Pitching reigns supreme in the American League Central.
The Tigers have won consecutive division titles on the back of ace Justin Verlander, who merited the 2011 Cy Young and Most Valuable Player awards. Anibal Sanchez, Doug Fister and Max Scherzer have banded together to compose a more-than-formidable rotation in Detroit.
The Royals have ascended to the top of the standings in the early going thanks to a revamped rotation. Winter additions Ervin Santana, James Shields and Wade Davis all sport ERAs of 3.20 or lower.
The Twins are trying to get to that point. Their pitching staff as a whole posted a 4.77 ERA last year, the third-worst mark in the big leagues. This season, Minnesota hurlers have compiled a 3.73 ERA, which might explain why the Twins are 11-10, as opposed to last season, when they started 10-26.
Offseason additions Vance Worley and Mike Pelfrey have struggled a bit, but Kevin Correia has fashioned a 3-1 record and 2.23 ERA. Overall, manager Ron Gardenhire is pleased with what his starters have given him.
"For the most part, they're all giving us a chance," Gardenhire said. "They're competing, and they pay attention in the dugout, and they're always talking in the dugout. So yeah, we feel good running them out there."
Consider Tigers skipper Jim Leyland impressed.
"They went out and got those pitchers this winter that have a pretty good feel for control," Leyland said. "That's what it looks like to me. They wanted some guys who were going to throw the ball over the plate and have an idea how to pitch."
Pelfrey will take the hill at Comerica Park in Monday's series opener, almost one year to the day from when he had Tommy John surgery. Pelfrey, who had the operation May 1, is 2-2 with a 7.94 ERA in four starts this season, having yielded 29 hits in 17 innings.
"Pelfrey is a student of the game, and he helps some of the younger guys," Gardenhire said. "He watches a lot of film and the whole package. He's coming off a serious injury, so he has a lot of stuff on his table, but he's still around to help the younger guys, which is important."
Scherzer (2-0, 4.13 ERA) will attempt to match the recent dominance displayed by his colleagues. Scherzer leads the team with 13.5 strikeouts per nine innings, but it was Sanchez who fanned a franchise-record 17 batters Friday. Sanchez, Verlander and Fister all tote ERAs of 2.38 or lower.
Twins: Award-winning slugger honored
Left fielder Josh Willingham was recognized before Sunday's contest for winning the Silver Slugger Award in 2012. Willingham clubbed a career-high 35 homers and tallied 110 RBIs to earn his first such distinction.
"It's deservedly so," Gardenhire said. "We thought he should've been an All-Star last year. But he didn't get picked, which was a big disappointment for our organization and him I'm sure. But he had a great year and did everything he was supposed to do when we brought him over here. So it's well-deserved."
Tigers: Scherzer The Strikeout Machine
• Scherzer has punched out at least one batter in all but four innings he has completed this season. He has tallied 36 strikeouts across 24 innings, and he has averaged more than one per frame in each of his four starts. His 13.5 strikeouts per nine innings through Sunday were tied with Rangers right-hander Yu Darvish for most in the Majors among starting pitchers.
• Left fielder Andy Dirks is available to play and could even start on Monday. A sore right knee has kept him sidelined since Wednesday. Leyland cautioned, however, that Dirks is still not 100 percent.
• Willingham hit his 25th home run at Target Field on Saturday, the most in the ballpark's brief history.
• The Twins took two of three from the Tigers in a season-opening series at Target Field.
• Leyland said Sunday that right fielder Torii Hunter will be given the day off on Monday. Hunter, batting .375 on the season, has played in 22 of Detroit's 23 games.