MLB One-Game Playoff Preview: Tigers at Twins
by Trevor Whenham - 10/5/2009
It took forever, but the last month of the baseball season has finally provided some drama. The dullest pennant drive in memory has wrapped up with a tie in the AL Central between the Twins and the Tigers. That means that we get to watch the cruelest event in sports on Tuesday afternoon - the one game baseball playoff. Baseball is all about long series that eventually prove the best team, so these one game series are very difficult to assess and handicap.
These games are typically played the evening after the season ends, but an embarrassment of riches when it comes to sports drama in Minneapolis - Brett Favre plays the Packers in Minnesota for the first time Monday night - means it had to be delayed by a day. The scheduling adds another layer of drama - the Yankees have the right to decide whether to start their series against the winner of this game on Wednesday or Thursday, and they don't have to decide until after the tiebreaker ends. That almost certainly means a quick turnaround for the winner.
Here's a look at several factors that will impact the outcome:
History - Since divisional play began in 1969 this is the eighth play-in game. Teams must be growing more fond of them recently, though - this is the third straight year that there has been one. It's also the second year in a row that the Twins have played in one. They lost to the White Sox, 1-0, last year. Outstanding pitching performances have been common in these games - four different times the losing team has scored one or fewer runs. A strong showing can't be assumed, though - the Rockies won, 9-8, in 2007. There is one good historical reason to like the Twins here - four of the five one-game playoffs since the wild card era began have been won by the home team.
Momentum - If momentum matters then the Twins have a very clear edge. They won 16 of their final 20 games to secure the tie, and had to win their final four to close from three games back. Needless to say, that means that the Tigers did not finish strong. They had a comfortable lead of 5.5 games with 20 games remaining, but faltered down the stretch to put themselves in this situation.
Momentum can be an important factor in these games. In 1978 the Yankees were 13 games behind the Red Sox on July 16, but ended up beating Boston in the play-in game. The 2007 Rockies closed with an incredible 15-1 record in their final 16 games, and rode that momentum all the way through the play-in and into the World Series. The Mariners were 11 games behind the Angels on Aug. 9, 1995. They crushed the Angels, 9-1, in the play-in game. If you are a believer in historical trends then you'll have to like the Twins here.
Season series - No matter how you spin it the Twins have an edge here. The Twins won 11 of the 18 games played between the two teams, including four of the seven played since the middle of September. Things are even more bleak when the games were played in the Metrodome - Minnesota won seven of those nine games. The Twins are also 6-2 in games in which they were favored at odds of -115 or higher. The Twins opened at -170 in this one.
Offense - The Twins have a big edge here. Joe Mauer would be my pick for AL MVP, and has continued to be brilliant down the stretch. Michael Cuddyer has been incredible in the last month, putting up huge numbers including 22 RBI. Delmon Young closed out the season strong as well. On the other side, the Tigers have been weak at the plate down the stretch. Miguel Cabrera has spent more time fighting with his wife than he did hitting well down the stretch. Magglio Ordonez could put out an APB for his power. Brandon Inge had a second half as lousy as his first half was outstanding. Just based on the current states of the lineups you would have little problem justifying the current odds.
Pitching - I give the Twins an edge here, too, though it isn't as big an edge as they have in other areas. Minnesota is starting Scott Baker. At 15-9 with a 4.36 ERA, Baker isn't a dominant arm. He's 13-3 since June, though, so he is in solid form. He's also very solid at home - the team has won six of his last seven home starts. He's a veteran, and that means he should be calm and focused for this start. The same can't be assumed about Detroit's Rick Porcello. He's coming off a very good year, but he's only 20 and he's a rookie, so he has definitely never played in a game as important as this one, and he has likely never played in an environment as hostile as the Metrodome will be on Tuesday. Porcello's record is comparable to Baker's, and his career upside is bigger, but he's likely at least slightly outmatched at this time.
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