Remember earlier in the year when the Tigers were projected to run away with the AL central division race? They supposedly had the best starting pitching rotation in all of baseball, sluggers galore, and had even added free agent and former All-Star second baseman Ian Kinsler. At the trade deadline, they picked up ace pitcher David Price from the Tampa Bay Rays. Plus, J.D. Martinez, who was merely a cast-off from the lowly Houston Astros, suddenly turned into a hitting machine upon arriving in Detroit. It should have been a no-brainer.
But it wasn't. With only a couple games to go, the Tigers STILL haven't won their division, though their "magic number" is one. Worse case scenario for the Tigers? They don't win another game and Kansas City doesn't lose another game. In that case, they would tie for the division lead and a one game playoff would happen. Whoever lost that game would be relegated to "wild card" status, and face yet another one game playoff against the other wild card team, the Oakland As. Winning two crap shoots in a row is risky business.
Yet let's assume the Tigers finally eke out the Royals for the division championship. What are their chances in the long run to keep moving on?
The Baltimore Orioles have pretty much slugged their way into the AL east crown. In fact, while flying under the radar, don't look now, but the O-Birds have the best record in all of baseball. A full 14 games ahead of the Tigers. Former skipper Earl Weaver would have been proud.
The Los Angeles Angels, with Mike Trout and company, are certainly more talented from top to bottom than the Motowners. The "halos" have great starting pitching as well, including a bullpen far superior to the Tigers. Sluggers? The Angels have a few of their own. Defensively, the Angels are as good or better than anybody else in MLB. Plus, they have one thing the Tigers do not. All-around team speed.
The fact they're a whopping 9 games ahead of the Tigers in overall team standings is no coincidence. These guys are that good. How a potential seven game Detroit/LA playoff series would turn out is anybody's guess.
But look closer at the Tigers, particularly their starting pitching. Max Scherzer is cruising along to another great year, though why he turned down a $140 million contract extension continues to boggle the mind of yours truly. It's not like he's going to get any more some place else. Maybe he just wants out of Detroit. Color him gone after this year.
Justin Verlander has had a rather jouneyman season, barely above .500. Hot shot Rick Porcello started off on fire, but in the last couple months has been losing more than he's winning. He stands barely above .500 himself. Same with David Price. He always appears dominant when he pitches, but his record since joining the Tigers (3-4) speaks for itself. Anabel Sanchez spent a long time on the disabled list and, even if he's finally healthy again, the Tigers don't know what to do with him.
Granted, the Tigers have had a very successful September to date. The glass half full scenario would suggest it's the mark of a good team when somebody different, however unlikely, steps up every day to make a key contribution that results in a win. The glass half empty scenario would suggest they're getting it done with smoke, mirrors, and a healthy dose of luck.
How will all this play out for the Tigers when the playoffs start? No idea. After 160 games, the records would indicate they're not nearly as good as the Angels and Orioles. And even in the National League, the Dodgers and Washington Nats appear to be vastly superior. (More about that in a future post).
But you never know when the playoffs start. The Tigers could be quickly bounced, or maybe even go on to win, gasp, the World Series.
Ten teams will start the playoffs, and that's exactly the odds I give the Tigers of winning it all.
This is not to say the baseball playoffs drag on for a while (see cha-ching), but it's not even October yet. Chances are good you'll be handing out candy on Halloween and still not know who the World Series champion is. After all, there was a reason Derek Jeter was recently referred to as Mr. November......