I mentioned to at least one person before this series with the Cleveland Indians began that I would take a split if it was offered. Not because I thought the Detroit Tigers would lose necessarily, but because any dent in the (then) three game lead would cause me to be more uncomfortable than I would otherwise prefer. I’m glad that (1) Cleveland didn’t offer the split and (2) that I’m not in charge of making those decisions anyway.
The Tigers haven’t dominated this series in the same way that a 3-0 start might suggest – it took a ninth inning blown save and a 14-inning win to get here – but results have to be crushing to Clevelanders nonetheless. Now all they have to do to avoid a sweep is defeat Max Scherzer, one of the leading candidates for the American League Cy Young award.
After trading wins for much of the past two weeks, the Tigers have suddenly turned a three game division lead into six games. There’s a lot of baseball left to be played – 50 games for Detroit – but the Tigers appear to be on the verge of putting a hammer lock on the AL Central race. The only division in baseball that has a larger gap between the first and second place is the terrible NL East, where Atlanta (a very good team, to be sure) is the only team even above .500.
But it’s not only homerish Tigers fans that are touting the team’s playoff chances. According to Baseball Prospectus Detroit has a 99.2% chance of seeing any sort of postseason action (including the one-game Wild Card), and a 98.4% of reaching the division series. The Cool Standings playoff odds puts the Tigers’ playoff chances at 97.2%, and from the data we can infer a 95.4% of making the Division Series. Both Baseball Prospectus and Cool Standings expect Detroit to finish with the best record in the American League at 97 and 98 wins respectively.
But even if they don’t win 97 games – if they somehow have a bit of a cold stretch or something – they still look incredibly good for the division. A .500 record the rest of the way – a 25-25 finish – would still net the club 92 wins (and perhaps the #2 seed in the AL). In order to reach even 92 wins, the Indians will need to finish with a 30-18 (.625) mark. That’s certainly not impossible – especially in a relatively short stretch with that soft schedule – but the Pittsburgh Pirates currently own the best record in all of baseball with a .611 winning percentage.
This isn’t a call for hubris, we saw schedule games such as this fail in 2006 and 2009 as hot Minnesota Twins clubs caught up with floundering Tigers teams, but it is a call for confidence in the club that has put a hurting on the division.