Anibal Sanchez breathed life back into the Detroit Tigers last night with one of the best pitching performances the team has seen all season. A 3-hit, 1-walk complete game shutout against the solid bats of the Kansas City Royals, combined with a gift from the Indians earlier in the day, has once again drawn the Tigers even with the White Sox in the AL Central.
8 games to go. With these two teams you certainly couldn’t call this the Elite 8 – more like crazy 8’s.
[For my thoughts on last night's win, click here]
For a lot of teams, a performance like last night’s out of Sanchez would be the perfect final spark needed to encourage a late charge and win the division. The Tigers haven’t been like a lot of teams this year.
Detroit has battled some injuries to their starting pitching (Doug Fister, Drew Smyly) and a sudden regression from guys like Alex Avila, Brennan Boesch, Ryan Raburn, and Jhonny Peralta as compared to what they did a season ago. Despite that, despite the frantic screams from fans all summer, despite mucking it up in baseball’s worst division, the Tigers are in the catbird’s seat.
The hometown faithful will have one last chance to see what this team is all about. 2012 has been clouded with a series of letdowns but all of that can change with one 8-game surge and a less-than-improbable run in the playoffs.
I’ve written this multiple times before but it bears repeating here: the goal is to make the playoffs, period. You don’t have to make it with the best record or the best offense or the smartest manager. Just make it. St. Louis snuck in the back door last year and won the World Series. The regular season is where the men get separated from the boys. The playoffs are as unpredictable as a wild weekend of March Madness action. Make the playoffs and see what comes of it.
Detroit is on the doorstep.
The Tigers have 2 games left against the Royals at home, then will hit the road for 3 against the Twins and 3 more at Kansas City to close out the season.
Meanwhile, the White Sox finish up their series with Cleveland at home today, then host the once again surging Tampa Bay Rays (winners of 6 straight) at US Cellular Field, and then travel to Cleveland for their final 3 regular season games.
Give the Tigers a slight edge in the scheduling department. Tampa is still playing for a wild card while neither of Detroit’s opponents are playing for much, mostly inserting young prospects down the stretch to see how they handle life in the big leagues.
As currently lined up, the Tigers will have Rick Porcello, Fister, and Max Scherzer all on the mound two more times. Sanchez and Justin Verlander only throw once in the final 8 games. Manager Jim Leyland could shift the rotation around but don’t count on it.
Fister and Scherzer are scheduled to pitch the last 2 games of the season. Neither of these guys will have a start skipped so if that happens it will be Porcello’s last start that gets yanked. This would bump all three of the Tigers’ big guns up a day, pitching on short rest. It’s a virtual lock that Leyland lets the rotation roll as is the rest of the way, which leaves Verlander as the starter for a potential play-in game 163 or game 1 of the ALDS.
The White Sox are in a similar situation as Chris Sale, their best starter, is only set to start one more regular season game. Imagine the allure of a game 163 with Sale and Verlander duking it out. Hopefully it doesn’t come to that.
A few months ago, when all seemed hopeless in Tiger Town, I tweeted a guarantee that the Tigers would make the playoffs. I’m holding to that.
My biggest fear is that Leyland doesn’t have his bullpen hot when Porcello enters the middle innings. He has had several starts lately where he has pitched brilliantly for 4-5 innings only to cough up several runs and eventually lose. Having Brayan Villarreal and Senor Slider, Al Alburquerque, on the ready would be a wise move in Porcello’s final 2 starts. Detroit doesn’t need a complete game out of Rick, and history says he won’t give them one. Plan on 5 innings and a mess of bullpen.
To me, Porcello is the x-factor. If he delivers, or isn’t left out to dry too long, and the Tigers can win one of his 2 starts, then I think Detroit makes the playoffs.
Always trust your gut when making a pick. I say the Tigers go 6-2 down the stretch and win the division outright by a game.