No, I’m not referring to the solid start by Justin Verlander or the 6-2 victory over Oakland yesterday. I’m talking about Bruce Chen‘s gem to shut out the White Sox and hand Chris Sale his seventh loss.
The Tigers do have a favorable schedule from here on out – mostly at home and mostly against weaker opposition. Winning two thirds of their remaining games is a very achievable goal – despite the injuries piling up (Jackson’s ankle, Scherzer’s shoulder, Avila’s brain, etc…). The problem is that not only do the Tigers need to win, Chicago also has to lose. Despite the 6 games yet on the docket against the crumbling Indians the White Sox do have the more difficult schedule: 7 at home against 7 on the road with 3 games at the Angels and 4 at home against the Rays. [The Tigers have only today's game against the A's vs. opposition in contention. 8 at home, 6 on the road with 7 against KC and 6 against Minnesota.]
We sort of expected that Justin Verlander ought to win a home start against Oakland – though obviously in this sport there are no guarantees. We also sort of expected that Sale ought to win his start against the Royals – he is their ace. Since that did not happen, the Tiger path to the playoffs got a little bit easier. What we’re targeting is simply a draw in the division to force that single elimination play in game. That game, unless either Ventura or Leyland skips a starter over the next couple of weeks, should be a Chris Sale vs. Justin Verlander duel. Great baseball. Great TV. If the Tigers go 9-5 from here on and the White Sox go 7-7 that would be enough. Unfortunately, as we know all the White Sox need to do to put this thing effectively out of Detroit’s reach is win more than they lose. If they go 8-6 the Tigers will need to go 10-4, if they go 9-5 the Tigers will need to go 11-3, etc… Of course, the Minnesota Twins should NEVER have been able to catch the Tigers in 2009… The Tigers went 8-6 over their last 14 games and started that stretch with a 3 game lead over the Twins, who went 11-3 to force the Inge-Pants playoff.