With Central Race All But Over, Tigers Must Keep an Eye on Texas

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We knew it had to end sooner or later and last night it did. The Detroit Tigers dropped a 6-1 decision to the Oakland Athletics on Thursday, ending the Tigers’ 12 game winning streak.

The Tigers could have clinched their first division title in 24 years with a win last night, instead their magic number remains at one. If the Twins can topple Cleveland tonight, the Tigers could have the division sewn up by the fifth inning of their game in Oakland. The question at this point isn’t whether of not the Tigers will make it into the playoffs, but where they will be seeded.

Cleveland’s loss at Texas last night helped the Tigers get closer to getting in, but the Rangers were able to move to within just one game of Detroit in the race to gain the two-seed in the American League playoffs. The Tigers trail the Yankees by four games for the top seed. The wild card winner, either Boston or Tampa Bay, cannot play New York in the ALDS by rule, since they are in the same division. The Yankees will hold home field advantage over the division winner with the worst record, while the two-seed would have home field against the wild card winner.

Even though the magical win streak has reached an end, the Tigers cannot afford to limp to the finish line. Texas leads their division by only 3.5 games and ends the season with a three-game set with second place Los Angeles (of Anaheim), so the Rangers won’t be coasting into October. The pressure will be on Detroit to gain home field in the ALDS. It’s true that the Tigers won the division series versus New York in 2006, when the Yankees held home field, but any advantage you can possibly give yourself in October is one worth fighting for.

Not only that, but if the Tigers were to finish behind Texas, my tickets for Game 5 of the ALDS are immediately useless, as that game would not be in Detroit, no matter the opponent.

So, with a fresh pair of underwear for the first time in tow weeks, Jim Leyland will try to keep his club focused on the task at hand. Doug Fister takes the ball against Oakland’s Trevor Cahill tonight and figures to have an edge in that matchup. Cahill held the Tigers to one run over eight innings of a win in April, but is just 3-6 with a 6.86 ERA since the all-star break.

Fister, 5-1 as a Tiger, is 8-13 overall this year and 0-1 in two starts versus the A’s. Fister has posted an ERA of just 2.31 over 11.2 innings against Oakland this year, however. Fister has had good success when facing the A’s in his career, coming into tonight’s start with a 4-3 record and 2.77 ERA in nine career starts. Those four wins are the most he has versus any opponent.

While the Tigers finish the season with Oakland, Kansas City, Baltimore and Cleveland, Texas gets Oakland, Seattle and LA. The Tigers have five more games on this road trip before ending the season with seven straight at home. The Rangers, on the other hand, play nine of their final twelve away from home.

With Chicago officially eliminated and Cleveland just a game from being in the same boat, the race between Detroit and Texas is the one now worth watching.

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