With the “magic number” at 17, the Detroit Tigers enter a crucial stretch of games. They start with a three-game weekend series on the road at Kansas City, then head to Chicago for three games with the White Sox, before returning home for three more with the Royals.
Detroit has a 6.5 game lead on Cleveland with just over 20 games left. While Detroit plays a stingy KC team six times, and a struggling, yet nagging team in Chicago, Cleveland has home games with the lowly New York Mets and Royals, and then a road series with the White Sox.
This three-series stretch is absolutely crucial for the Tigers. If they stumble, they could leave the door open for the Indians. While they do have common opponents, the Indians have faired better against those two divisional opponents than the Tigers.
Cleveland is 10-2 against Chicago this season, and 8-5 against KC. Detroit is 8-5 with the Sox and 6-7 with the Royals.
The Tigers could easily lose ground in the most weighted month of the season (not most important though, just ask Jim Leyland – games in April are as important as games in September).
The next nine games for the Tigers could make or break them. 5-5 in their last 10 games, the Tigers aren’t necessarily playing how a division-leading team should in September (not to mention they deserved two losses for the 20-4 rout in Boston on Wednesday).
This is all too familiar for the Tigers, as they saw a five-game lead on Sept. 7, 2006 evaporate into a wild-card spot by the last day of the season. And this year, they likely wouldn’t be as lucky to fall into the one-game playoff.
Anything can happen in September. Take the 2012 Tigers for example – they trailed the White Sox between two and three games almost the entire month before overtaking first place with eight games left.
This is the most nerve-wracking month of the year, especially when a club is in a position like this.
If the Tigers manage to get out of this stretch in good shape, the schedule is a little more favorable. They see the Mariners (whose elimination number is in single digits and dwindling quickly), the White Sox (mathematically eliminated), the Twins (within days of being mathematically eliminated) and finish the season on the road with the mathematically eliminated Marlins.
But in that same stretch, the Indians also see the Twins, White Sox, Astros and Royals.
So right now might be the time for the Tigers to put the pedal to the metal and get that magic number as low as they can before they take to the last few series of 2013.
That’s just the magic of September. October gets all the recognition, with good reason – who doesn’t love October baseball? But in September, divisions are won, leads are blown, and if lucky enough, nights like Sept. 28, 2011 (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FrNoK1V7V4Q) happen.
The Tigers will need to step up in the next few days to avoid being a part of a night like that. While Cabrera is nursing multiple injuries, leaving the lineup and returning what seems like every other day, and Verlander still not in prime Verlander-form, Tigers fans are a little on edge.
Will they be alive in October? That question will start to become a little clearer when the Tigers begin their series with the Mariners on Sept. 16.