensing (5-1, 3.33) and Jeff Manship (0-1, 6.35). Francisco Liriano (5-12, 5.75), normally a starter, was recently given a bullpen role due to his struggles. The six possible Twins pitchers have made a combined eight postseason appearances and two postseason starts. And all of them belong to Pavano from the 2003 playoffs.
After Joe Mauer, the Minnesota lineup drastically falls off with Jason Kubel and Michael Cuddyer becoming the next big threats. Justin Morneau won't see the field again in 2009, and the pesky Denard Span has been out with side effects from being hit in the head by a pitch.
The Yankees had their way with the Twins during the regular season, posting a perfect 7-0 record with a four-game sweep in the Bronx and a three-game sweep to close out the Yankees' last regular-season appearance in the Metrodome. Now the Bombers have a chance to play the team that ignited their most memorable season in recent years with back-to-back-to-back walk-offs in May.
When Major League Baseball scheduled a three-game series at the end of September between the Yankees and Red Sox in New York, it was obviously hoping for a tight AL East race and a TV ratings gold mine. But instead, the most meaningful games for the Yankees this weekend will be played in Kansas City and Chicago, where the Twins and Tigers will be.
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