Vance Gets A Chance.

Though they are becoming more and more scarce, you can find some critics that are simply waiting for the shoe to drop with regards to the Tigers. As a team out of nowhere jumping out to an amazing start that has netted them a tie for the best record in baseball, I can understand some skepticism. That said, the Tigers have shown time and again in the early season that they aren’t simply using smoke and mirrors to overpower teams. Great starting pitching, powerful and timely hitting, and easily one of the league’s best bullpens have made the Tigers a legitimate threat in the American League Central. Tonight, they faced one of their stiffest tests in Minnesota’s Johan Santana. I have gone on record saying that he is baseball’s best starting pitcher. I stand by that assertion and he showed it tonight.

Rookie hurler Justin Verlander stood toe-to-toe with Santana and didn’t flinch all game. Santana took the strikeout battle 12-0, but Verlander found ways to get outs with 11 on groundballs, 12 on flies. He scattered six hits over eight innings before turning it over to closer Todd Jones. Santana, meanwhile, also went eight innings and walked just one with his 12 strikeouts. The walk came right before his fatal mistake, a fastball that Vance Wilson sent over the left field fence for a 2-run home run. That would be the difference as the Tigers won 2-0 for their 6th straight win and 26th overall.

Verlander is a fireballer in the vein of his counterpart today, but for him to be able to deliver eight strong without striking out any hitters goes a long way towards showing how much he has matured in just 39 games this season. Jones locked down his 11th save in 12 tries as the main component of the two-headed closer with Fernando Rodney.

In addition to Wilson’s game-winning home run, Carlos Guillen and Magglio Ordonez were the only other hitters to get to Santana tonight. Coming into the series, the Tigers fans were aiming for 2 of 3, all but conceding the game against Santana. Tough to fault the notion.

Coming into tonight, Santana was working on four straight wins in which he pitched 29 innings allowing seven earned runs (2.17 ERA) and 25 baserunners (0.86) and striking out 40 batters. Tonight was just a microcosm of the struggles Santana can expect to face with the Twins lineup behind him. If he does not shutout the opposition, wins will not come easy for him.

The Tigers get Brad Radke tomorrow afternoon, whom they pasted in one outing on April 28th. Radke lasted just two and one-thirds innings giving up six runs on nine hits, including two home runs. For Detroit, Kenny Rogers (6-2, 3.23 ERA, 2.1 K:BB) aims for his fourth straight win.

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