Pitching Picks Up Offense As Tigers Wrap Up Division

There is good news and bad news in the Tigers’ performance on Wednesday night. If you want the bad news, it’s that if you’re worried about the offense, this one won’t do much to calm your fears.

Good news? Who cares? The Tigers have finally clinched the AL Central with a 1-0 victory in Minneapolis, allowing them to celebrate on the home field of one of the teams that has caused Tiger fans more fits than they’d care to remember.

As it turned out, the Tigers scored their one and only run before an out was recorded. Austin Jackson led off the game with a triple to right over the head of Chris Herrmann. Torii Hunter followed with a ground ball single up the middle. That was it. There would be no other runs scored in the ballgame for either team. The Tigers would end up with eight hits, but just the lone run.

Luckily for them, Max Scherzer was basically a slightly lesser version of Justin Verlander from Monday night. I say lesser because his command was way out of whack. Jim Leyland wanted to ease off Scherzer, but the Tigers’ inability to score made that virtually impossible. Scherzer ended up topping 120 pitches, striking out ten, giving up just two hits – neither of which left the infield –  but he walked a rather stunning six batters.

It was in the fifth that Scherzer came closest to breaking. He gave up one of his two hits, an infield single to Pedro Florimon, then walked Alex Presley. However, with a full count and one out, the Twins decided to try and jumpstart their offense by putting the runners in motion. Brian Dozier struck out, though, and Florimon was caught stealing third. Scherzer was pitching through traffic all night, but the only other real threats he faced were when he walked two in the first and escaped and when his leadoff walk in the seventh was bunted over to second. However, two flyouts ensured that the run did not score.

With Scherzer’s pitch count high, Leyland had to turn to his taxed bullpen in the eighth. Jose Veras came first, giving up a deep flyout and an infield single (yes, none of Minnesota’s three hits tonight left the infield. They’re the Twins, so of course). Drew Smyly came next. He got Ryan Doumit to pop out to second and caught Josmil Pinto on strikes.

With the game still 1-0, Leyland had to again go to a reliever he would have preferred to rest – but it was Joaquin Benoit for the ninth inning. Benoit did not disappoint, getting a flyout and two strikeouts – the final one to Josh Willingham, the same player who grounded out to close out the Tigers’ division clincher in 2011 – to wrap up the shutout.

This, coupled with the off day tomorrow, means the Tigers can relax a bit. They’re one game behind Oakland for second best record in the AL, but the Tigers would essentially need to sweep and get some serious help from Seattle to pass them as Oakland own the tiebreaker. They should be able to rest Miguel Cabrera and whoever else they want to rest, and then they’ll have almost another full week before the Division Series starts on October 4.

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