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Posted at 12:45 PM EST.
7:10 PM EST. The AL Wild Card race has basically come down to Minnesota versus Texas, the Angels and K.C with Minnesota holding a 2½-game lead. Twins Manager, Paul Molitor has been outmaneuvering everyone all season long and that figures to continue here in this very winnable and important series. Molitor’s baseball IQ was off the charts when he was a player and it’s still off the charts. After watching him all season long, we’re convinced he’s the best in the game and that matters this time of year.
Daniel Norris hasn't started since early July. He returned in early September to make four relief appearances but the Tigers were getting pounded in all of them but one. He came into games that the Tigers lost 10-4, 8-2 and 11-1. Norris has been a physical mess since his Sept 2014 debut. He had off-season surgery for thyroid cancer, a fractured back in March of that same year and also suffered an oblique strain last June. This year he’s been dealing on and off with a strained groin the entire season and when he has been healthy enough to pitch, it hasn’t been pretty. Norris brings his .300 oppBA, 1.67 WHIP, 6.02 xERA and poor control into this start, his first in roughly 10 weeks. The Tigers need bodies to finish out the season and that’s what Norris provides right now.
While nobody was watching, the Twins added a third dangerous arm to their prospective playoff rotation. While people were fawning over adorable, ancient, rotund, polygamous Bartolo Colon and mulling whether the team could cobble together a competent fifth starting slot, Kyle Gibson evolved into the solid, efficient, mid-rotation innings-eater he always ought to have been.
Since being exiled to Triple-A (for the first of two times this season) in early May, Gibson has made 30 starts (27 with the Twins, and three with the Rochester Red Wings), posted a 3.94 ERA, pitched 162 innings, faced 606 batters, struck out 122, walked 58, and induced ground balls on more than half of all batted balls against him.
A career that seemed very much in jeopardy as recently as two months ago now seems to be on a steady, upward trajectory. With any pitcher as broken and removed from his own potential as Gibson was earlier this season, it’s hard to put much faith on a recent surge but it’s legit.
Gibson has a fairly high natural arm slot, but over his career, he’s somewhat lost touch with it, and has even artificially raised it—with disastrous results. When Gibson releases the ball from a higher sheer height, it’s usually because he’s either tilting his spine sharply to the left (carrying him off a straight line toward his target and wasting some of the energy in his motion) or not bending the back enough at all. Not the way the release point rose throughout 2016. That was Gibson (hampered by pain in his shoulder and lower back) simply landing on a stiff front leg, staying high throughout the drive phase of his delivery, and throwing without finishing strongly. Recognizing that issue, Gibson consulted a former coach from his amateur days this winter and landed at the Florida Baseball Ranch. There, he retrained his shoulder muscles to absorb the energy of completing his release and allowing his arm to recoil. The resulting arm path was a bit lower and considerably easier to repeat, and it began to pay off as he tapped into other mechanical improvements later in the season. Gibson has always relied heavily on his sinker and that is still in play. On video, you can see a mild version of Max Scherzer’s head movement from Gibson lately, and the reason is that (like Scherzer) Gibson has added a bunch of well-directed energy to the final phase of his delivery, snapping his upper half toward the plate as if spring-loaded. The most obvious change Gibson has made, of course, is one that can easily be observed without an especially keen eye for pitching mechanics or an intimate knowledge of Gibson’s medical history. He’s become a five-pitch pitcher, especially over the last two months or so. All of what you just read has progressively made Gibson a reliable and effective five-pitch pitcher that will now face a bunch of young and inexperienced hitters. Minnesota figures to score a bunch off of Norris and that putrid ‘pen while Detroit can’t get out of their own way these days.
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Minnesota -1½ +111 (Risking 2 units - To Win: 2.22)