The Tigers have managed to pull even with the Chicago White Sox – finally – with 8 games remaining. Time let the cart pull the horse and discuss the playoffs, don’t you think?
The Tigers are scheduled to play their last game of the regular season on October 3 in Kansas City (if anyone has time – that is darn near the best place you could travel for a baseball road trip. Great, empty stadium. Fantastic BBQ at Gates & Sons and Arthur Bryant’s). IF they wind up tied with the White Sox still there would be a one-game playoff on October 4 in Detroit – since the Tigers won the season series between the two. If nobody juggles their rotation (and I’m not sure they have any real incentive to) that would be a Justin Verlander vs. Chris Sale matchup. Then on October 5 come the AL and NL single-elimination wild card games. The A’s and Orioles currently lead for those two slots but both the Angels (2 back) and the Rays (3 back) have been making up ground. Both the Tigers and White Sox would be 5 games behind Oakland for the second wild card spot, so it’s virtually inconceivable that whichever one lost the division could win the wild card. Even if both go 8-0, that’s still unlikely since the A’s would still have to go 3-5 over that span just to fall into a tie. On the off chance of that bizarre eventuality there would need to be a division tiebreaker AND a wild card tiebreaker which are both (in theory) supposed to be played on October 4. I don’t know what would happen. It’s really unlikely to come up anyway.
Moving on. The important bit of info from that last hypothetical is that the Tigers are almost certain to have the worst record of any AL playoff team (assuming they make the playoffs) behind both wild card teams. AND of course there is absolutely no way that the Tigers will have a better record than either of the two division champions. That means that – since the Wild Card Game winner this year is stuck playing the division champion with the best record –
if when the Tigers make the playoffs they will be the “lower seed” playing against the division winner with the second best record. The lower seed, this year only, is going to get to play the first two games at home followed by three on the road. That would mean that the Tigers couldn’t possibly end the series at home, but that we would have a guaranteed two home games.
The two division series featuring two division champions, which would be the series that the Tigers
might will be playing in, will kick off on Saturday, October 6. At the moment it looks like the other two division winners will be the Yankees and the Rangers, with the Yankees trailing Texas by one game for the best record in the AL. That could change, but as of today the Tigers would be looking at quite possibly the exact same route to a WS as last year: New York in the ALDS followed by (as far as favorites are concerned) Texas in the ALCS. The odds would not be in our favor: aside from the home field disadvantage the Tigers went 4-6 against the Yankees and 3-7 against the Rangers and were outscored by 25 runs in those 20 games.
One more note regarding playoff rotations: For 2012 and 2012 only, since the 5-team playoff agreement was reached after the 2012 schedules were determined, we have that 2-3 split instead of the 2-2-1 split with one fewer travel day (to compensate for that extra day for the wild card play in game). That means that while it’s possible to run a 3-man rotation in the ALDS, it looks like a terrible idea (and most teams wouldn’t have wanted to do it anyway). So… only 1 Tiger is going to be able to make 2 starts in the ALDS. If the Tigers win the division outright, that guy would be Justin Verlander. Perfect. Verlander has been exceptional over his career against the Rangers if only so-so (by his standards) against the Yanks. If they wind up needing a tiebreaker game Verlander is going to be needed to vanquish the White Sox and the guy in line to get two ALDS starts would be Anibal Sanchez (or Rick Porcello, but I expect him to be pitching out of the ‘pen like Brad Penny).
Sanchez has looked awfully good in September, but in his 2 career starts against the Yankees and 2 career starts against the Rangers the results haven’t been pretty with an ERA over 7.00. Scherzer has also done well against the Yankees and Rangers (7-1 with a 3.38 ERA) while Fister and Porcello have not but Scherzer is currently set to start the final game of the season on KC (and his health is a serious concern at this point). Speaking of Scherzer’s health: IF his loss of velocity is a sign of something serious and they decide he’s not up to pitching in the playoffs (I’m keeping my fingers crossed) Drew Smyly did pretty well in his one start against NY and their lefty-loaded lineup, so he might be a better pick for the playoff rotation than Porcello and his known difficulties against left-handed batters.
If Scherzer is just fine – that puts a different idea in my mind… Scherzer’s career numbers against the White Sox are insane with an ERA almost a run and a half lower than Verlander’s. Since Drew Smyly has already made 2 very good starts against KC this season, maybe he should get the call on Wednesday October 3. That would let Scherzer start against Chicago on the 4th – if needed – or game 2 in Detroit in the ALDS and let Verlander start games 1 and (if needed) 5.