On April 12, the Minnesota Twins claimed possession of first place in the AL Central with a 5-2 win against the Boston Red Sox. Since then, the Twins have been in sole possession of first for 76 days and tied for one. For the first time since then, Minnesota is no longer atop the Central after losing to the Detroit Tigers, 7-5, on Monday night. Although the Twins battled back to within a run in the eighth inning, Twins ace Francisco Liriano‘s four-run, first-inning meltdown was simply too much for the Twins to recover from.
Liriano started the inning by hitting Austin Jackson with a pitch. It was downhill from there, as the game log shows.
It certainly doesn’t appear that Liriano was getting burned by dribblers through the infield. Three of the five hits in the inning were classified as line drives by Baseball Info Solutions; another, Miguel Cabrera‘s double, was a deep fly ball. It also doesn’t appear that Liriano’s velocity was down in the first inning, either. He threw 13 fastballs in the inning, averaging 93.8 mph. That’s almost exactly in line with his fastball velocity on the year.
Liriano put himself in a very bad situation with the hit batsman and then a bunt hit by Ramon Santiago. Then, as happens to even the best pitchers, he was burned by good hitters and poor location. After a single by Ryan Raburn loaded the bases, Cabrera hit a slider which was down out of the strike zone for a double. In the next at-bat, Liriano’s second pitch to Brennan Boesch was simply asking to be hit for extra bases.
Allowing cheap baserunners is particularly problematic for Liriano, as he struggles from the stretch relative to the rest of the league. The average pitcher has allowed batters to slug .396 with the bases empty this year, and .415 with runners on. Against Liriano this season, the opposition is slugging .313 with no one on base and .374 with men on. So even though the lefty is better than the league with runners on, the gap between his performance with the bases empty versus men on is larger than most.
This four-run inning by the Tigers raised their win expectancy to 78.8 percent before the Twins even got to the plate. Liriano managed to throw five strong innings despite his poor opener, but it simply wasn’t enough. The Tigers scored enough early and managed to hang on. As a reward, Detroit is now in first, and the race is on.
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