2012 ALCS: Why the Detroit Tigers Are Favorites To Win the 2012 World Series

Josh BerenterCorrespondent IOctober 17, 2012

DETROIT, MI - OCTOBER 16:  Prince Fielder #28 of the Detroit Tigers celebrates with teammates after they won 2-1 against the New York Yankees during game three of the American League Championship Series at Comerica Park on October 16, 2012 in Detroit, Michigan.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

In March, everyone expected them to be here.

The Detroit Tigers were a unanimous favorite to win the American League Central Division and challenge the best teams in the AL for a spot in the 2012 World Series.

But on paper, it looked a lot easier for the Tigers to get to the Fall Classic than it really was.

In reality, the Tigers had to battle through defensive mediocrity, spotty relief pitching, inconsistent hitting and a fanbase that wanted to boot the manager out of town.

But here they are. The Tigers are one win away from reaching their first World Series since 2006.

Justin Verlander completed another masterpiece performance in the Tigers' 2-1 victory over the New York Yankees on Tuesday, throwing 8.1 innings and giving up just one run on three hits, zero walks and three strikeouts.

Verlander extended his shutout streak to 23 innings before giving up a solo home run to Eduardo Nunez in the ninth inning. That streak is tied for the third-longest in a single postseason in MLB history.

"He's learned to handle these situations," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said to MLive.com's James Schmehl. "He's learned how to stay pretty calm throughout the game in these big-game situations."

Tiger fans were reduced to a nail-biting ninth on Tuesday, and nothing has been easy in the AL Championship Series, but everything seems to be bouncing Detroit's way.

Behind dominant starting pitching, everything is clicking at the right time.

Starting pitchers had a 30.1-inning scoreless streak going before Nunez's ninth-inning home run on Tuesday, and Doug Fister and Anibal Sanchez have ERAs of 1.35, which is average compared to Verlander's unbelievable 0.74 ERA.

Max Scherzer, by the way, didn't allow an earned run in his only start so far this postseason. He starts Game 4 for the Tigers on Wednesday.

Leyland, who drew the ire of so many during the Tigers' dark days, is making all the correct moves. He's started the best lineups, made the correct bench moves, and instead of going with loyalty and gut instincts, he's gone with the right arms on the mound.

"I said, 'You have one more hitter?'" Leyland said he asked Verlander after Nunez's homer on Tuesday. "And, he said, 'Yes.'"

Verlander threw eight more pitches, recording one out, and was relieved by Phil Coke for the final two outs.

"Normally, I guess you don't take Secretariat out in the final furlong, but that was pretty much it for him," Leyland said.

Offensively, the Tigers aren't exactly tearing the cover off the baseball, but Detroit is doing enough to get it done.

The Tigers have a team batting average of .258 this postseason with a .299 on-base percentage. They are head and shoulders ahead of Yankee hitters, who have a .205 postseason average with a .277 OBP.

And if Detroit completes the series victory over New York, the Tigers will face either the St. Louis Cardinals, who are averaging .238 with a .329 OBP in the playoffs, or the San Francisco Giants and their .217 average with a .287 OBP.

Advantage, Tigers.

And at the end of the day, the Tigers have Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder in their lineup. Other teams don't.

But the Tigers aren't ready to pop open the champagne bottles at the Yankees' expense just yet.

"They're a great ballclub," Quintin Berry said to MLive.com's Chris Iott. "They're not going to just lay down. They're going to try to extend the series. We've got to take care of business."

Detroit has taken care of business so far in the ALDS and ALCS, and if the Tigers can get the clinching victory, they will have all momentum going into the World Series.