Tigers back to .500, can win American League Wild Card
At the beginning of the season, the Wild Card spot was just a tiny thought in the minds of Tigers fans.
The Chicago White Sox took control of the Central Division early and have run away with the title, while the Tigers slipped below .500 and into third or fourth place, out of contention for any playoff consideration.
However, as of Sunday, the Tigers were back to the .500-mark at 49-49 and only four games out of the Wild Card lead, held by Minnesota and Oakland. The "Motor City Mashers" have hit their way even with Toronto and a game and a half behind Cleveland and Baltimore.
A 12-6 record over its last 18 games, the Tigers seem to have found a rhythm with 64 games remaining.
The return of a healthy Magglio Ordonez (.333), the emergence of Chris Shelton (.363) and the trade to acquire Placido Polanco (.324) has made Detroit one of the best hitting teams in the American League. Combine those three hitters with the solid bats of "Pudge" Rodriguez (.297), Rondell White (.307) and Carlos Guillen (.326), and opposing pitchers probably don't look forward to facing the Tigers' lineup.
The two big problems all season for the Tigers have been injuries and one-run losses. Despite all the great hitting, rarely do all six of those players' names find their way to the lineup card on the same day.
Four key injuries have occurred: Guillen, has a lingering knee injury, Ordonez missed significant time early in the year, closer Troy Percival is out for the season and now Polanco on the disabled list.
If Guillen can stay healthy and Polanco can come back and play like he did before the injury, the Tigers will be in the hunt for the Wild Card at the end of the season.
One of the major reasons the Tigers are not above .500 right now is one-run losses; the Tigers have 17 this season. The team is 11-17 overall in one-run games, but they could easily be tied for the Wild Card lead.
I guess that would be the frustrating part for Tigers fans, to think that if they hadn't lost this game or that game, the Tigers could be leading the Wild Card right now.
The leader of the Wild Card right now doesn't make the playoffs. The leader of the Wild Card at the end of the day on Oct. 2 makes the playoffs, and that should be the goal for the Tigers and their fans.
The pitching has been solid most of the season and the team will have a 20-game winner in Jeremy Bonderman and at least two 10-game winners in Jason Johnson and Mike Maroth. The team could also get 10 wins from Nate Robertson, who is 5-7 and has a team leading 3.32 earned run average - in other words, if the team can score runs for him, then he will win 10 games.
The bullpen has lost Ugueth Urbina to a trade and Percival to injury, but the other relievers have done a nice job, especially the foursome of Jamie Walker ("The Lefty"), Franklyn German, Fernando Rodney and Kyle Farnsworth. All four have sub-3.00 ERAs and have picked up the slack for Urbina and Percival.
With a more than two months left, the Tigers have worked through a lot of tough times and have all the elements to make them the AL Wild Card team.
If you compare the Tigers with the other teams around them, Toronto is done, the Yankees have not had consistent pitching all year, Baltimore has poor starting pitching and Cleveland is still young.
Wild Card leaders Oakland and Minnesota are solid contenders with pitching and hitting, so I put the Tigers with these two teams as well as the Texas Rangers.
Most people will still give the Yankees the edge, and who can blame them. If that team gets any decent pitching they should win the Wild Card or possibly their division.
The A's have come out of nowhere to take a share of the lead and Minnesota has been a contender all season long.
There is no question it will take a big effort for the Tigers to be the Wild Card winner, but it is a possibility. The Wild Card winner should be about 87-75, which means the Tigers need to go 38-26 in the final 64 games - which is doable.
Wake up, this is not a dream - baseball is back in Detroit and Wild Card or not, the Tigers winning ways are here to stay.
J. Ryan Mulcrone can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.