Why the Detroit Tigers Will Still Win the AL Central
With just 16 games to go, the Tigers have put themselves in a hole, and for a team that everyone picked before the season, to win the division and possibly go to the World Series, things aren't looking good.
But the Tigers will come back and win the division, making back-to-back postseason appearances for the first time since 1935.
Despite the Tigers' massive underachievement this year, the team has somehow kept itself in the hunt for the AL Central title.
The Tigers will find a way to play to their potential in the last two weeks of the season, squeaking out a division title, and here are the six reasons why:
David Maxwell/Getty Images
Detroit opens a 10-game homestand tonight, beginning with a three-game series against the Oakland Athletics, who will be the toughest opponent remaining on the Tigers' docket.
The Tigers finish the season with two road series', starting against the Twins, and finishing the 2012 regular season against the Royals.
The A's are 84-62 this season and will be a huge challenge for the Tigers, but the Twins and the Royals combine for a 126-167 record, and despite recent shortcomings against both division rivals, Detroit should take care of both sub-par teams.
The Tigers are 2-2 against the A's this season, 7-5 against the Twins, and 7-4 against the Royals.
Detroit was swept by the Royals when the teams met in late August but in the last home series of the year, the Tigers will have unbelievable crowd support behind them, and in the absolute last series of the season, with the season probably on the line, Detroit won't suffer a let-down.
The White Sox finish with a much more difficult schedule than the Tigers.
Chicago travels to Kansas City tonight for the first three games of a six-game road trip, that includes a series in Los Angeles against the Angels.
Cleveland is 61-86, while the Angels are 80-67 and the Rays are 78-69.
Chicago's remaining opponents have a combined record of 285-302 (.485).
Coaching and Experience
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Tigers' manager Jim Leyland has been criticized with every move that hasn't gone his way this season, and many fans have lost patience with the 67-year-old, old-school manager, calling for his dismissal.
But Leyland's experience in pennant races will be one of the advantages the Tigers have over the White Sox in the last two weeks of the season.
Leyland has guided his team to the playoff six times in his 21-year career, while White Sox manager Robin Ventura is a first-year manager with no coaching experience under his belt.
Leyland has made some head-scratching decisions this year that have probably cost the Tigers a couple of games, but the manager knows his team better than anyone, and his players would run through a wall for him.
Tigers players have had Leyland's back all season, and their admiration for their manager, along with their late-season experience will carry them through the last two weeks.
The White Sox haven't been to playoffs since 2008 and have only made two postseason appearances since 2000.
There are only a handful of players on the current White Sox team that lost in the AL Division Series in 2008, and the Sox feature 17 players with four years or less of MLB experience.
You can't teach experience, and the intangibles that come along with late-season must-win situations is invaluable in a pennant race.
David Maxwell/Getty Images
Despite playing relatively poorly as of late, the Tigers have been a much better team than the White Sox the second half of this season and will use that momentum to close out the 2012 campaign.
The Tigers are 35-27 since the All-Star break, while the White Sox have barely kept their head above water, going 32-29 in the second half.
Detroit could've packed it in a few weeks ago when they trailed by several games in the division, and they could pack it in now, down three games with just 16 to go, but there are too many veterans on this team who won't allow that to happen.
The White Sox have suffered more injuries, and have had much more doubt with their lineup and pitching rotation in the second half than the Tigers have, and questions in the lineup is the last thing a manager needs going into the last two weeks of the season.
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Good pitching beats good hitting, period.
The Tigers have had better pitching than the White Sox all season, and the last two weeks of the season will come down to the guys on the mound more than the guys at the plate.
With 16 games to go, the Tigers' Max Scherzer will pitch three more times, Doug Fister will make three starts and the ace, Justin Verlander will take the mound at least twice more, giving Detroit a great chance to win most their remaining games.
Detroit's starters boast the third-best ERA in the AL, with a 3.91 mark, while Chicago's starters' ERA of 4.12 is No. 7 in the league.
Scherzer, who gets the start tonight against the A's, has been every bit as good as Verlander lately, boasting a 16-6 record, giving up just seven earned runs in his last seven starts. Scherzer has his ERA down to 3.77 after having a 5-plus ERA through June.
David Maxwell/Getty Images
The Tigers have Miguel Cabrera. The White Sox do not.
Cabrera's made a serious push for AL MVP honors lately, raising his batting average to .330 to go along with his league-leading 123 RBI's and 38 home runs.
He's on pace for his second-best career average, and career high's in home runs and RBI's.
The Tigers' third baseman has been tearing the cover off the baseball in September going .345 with five home runs and 14 RBI's in 15 games this month.
Cabrera was named AL player of the week on Monday after hitting three home runs and earning seven RBI's since Sept 11. Cabrera earned the honor for the sixth time in a Tigers uniform, and became the only Tiger besides Kirk Gibson to earn the award six times.
Whenever the Tigers need a big hit, Cabrera always seems to come up with one.
The slugger is hitting .327 with 13 home runs and 33 RBI's in the seventh inning or later, and has put the team on his back, hitting .374 with 28 home runs and 83 RBI's in Tigers' wins, compared to hitting just .280 with 10 homers and 40 RBI's in the team's losses.
Cabrera leads the AL in average and RBI's and trails Texas' Josh Hamilton's 42 home runs by four.
The 29-year-old is also the AL leader in slugging, and OPS, second in on-base percentage and should bring home his first career MVP award.
Role Players Emerging
Dave Reginek/Getty Images
Cabrera and Prince Fielder have carried the load all season for the Tigers but recently, Detroit's role players have begun to step it up.
Delmon Young has made the biggest impact of anyone lately, not named Cabrera or Fielder, raising his average from just over .250 in the first half of the season, to his current mark of .273.
Young has drastically improved in the second half of the season, especially in the power category, blasting 11 home runs and 38 RBI's since July 5, compared to six home runs and 29 RBI's in the first half.
Andy Dirks has also given the Tigers a lift since returning from the disabled list on Aug. 3 with an Achilles injury that kept him sidelined for over a month.
Dirks is second-best on the team with a .310 average this season, and played even better after returning, boasting a .341 average with a .412 OBP and 11 RBI's in August.
The second-year outfielder has multiple hits in three games this month and despite a drop in average in September, Dirks will be a valuable asset down the stretch.
Another unexpected boost the Tigers have received has come from rookie phenom Avisail Garcia, who was one of the September call-ups after spending the first half of the season at Single-A Lakeland, and most of the second half at Double-A Erie.
The 21-year-old is hitting .300 with a .364 OBP in his first 12 career Major League games, and has flashed a strong arm in the outfield, helping the Tigers in multiple areas.
Quintin Berry, Alex Avila and Austin Jackson have also improved their batting averages in September and will combine with the other Tigers on the rise to power Detroit past Chicago and into the playoffs