How ironic that the first American League team to secure their postseason fate is the one that most fans and experts didn’t give a chance to make it at all just two short weeks ago – the Detroit Tigers.
The Detroit Tigers will be making consecutive postseason appearances for the first time since 1934-35. 2012 marks the 14th time the Tigers have qualified for postseason play in their historic existence.
Sure, they made it due in large part to the total collapse by the White Sox. They made it thanks to a terribly weak division. They made it despite having one of the most defensively inefficient teams in the major leagues. But here they are now with the same shot as the other 9 teams that will eventually qualify.
The Tigers’ opponent is far from determined. It could literally be any of 4 different teams right now including the Yankees, Orioles, A’s, or Rangers.
One thing is for certain, the Tigers will open postseason play at home on Saturday for Game 1 of the ALDS with Justin Verlander on the mound. Game 2 will be on Sunday in Detroit while Games 3-5 will be on the road Tuesday – Thursday as needed.
How did this all happen? Well, the Tigers are 14-6 in their last 20 games while the White Sox have lost 10 of 13 games down the stretch. Imagine if the Sox were even just 6-7 in that stretch instead of 3-10. This would be a dead heat. But it’s not. It’s over and the Tigers are moving on.
How well will this team stack up in the playoffs? A few things are different, such as the Tigers finally winning a few road games (albeit against sub .500 teams) and finding ways to win some tight games, something that plagued them for much of the season.
A lot hasn’t changed though. The Tigers will enter the playoffs as one of the most flawed teams, yet one of the most dangerous teams, in the field. The back end of the Tigers’ bullpen is suddenly a mess as Joaquin Benoit has started to scuffle again and the only thing Jose Valverde should really be closing these days is the door on his way out of Detroit after the season.
Max Scherzer’s shoulder issue couldn’t have come at a worse time of year. His mortality makes the Tigers potentially ferocious 1-2-3 punch on the mound less than a sure thing.
The Tigers still carry a lot of dead weight offensively as well. After basically having career years in 2012, Alex Avila, Brennan Boesch, and Jhonny Peralta have been far from special. Boesch has been so bad that you have to search high and low just to get a view of him sitting in the dugout these days.
Delmon Young has experienced wild swings in production this year. Currently, he is on a downward trend. With the exception of two red-hot offensive streaks during the year Delmon has been far from reliable. He had a powerful postseason in 2011 and the Tigers will need more of the same this time around.
Despite all of the hiccups and uncertainties, the Tigers roll out as much firepower as anyone making the playoffs this year, with the potential exception of the Rangers.
The Tigers lead the major leagues in quality starts and had the best starting pitching ERA in the month of September. Clearly, this is the strength of Jim Leyland’s team. If Verlander, Doug Fister, and Scherzer pitch to their ability level, Detroit can beat anyone. The Tigers wouldn’t trade their starting rotation for anyone else’s right now.
The fear is that the Tigers play a bunch of tight games without scoring many runs, eventually hanging the day’s starting pitcher out to dry.
This is where the top 4 come into play. Austin Jackson has been very mediocre over the last 60 days. He needs to have a big playoff run as the team’s table-setter for the best 3-4 punch in the game.
Miguel Cabrera will win the MVP, book it. If Mike Trout would just relax a little I’d say that the Triple Crown is nearly on lockdown as well. Special players tend to do special things in the playoffs. Watching Cabrera and Prince Fielder feed off of each other this season has truly been a joy. Now they need to find a way to parlay their combined 245 RBI’s into a huge postseason surge.
My feeling is that if the top 4 in the order can produce, and most of that hinges on Jackson, Delmon finds the fire, and the bottom 4 can provide just a little juice, the Tigers could be in for something special. If the offense sags and Leyland has to rely on his 8th and 9th inning bullpen arms to win games, things could get really hairy, really fast.
To be sure, the Tigers are playing with more excitement and confidence right now than they have all year long. Getting that playoff expectation monkey off of their backs has to be a huge mojo lifter. The Tigers may be flawed, but they’re the first ones to lock up their spot in the dance, and they aim to please.