Why the Detroit Tigers Will Be World Series Contenders If They Make the Playoffs
All the Detroit Tigers need is a chance.
Despite the disappointing season the Tigers have had in 2012, they have found a way to remain within striking distance of the Chicago White Sox in the American League Central Division.
If the Tigers can manage to win the division and make the postseason, Detroit can threaten for an AL Championship, and possibly a World Series title.
After the grind of a 162-game season, the playoffs come down to who's hot, pitching and defense, and clutch performances.
The Tigers have shown flashes of brilliance in each of those categories this season, and once the MLB field is reduced to 10 teams, Detroit has as good of a chance as anyone.
Yes, the Tigers are in a bad division, and if they were in any other division in baseball, the playoffs would just be a pipe dream, but if the Tigers make the postseason, anything can happen.
Here are the four reasons the Tigers have a shot at winning it all.
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The leadoff hitter is extremely important in the postseason.
When the margin for error is so small, and games are frequently won and lost by a run or two, the leadoff starting things right makes a huge difference.
Austin Jackson is having the best season of his life this year for the Tigers, boasting a .303 average and a .382 on-base percentage. Jackson has drastically cut down his strikeout total from a year ago from third-worst in the AL with 181, to outside the worst 15 this season with 128 in 130 games.
Jackson has career high's in home runs and RBIs with 15 and 64, respectively, and gets the wheels in motion for the Tigers, hitting .336, with six home runs in the first inning this season.
The Tigers' center fielder has 11 stolen bases this season, and is having the best defensive year of his career, with just one error in 323 total chances.
Pitching 1-2 Punch
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When you get to the playoffs, a powerful 1-2 punch on the mound can sometimes be enough to carry a team through a series.
With the way Max Scherzer has been pitching lately, combined with the mastery that Justin Verlander has displayed most of this season, Tigers' opponents will be hard pressed to find offense in October.
Verlander and Scherzer could pitch two times each in a seven-game series, and could win a series between the two of them.
Verlander displayed his last example of mastery on Monday, throwing eight innings, giving up two earned runs on nine hits, eight strikeouts and zero walks. He threw 78 percent of his pitches for strikes, becoming the first pitcher to throw such a high percentage of strikes on 114-plus pitches since Cliff Lee in 2006.
After struggling in August, the 29-year old has won four of his last starts, and after boasting a 2.32 ERA in September, Verlander's total ERA has dropped to 2.72.
Scherzer had been Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde earlier this season, but for the most part, the Tigers No. 2 pitcher has figured things out in the second half.
Scherzer is 16-7 this season, matching Verlander's win total, and after mulling through most of the first half with an ERA over five, Scherzer's ERA now stands at 3.82. He's only suffered one loss in his last 10 starts, and has a 2.17 ERA in September.
Verlander and Scherzer rank first and second in the Major Leagues in strikeouts with 231 and 228, respectively, and can dominate a series, especially if they each get a chance to face a lineup twice.
Verlander has thrown 120 or more pitches in an MLB-leading 30 starts since 2010.
Verlander throws 78 percent strikes in 114 pitches. Only one pitcher (Cliff Lee) has matched that since 2006.
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There's no better motivator than having a championship in your grasp, but falling just short.
Detroit fell to the Rangers in six games and have had a bad taste in their mouths from the loss ever since.
The Tigers have essentially the same team this season as they did in their ALCS run a year ago. The team cohesion and mutual understanding and respect of how difficult it was to get the position they were in last season can only help in the playoffs again this year.
No player likes to get that close, only to see their opponents celebrating on the field, but to go through that twice would be devastating.
The Tigers would like to avoid that.
Heart of the Order
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The Tigers have the best 3-4 hitters in baseball.
Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder combine for a .319 average, 70 home runs and 237 RBI this season, and are the only duo in the AL with 100-plus RBI.
Both players are having the best year of their careers, and are playing especially well in September, which lends itself to premium performance in October.
In Game 1 of the Tigers' doubleheader against the Minnesota Twins on Sunday, Cabrera earned a hit and scored a run for 11th consecutive game—the first Tiger to have such a streak since Jerry Lumpe in 1964—and is on the verge of winning the AL Triple Crown for the first time since Carl Yastrzemski did it for the Boston Red Sox in 1967.
Fielder has totaled 100-plus RBI for the fifth time in his eight-year career, and is on pace to average .300 or better for the first time ever. Perhaps most importantly, Fielder, hitting behind Cabrera, is protecting the probable AL MVP in the Tigers lineup.
Fielder is hitting .327 in the seventh inning or later this season, and boasts a .336 average with seven home runs and 76 RBI with runners in scoring position, while Cabrera has 15 home runs and 38 RBI in the seventh inning or later, and is producing at a ridiculous .355 clip with RISP this season.
Cabrera and Fielder know how to get it done in the postseason as well.
Fielder hit .278 with a .381 on-base percentage, one home run and three RBI for the Milwaukee Brewers last season in the National League Division Series win. He hit two home runs, and three more RBI in the Brewers' NLCS loss to the eventual World Champion St. Louis Cardinals.
Cabrera has a .282 career postseason average, with a .383 OBP, and batted .400 with three home runs and seven RBI against the Texas Rangers in the ALCS last October.