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September 29, 2009

Prospectus Today

Drama Delayed

by Joe Sheehan

If you want to hear God laugh…

To: Christina Kahrl
Re: Tuesday's PT
Was thinking I'd do Tigers/Twins in postseason mode. That work for you?

To: Joe Sheehan
Re: Tuesday's PT
Absolutely, good stuff, go for it.
The rain clouds that turned today's column into a web version of Rain Delay Theatre didn't come without a silver lining, because now we get a division race plus two critical games with less than a week to go in one marathon day at the ballpark. The Twins need to win three of four in Detroit to tie the AL Central going into the last weekend, and by the end of today we're going to have a very good idea of whether they can do so. Anything less would leave them needing help from the White Sox on the season's final weekend to reach the postseason.

They can certainly take three. They can also sweep, or be swept. Everything is possible, because baseball won't have it any other way, and the next four games of any team are essentially unpredictable. We see bad teams jump up and sweep good ones all year long, so to guess at what might happen between two evenly matched, if flawed, teams is folly. This lesson comes to us directly from the Yankees/Red Sox season series, and is one I need to remember a week from now when my job is reduced to making predictions about four best-of-fives.

Without getting into results, there are certain keys to success for each team. The Tigers have to maximize the innings and run prevention they get from their starters, especially in today's doubleheader. The dropoff from Rick Porcello and Justin Verlander to the rest of the series is steep, and the dropoff from those two to the bullpen is steep, so they need quality starts deep into the game from both. Porcello hasn't been an innings guy, so for him, this means doing six. Verlander, however, could and should be in for a long night; if the Tigers take care of business, he wouldn't have to pitch again until next Wednesday, so a long leash is warranted.

The Twins have to keep the ball in the park with their fly-ball staff pitching to a team of fly-ball hitters. The Twins don't walk people, and the Tigers aren't notably selective, so this is going to be about what happens after contact. Can the Tigers generate the long balls that are the lifeblood of their offense? The Tigers are tied for 10th in team Equivalent Average 10th in batting average, 10th in walks drawn, 12th in stolen bases, 13th in doubles plus triples. They're seventh in homers, which is their only positive trait as an offensive ballclub. The Twins want to get their starters, primarily mid-rotation strike-throwers, to the sixth and turn the game over to their bullpen. They're strong at the back, and as BP intern Dan Wade pointed out after I wrote about the Twins' pen last week, they've been bolstered in the middle by the apparent return to form of Jesse Crain, who has 25 strikeouts against 10 unintentional walks in 29 2/3 innings since coming off the DL, without allowing a home run in that time.

I don't know what will happen in the series, but I know that today's events at Comerica will likely determine the eventual AL Central winner. This is nearly 30 percent of the remaining schedule, the Tigers' two best starters and two of the Twins' top three on the mound, all in one day. It doesn't get a whole lot better than this. In a September that once looked like a dud, we're going to get at least one day of high drama.

--

The other active race is the NL wild-card chase, where the Giants and Marlins have given way to the hard-charging Braves, the last team with a chance to catch the Rockies. With a 4-0 win last night over the Marlins, the Braves have won 16 of 19 games since a humiliating sweep at the hands of the Reds in early September. They've allowed just 55 runs in that time, fewer than three per game, and while some of that is the schedule-the Braves have gone 11-1 against the Astros, Mets, and Nationals in this stretch-it's also a credit to a terrific run-prevention team. Jair Jurrjens has allowed just three runs in 29 innings over his last four starts, pounding the ball low in the strike zone to great effect.

I am certain, even noting their significant holes on offense, that the Braves are one of the eight best teams in baseball right now. They might be one of the five best, and I'm not completely convinced they wouldn't be the best team in the National League's post-season slate if they could get there. Their top eight pitchers are the best top eight in baseball, even better than the Cardinals' (with their top two starters) or Dodgers (with their ridiculously good bullpen). That doesn't mean anything, of course-you need to be one of the best over 162 games to qualify, and at that, playing the best baseball in September doesn't necessarily always mean winning in October. But right now, the Braves are a team that would make October that much more interesting, certainly a bit more than the two teams squaring off in downtown Detroit as you read this.

Speaking of which, time to watch some baseball. Back tomorrow with more on all the relevant games from today.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Joe's other articles. You can contact Joe by clicking here

11 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

sunpar

As a Braves, it would actually be refreshing for once to head into the postseason as the hard charging underdog "team of destiny" rather than the stately, consistent boring favorites.

Then again, after 3 years of non-playoff action, it'd just be nice to get back into the postseason.

Sep 29, 2009 10:19 AM
rating: 0
 
kilfara

Props to you, Mr. Sheehan, for continuing to advocate the Braves as the most likely team to make a late run at the NL Wild Card even after they'd been swept by the Reds (part of a five-game losing streak). With four home games left against the Nats, the Rockies had better not do worse than .500 from here on in!

Sep 29, 2009 11:14 AM
rating: 0
 
Bill N

The Nats have a tendency to rise up in their spoiler role. The Mets will attest to this.

Sep 29, 2009 12:22 PM
rating: 0
 
sroney

So, if the Twins tie it up by taking three of four, which is better positioned to deal with the lack of a fully rested starter from their top five on Saturday (due to yesterday's rainout)?

Sep 29, 2009 12:27 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Joe Sheehan
BP staff
(17)

Neither. I wish I were kidding, but you basically have one decent rotation (Verlander/Baker/Blackburn/Porcello/Jackson) combined here.

You make it a bullpen game. I could see Leyland starting with Zach Miner, who seems to be a favorite. The Twins have a bunch of candidates--the broadcast crew today didn't seem to think it'd be Liriano or Manship and named Bobby Keppel. That seems like an overreaction.

Again, if it's me, I don't think in terms of starters or relievers if I have 18 innings left in my season.

By the way, do we yet know what happens Monday? The Vikings have a home game and the NFL refused to budge on moving it.

Sep 29, 2009 14:06 PM
 
gtgator

I read playoff on Tuesday as a result (if needed of course).

Sep 29, 2009 14:12 PM
rating: 0
 
sroney

I suppose someone could pitch on short rest Saturday, as well. Or you have a second starter available for long relief on Sunday on full rest.

Sep 29, 2009 14:48 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

All of this would appear to be big for the Yankees, because if Verlander pitches either on Saturday (short rest, to prevent Porcello from having to do so) or Sunday then he won't be available to go twice in the ALDS.

Sep 30, 2009 09:11 AM
 
BP staff member Joe Sheehan
BP staff
(17)

I think unless the Tigers fall to a game behind by Saturday, they'll find a way to avoid using Verlander. Three straight 125+ starts is a pretty bad prelude to going on short rest, and if they can somehow get through the regular season without using him again, it gives them a considerable leg up in the DS.

Jay, if you're the Yankees, do you care who wins, or just that both teams have to go to Tuesday to figure it out?

Sep 30, 2009 09:26 AM
 
FastballVelociraptor

Hey Joe, will you be doing some bragging if the Braves make it after you predicted they're the most likely Rockiesesque late-charger?

Sep 30, 2009 12:33 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Joe Sheehan
BP staff
(17)

No. I make lots of forward-looking statements. It's the underlying thought process, the analysis, that I stand behind, regardless of outcome. It's nice to be right, but I'm also wrong, as my AL candidate from that article makes clear.

It's about the process, about raising the level of discussion about baseball. I think I do that most days, and I think that is, at the core, what BP has tried to do for 14 years.

Sep 30, 2009 13:08 PM
 
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