MINNEAPOLIS – Max Scherzer earned his 21st win and the Detroit Tigers clinched their third straight AL Central title, beating the Minnesota Twins 1-0 on Wednesday night.
Torii Hunter’s single followed a leadoff triple by Austin Jackson in the first inning, and that was all Scherzer (21-3) and manager Jim Leyland’s Tigers needed to start the party.
Scherzer gave up two singles in seven innings. Jose Veras and Drew Smyly teamed up for the eighth, and Joaquin Benoit worked the ninth for his 24th save in 25 tries.
Scherzer spun one more solid start for the AL Cy Young Award voters to consider, except for the season-high six walks and 123 pitches. He struck out 10 and lowered his ERA to 2.90, ensuring he’ll finish the season with the most wins in the major leagues.
Kevin Correia (9-13) did his best to give the Twins a chance, giving up seven hits and one run over seven innings to finish his first season with the Twins with a 4.18 ERA. He leads the team in wins, starts, innings and strikeouts.
In 2009, the Twins beat the Tigers in an epic 163rd game to decide the division title. Now, the Twins are a shell of that team while the Tigers have taken off.
The clear favorites to win the Central again after getting swept by San Francisco in last year’s World Series appearance, the Tigers haven’t had a losing month this season. They tightened their grip on the division with a 12-game winning streak shortly after the All-Star break.
Cabrera has followed his Triple Crown season with another spectacular year despite persistent midsection injuries. The supporting cast of Prince Fielder, Omar Infante, Jackson and Hunter has helped Detroit stay one of baseball’s best-hitting teams.
The rotation has been even better. Anibal Sanchez and Scherzer have turned star right-hander Justin Verlander into an afterthought at times, and Doug Fister and Rick Porcello are two of the best fourth and fifth starters around. The bullpen, shaky at the start, has been more stable with Benoit as the closer.
Now it’s on to the postseason, where the Tigers have had some success under Leyland but have fallen short of the ultimate goal, the team’s first World Series title since 1984. They were American League champions in 2006 and runners-up in 2011.
It’s still too early to tell which team the Tigers will play in the division series.