With all due apologies to TNT -- the sister station to TBS that will broadcast Tuesday's one-game American League Central playoff game between the Tigers and Twins and the ensuing Division Series that awaits the winner -- we can say this about the mediocrity that has been the majors' weakest division the past two years: they know drama. For the first time in baseball history, a division or league will require an extra regular-season game to decide its champion for the second straight season. Unfortunately, these two races have been notable as much for the flaws of the teams that survived as for the pennant race excitement that they've produced. While the other seven postseason teams all finished with a win total north of 90, either the Twins or Tigers will sneak in with 87, the fewest by a division winner in three years. In fact, the two teams that will face off in what is really, truly the last regular season game at the Metrodome have arrived at Game 163 because they were so remarkably unremarkable for almost all of games 1 through 162.
Had the Twins not waited until mid-September to shake the shackles of .500, they would be flying to New York on Sunday night to await the start of their American League Division Series opener with the Yankees rather than staying in Minnesota to await the arrival of the Tigers. Had Detroit not sputtered to the finish like an '84 Impala, they would be preparing to unleash
For the Twins, it is the second straight season they have been forced to an extra game. It is there, however, that the similarities to 2008 end. Unlike a year ago, when they entered their playoff game with the White Sox in Chicago as relative underdogs, this year's Twins will welcome the reeling Tigers to the Metrodome as decided favorites. In addition to home-field advantage -- no small edge given that home teams have won four of the five one-game playoffs in the wild card era -- the Twins have the momentum from having won 16 of their last 20 games (while the Tigers have skidded to a 10-10 record). They also boast a more balanced and dangerous lineup of late, a better-rested bullpen and a more experienced starting pitcher.
It is this last category that will matter most in Minnesota on Tuesday.
He'll be facing a lineup that has been the best in baseball for the past three weeks. No team has scored more runs than Minnesota since they began their improbable play on September 13, and no team has been getting more significant contributions from a more varied group. In fact, the Twins may well have the AL's MVP for the season, the month of September and the past weekend.
The Tigers offense, meanwhile, has been relatively toothless.
The Twins will counter Porcello with
If all signs point to the Twins winning on Tuesday, then all signs for why this game is being played at all must point to the Tigers. The Twins have been impressive down the stretch, but they would not be here had the Tigers not gagged away a seemingly insurmountable lead. After beating the Rays in Tampa Bay to complete a three-game sweep on September 6, the Tigers held a seven-game lead in the AL Central with just 26 games remaining. Had they played just .500 ball the rest of the way, they would have forced the Twins to go 20-6 to catch them, a winning percentage of .769 for a team that through their first 126 games had won exactly as many games as they had lost. The website coolstandings.com gave the Twins a 6.3 percent chance of winning the division, while the front-running Tigers rated a 91.2, higher than both the first-place Angels and Dodgers, both of whom have since managed to do what the Tigers could not: win their division in the prescribed 162 games.
And now, it looks increasingly likely that even with 163 games, the Tigers won't win their division at all.