When the Twins' ninth inning comeback fell short in the nitecap of yesterday's doubleheader againt Detroit, the Tigers ran their AL Central Lead back to two games. Their magic number is now four. Both the Twins and Tigers have 5 games left, two of them head-to-head. If the Tigers sweep the two they clinch; if the Twins do, they're dead even with three games to go.
Of course, all of this matters to the Yankees as they won't know who their ALDS opponent is until the AL Central is settled. While much of the talk around the Yankees these days is of the "who would you rather face?" variety, my preference isn't so much who they face but rather how long it takes to determine that. If given my druthers, this race would go down to the season's final day, not just for intrigue purposes, but also to force both clubs to continue to play their regulars and trot out their top starters.
Because of the doubleheader yesterday, both clubs have a dilemma for Saturday: bring back one of yesterday's starters on short rest, or send an inferior, but rested, pitcher to the mound with the season hanging in the balance. For the Tigers, the fact that 20 year old Rick Porcello was one of yesterday's pitchers makes the decision all the more complicated. Porcello has already thrown 165 innings this year - 40 more than his previous high - and bringing him in on short rest would increase his risk of future injury. Instead, the Tigers likely would elect to throw ace Justin Verlander on short rest Saturday, even though he's thrown 120+ pitches in each of his last three starts, including a season high 129 last night. For the Twins, "ace" Nick Blackburn would likely come back on short rest Saturday, and it looks like he'd draw Zack Greinke.
If the Yankees pick ALDS schedule "A" as expected, Game 1 would be next Wednesday, meaning that if the Saturday starter of the AL Central champ pitches that game, it would also be on short rest.
Here's where things can get really interesting. Should the Tigers and Twins finish the regular season tied, an additional play in game would be held to determine the division champion. The Twins lead the season series against the Tigers 10-6, so regardless of the outcome of the next two games, the Twins would host any potential play in game.
However, root-of-all-evil Brett Favre and his Minnesota Vikings are scheduled to play his former team, the Green Bay Packers on Monday Night Football next week. The Vikings' Metrodome lease gives them priority over all non-World Series games and the NFL has already announced the game will not be moved. There's no way ESPN, who is actively trying to set a Favre-based Guiness World Record to promote the game, would pass up on the ratings bonanza. As such, the AL Central championship game wouldn't be held until Tuesday, meaning that whoever pitches that game will have one fewer day of rest heading into the ALDS. So in a way, thank you Brett you waffling, self-centered attention whore.
All else being equal, I think I'd prefer to face the Twins in the ALDS. They appear to have a much weaker squad, particularly in the starting rotation, are missing a key offensive weapon in Justin Morneau, are 0-7 against the Yankees this year, and have been ALDS fodder for the Yanks in '03 and '04. However, I'd much rather have the Central go undecided until next Tuesday and play the Tigers than have the Twins come back and clinch it Saturday. These will certainly be an interesting few days.