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 Twins, Tigers offering late-season drama

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PostSubject: Twins, Tigers offering late-season drama   Mon Sep 28, 2009 7:54 pm

Twins, Tigers offering late-season drama
In season lacking many tight races, all eyes on AL Central



Mike Bauman

09/28/09 12:05 AM ET

Baseball fans owe a debt, at least a debt of gratitude, to the Detroit Tigers and the Minnesota Twins for supplying an actual race for a division championship.

There have been plenty of magnificent individual achievements in baseball in 2009, but in the category of dramatic division races, it's basically the Tigers and the Twins.

Yes, it is true that the Braves have pulled within five games of the Phillies and the Rockies are five back of the Dodgers. But those two races have seemed like foregone conclusions for some time. It is only in the American League Central, with Minnesota trailing Detroit by only two games, where the drama is at playoff pitch.

The Twins and the Tigers meet four times this week, beginning Monday night in Detroit. This is an old-school division race. Neither of these teams is going to win the AL Wild Card berth. In terms of getting to play in the postseason, this is all or nothing. This becomes one of those rare regular-season occurrences -- a series whose importance cannot be overstated.

"I would say it's as close to a playoff game as you can get without actually being in a playoff game," Tigers third baseman Brandon Inge said.

Said Michael Cuddyer of the Twins: "Both teams control their own destiny, and that's what makes it fun. It's a playoff series, four-game playoff series, and it's going to be that type of atmosphere and that type of excitement."

The fact that both of these teams are in these positions should not be particularly surprising. If you look at what has happened in the first eight years of this decade, the idea of Minnesota contending for a division title is business as usual. Detroit still has many of the same core position players who went to a World Series in 2006, plus some young pitching has been successfully added to the mix.

Justin Verlander, Edwin Jackson and rookie Rick Porcello are a combined 44-25 going into this series. The average age of this trio is 24. Porcello's 20 brings that average down considerably and Verlander has been a staple of the Detroit rotation for four seasons now, but the additions of Jackson and Porcello have made a huge difference for the Tigers.

The Tigers were written off by some after a deflating 2008 season in which they fell to last place in the AL Central. But a mistake is made writing off any team managed by Jim Leyland. And this team had two commodities you can't replicate -- veterans who know how to win and young pitchers who are ready to compete at the highest level.

The Twins have worked some wonders themselves. They are making a big late-season push. They had won 11 of their last 12 games before Sunday's loss to Zack Greinke, the league's best starting pitcher this season. During this stretch, they trimmed the Tigers' lead from 5 1/2 games to two.

The Twins were on this tear without the services of first baseman Justin Morneau, a run producer of MVP proportions. Morneau is out for the remainder of the season with a back injury. With an excuse this good readily available, many teams would have packed it in. The Twins are always more determined, more resilient, more persistent than that.

With three pitchers on the 60-day disabled list, their supply of young pitching has also been tested. That supply has been sufficient and more. It was just 10 days ago, for instance, that Brian Duensing tossed 6 1/3 innings of shutout ball against the Tigers in a truly pivotal game. Nick Blackburn and Scott Baker have helped greatly. A veteran acquisition, Carl Pavano, thought to be beyond repair by the New York Yankees, has been more than capable. And bracing this entire staff is a closer who has quietly been as good as anybody in the game for the past six seasons, Joe Nathan.

A word must also be said about the catcher, Joe Mauer, who is on the verge of his third batting title. That in itself is a remarkable accomplishment, given that no other catcher had ever won an AL batting title. But Mauer's defense is so good that he may be not merely the best catcher in the league, but the best player in the league.

So these are the two clubs that are still producing the divisional drama as the clock winds down for the 2009 regular season. The AL Central was thought to be an unpredictable venue this season, with any of its five clubs having a chance to be the eventual winner. But in fact, the season has been very disappointing for the White Sox, and, let's face it, immensely disappointing for the Indians and the Royals.

Neither the Twins nor the Tigers are anything like a dominant team. But they are good enough to have come this far, striving for the division title in the last week of regular-season play. And they have come this far in tandem, which makes for the kind of baseball drama that represents the best of baseball in late September. This September, that kind of drama happens to be down to two clubs. The Twins and the Tigers deserve our attention and our thanks.

Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
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PostSubject: Re: Twins, Tigers offering late-season drama   Tue Sep 29, 2009 10:23 am

thanks for this. The Yankees are boring....
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