The last time Detroit Tigers ace Justin Verlander had a personal winning streak stopped he went on to lose several in a row.
The Tigers hope history isn't repeating itself for the All-Star hurler, who gets the nod tonight in the third test of a four-game series versus the rolling Minnesota Twins at Comerica Park. Verlander was unbeaten (5-0) in seven starts from April 16 - May 18 until going winless (0-3) in four subsequent appearances.
Verlander then had a three-game winning streak come to an end in Friday's 4-2 loss at Tampa Bay, as the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner and MVP gave up four runs and six hits in six innings to fall to 8-5 in 17 outings with a 2.69 earned run average. Verlander is still holding opposing hitters to a .204 batting average and has fared well throughout his career against Minnesota. In 21 career starts in this series, Verlander is 10-7 with a 3.52 ERA.
Detroit could have used its ace in last night's 8-6 loss in the second installment of this series, but instead had to go with Duane Below because originally-scheduled starter Max Scherzer is dealing with a hamstring injury. Scherzer is supposed to pitch Sunday versus Kansas City.
Below took the mound after an hour and a half rain delay and allowed five runs -- one earned -- and five hits in 2 2/3 innings in the no-decision, while Brayan Villarreal was charged with a run in two innings of relief for the loss. Minnesota scored in the seventh and ninth innings to break a 6-6 tie and cruise to its fifth straight win.
Austin Jackson and Brennan Boesch both homered for the Tigers, losers in five of their last eight games. Jackson is on a 10-game hitting streak.
"It's bitter-sweet when you have a good game and your team losses," admitted Boesch. "You don't get to enjoy it as much but you get to build on it the next day."
The Tigers are winless (0-2) so far on a seven-game homestand and sit 4 1/2 games off the lead in the AL Central.
Minnesota is still last in the Central standings at eight games off the pace, but is starting to string together some wins.
The Twins recorded their season-best fifth win in a row and improved to 2-0 on a seven-game road trip thanks to a power display at Comerica Park. Joe Mauer had three hits, including a home run, and three runs scored, Josh Willingham also homered and Trevor Plouffe went deep in a winning cause. The Twins have homered 11 times during their win streak. Plouffe has four homers and eight RBI in his previous five games.
"We've got guys who can drive a baseball," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said on the club's website. "We've been saying that all year long. Josh has been doing it all year long. Mauer can hit home runs. You've seen Trevor. I don't know how to describe it anymore, he's just incredible. Seems like every night he's doing something huge, and he had a heck of a ballgame tonight."
Jeff Gray tossed two shutout innings of relief to register the win, while Glen Perkins fired a 1-2-3 ninth to notch his fourth save of the year. Nick Blackburn didn't too so well in the start and maybe the rain delay had an effect, as he allowed six runs and eight hits in four innings.
"I haven't had maybe one good outing this year, and it's beyond me at this point," said Blackburn. "I go out, I throw my bullpens, everything goes good. I know bullpens don't count, but it would be different if I didn't feel right up on the mound. I go in every game with confidence because I feel like I have the stuff to compete, and I'm just not. It's not a whole lot of fun."
Ryan Doumit was 0-for-3 with two strikeouts last night and entered the game riding an 11-game hitting streak. He was batting .415 with a .468 on-base percentage during the run. Mauer, though, has hit safely in each of his last 12 games, going 22-for-49 in that time.
Brian Duensing will make his third start and 33rd appearance for the Twins tonight and could be on a pitch limit again since he started the season in the bullpen. Duensing made his first start of the season in a 6-0 loss at Cincinnati on June 23, as he gave up four runs in three innings.
He then took the hill six days later in a 4-3 loss to Kansas City and allowed three runs on eight hits in four innings. Duensing, who is 1-4 with a 4.10 ERA this season, wasn't too pleased with his latest effort.
"I'm frustrated, to be honest," Duensing said on the team's site. "A lot more negatives than positives in that start. Some of the positives were that I lasted an inning longer, the ball felt good out of [my] hand and I made some good pitches. The negatives were I left the ball up, I was kind of misfiring and all the runs scoring. It's kind of a step forward but not very far."
The left-hander has faced Detroit 18 times (7 starts) in his career and is 2-3 with a 4.48 ERA.
Minnesota leads the season series with Detroit by a 4-3 count. The Tigers swept a three-game set in the Twin Cities back in late May.