Even though the Detroit Tigers are widening their lead over the second-place Cleveland Indians in the AL Central, October baseball is not a certainty. My pessimism (and long memory for historical sports collapse) won’t allow me to pop any corks just yet.
After 136 games last season, the Tigers were 73-63 and sitting a game behind first place Chicago. The Tigers went 15-11 down the stretch to finish in first place by three games over the Sox. True, Detroit’s lead over second place Cleveland is 8.5 games, but anything can happen.
Can ‘Anything’ Really Happen?
In this case, “anything” would be Cleveland going 27-0 to finish the season. If that happened—and it won’t—Detroit would need to win 19 more games to stave off The Choke Of The Century.
Even if Detroit went 13-13 down the stretch they’d probably win the division because I don’t see Cleveland going 21-6 in September. Their best month this season was 18-12 in May. My guess is Detroit will lock up the division title during their final home stand of the season.
The Home Stretch
After tomorrow’s game against Cleveland, the rest of the season for Detroit is:
* @ Boston (3)
* @ Kansas City (3)
* @ ChiSox (3)
* vs. Kansas City (3)
* vs. Seattle (4)
* vs. ChiSox (3)
* @ Minnesota (3)
* @ Miami (3)
The Red Sox series could be a preview of the ALDS or ALCS. The main issue for the Tigers is keeping up the intensity and clinching one of the top two seeds to secure home field advantage for at least one series. Those six games against the Royals will be critical; same goes for the six against Chicago. The Royals have been tough on Detroit all season long. They won’t go quietly. The White Sox have gotten better since the trade deadline, going 16-12 in August.
Contrary to popular belief, the home stretch will not be an easy coast.
For my money, the five AL playoff teams are pretty much decided: Boston, Detroit, Oakland, Tampa Bay and Texas. You can almost put that in cement. Who plays whom and when and where is still strictly in pencil. My gut tells me Boston and Detroit get the top two seeds, Texas takes the AL West and the Athletics and Rays are the wildcard teams.
How has Detroit fared against these teams?
* Boston (3-1)
* Oakland (3-4)
* Tampa Bay (3-3)
* Texas (3-4)
Despite all the hype around the Tigers’ starting pitching and middle batting order, it will not be a cakewalk.
Miggy for MVP…Again
For the past two weeks, everyone agrees Miguel Cabrera is the odds-on favorite to win the AL MVP trophy. Well, everyone that isn’t a Mike Trout sabermetrics nerd. Miggy’s numbers in ever major offensive category are better than last year.
Despite Miggy’s miraculous batting exploits, it hasn’t put his name alongside other greats like Albert Pujols, Tony Gywnne or even Hank Aaron. No. He’s being mentioned in the same breath with Ted Williams, Babe Ruth and Rogers Hornsby. And Cabrera’s earned it.
Will he win the Triple Crown again? It would be something, but he’s got to catch Baltimore’s Chris Davis first. Either way, I think it’s a safe bet wins the MVP award. Again.
Pitcher Max Scherzer has distinguished himself as the Tigers ace this season. Cy Young worthy? Depends on whom you ask. I think he’s a leading candidate, but I also know the sabermetrics nerds like to bust out their slide rules and dump water on pithy stats like wins and ERA as meaningless, 20th century contrivances.
Here’s what they forget, with regard to Scherzer:
* Leads the AL in wins (19) and WHIP (1.06)
* Second in the AL in strikeouts (201) and WAR (5.8)
* Fourth best ERA (2.90) in the AL
In other words, Max Scherzer is at or near the top in all the statistical categories that matter. And yes, saber-nerd, wins matter.
The Return of Jhonny Peralta(?)
The Tigers shortstop will be eligible to return to his team just in time to play in the final three games of the season at Miami. While Peralta was having a career season at the plate prior to his 50-game suspension, credit GM Dave Dombrowski for acquiring Jose Iglesias, Detroit’s shortstop for the future.
I wouldn’t be surprised if Leyland held Peralta off the postseason roster. It has less to do with the nature of his suspension and more to do with being rusty. Besides, Iglesias is a better defensive shortstop and has proven to be a more versatile hitter in the batting order.
* Tigers will win their third consecutive AL Central Division title and the best record in the American League
* Miguel Cabrera will win the AL MVP award. Again.
* Max Scherzer will win the AL Cy Young Award.
* Tigers in six. I’ll let you figure that one out.