In a season which could be described by any number of terms: Maddening, frustrating, rocky, difficult, a battle, ups and downs, mind boggling or disappointing...well disappointing until last night, if you asked me a month ago, I would have told you the Tigers weren't going to make the playoffs.
However, the Tigers scrapped and clawed and fought their way to back-to-back Central Division titles.
The Tigers bats woke up enough to dodge some frustrating bullpen work and support a pitching staff, which overall has been very good this year. Of course, the White Sox assisted by taking a page out of the 2009 Tigers' book on how to lose a division title you have no business losing.
The Tigers will have the worse record of any division winner, so they will host the first two of the best-of-five series at home. Their opponent is yet to be determined.
The question now causing Tigers fans angst is which Tigers team is going to show up?
The one which has won seven of their last eight games, while getting big hits and great starting pitching? Or is it the team which managed to make guys with ERAs north of five look like CY Young candidates?
I believe it will be the former.
Perhaps I'm just setting myself up for disappointment, but here are three reasons why I think the Tigers will prove to be a considerable challenge to whoever they face in the playoffs.
The Tigers have perhaps the deepest and best rotation of all the playoff teams.
There is an above-average chance the Tigers' top three starters could give up zero to three runs combined over the first three games of a series. In a short series, the Tigers are especially scary to face.
First you have to face Justin Verlander, who may be the best right-handed starting pitcher in baseball.
Next you would have to face 'Mad Max' Scherzer (assuming his ankle injury heals in time for the playoffs to start) and then Doug Fister (who set an AL record with nine straight strike outs). Finally, Anibal Sanchez is the fourth starter before you get back to Verlander, and minus his first few starts, Sanchez has been very good.
In their last 10 starts (for each) the Tigers top four starters are a combined 18-10, with a 2.97 ERA, 59 walks and 251 strikeouts. When you look at the last three for each they are 6-3, with an ERA of 4.22 (a little misleading because of a bad Sanchez start and the injury to Scherzer), 77 strikeouts against 14 walks and a ridiculously low WHIP of 1.03.
This is a team who maintains an even keel.
Part of this comes from their manager, Jim Leyland, and part comes from a team who has been to the postseason before. The Tigers believe in themselves, and they believe in the talent they have on their roster.
The Tigers have veteran starters, veteran relievers and veteran hitters. The ability the Tigers show to leave a bad game behind will serve them well in the playoffs.
Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder and Justin Verlander
The Tigers have superstars, and those superstars will help carry them.
Miguel Cabrera has been on a tear as of late, all but guaranteeing himself the triple crown (first time since 1967).
Prince Fielder has been somewhat under the radar, but is hitting over .310 and is still able to drive runs in with the best of them.
The Tigers are the only team in Major League Baseball to have two players in the top-10 in RBIs— Cabrera and Fielder have the second-most combined home runs in MLB as well.
There are very few pitchers in baseball who are more feared then Verlander.
He is able to maintain a consistency which is unrivaled. Too often its easy to overlook how good he is, because his win total is down. However, it would be a mistake to think Verlander is less dangerous than he was a year ago. Verlander, once again, is in the top-five in all of baseball in ERA, WHIP, strikeouts, innings pitched, complete games and opponents batting average.
I think the Tigers have an excellent chance to reach the ALCS for a second consecutive year.
Hopefully this time they will have the pitching and hitting to reach the World Series for the first time since 2006.