Detroit Tigers: As the Playoff Picture Takes Shape, How Will the Tigers Fit In?

Christopher CzarContributor ISeptember 7, 2011

DETROIT - SEPTEMBER 04:  Miguel Cabrera #24 of the Detroit Tigers hits a two-run home run to centerfield in the sixth inning scoring Andy Dirks #12 during the game against the Chicago White Sox at Comerica Park on September 4, 2011 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)
Leon Halip/Getty Images

I know "nothing's over until it's over," but the AL Central is over. No Jim Belushi motivational speech needed.

The Tigers have an eight game lead with 20 games left. A collapse now would make the 2009 collapse of seven games with 26 games left seem like a mild disappointment.

With back-to-back series against their biggest challengers in the AL Central, all the Tigers have done is go 5-0 and outscored the White Sox and Indians 49-14. Oh yeah, and they send Justin Verlander to the mound to finish of the six game, two series sweep.

To say the Tigers are rolling is an understatement. They were rolling coming into the White Sox series. Now, they're completely on fire.

After Justin Verlander dominated the White Sox Friday and Ryan Raburn and Miguel Cabrera homered in the ninth to rally the Tigers on Saturday, their 2-4 pitchers showed up to befuddle the White Sox and Indians these last three games. 

Combined, Max Scherzer, Doug Fister and Rick Porcello pitched 21.1 innings while allowing just 2 ERs over the last three days. That's an incredible sign for what has been the biggest overall concern for the team.

A month ago I thought the Tigers were a playoff team. A playoff team solely because they play in the AL Central. A playoff team that would simply be an appetizer for the Yankees or Red Sox.

I might have spoken too soon. The Tigers' story is no longer if they can hold off the Indians and White Sox, but if they can catch the Rangers for the No. 2 seed in the playoffs. They're currently only .5 game back.

In fact, the Tigers are closer in record to the Yankees (7.5 games) and Red Sox (5.5 games) than the White Sox and Indians are to them.

So once—yes, once—they make they playoffs, perhaps they're no longer the Washington Generals they were thought to be.

It's now possible to say they stepped up from the best team in a bad division, to a scary team a notch below the Yankees and Red Sox—without getting laughed at.

Fister has quietly turned into an excellent deadline pick-up, going 4-1 for the Tigers, giving the Tigers a second dependable starter to pair with Verlander. Porcello and Scherzer have each shown signs that they might have turned a corner.

Delmon Young has solidified the lineup as Miguel Cabrera and company continue to mash the ball.

They're deep with major league hitters like Magglio Ordonez, Ryan Raburn and Wilson Bettemit often on the bench, waiting for a chance to pinch hit.

The bullpen has quietly turned into a strength as Jose Valverde has shattered the Tigers consecutive saves streak and Joaquin Benoit has been his 2010 "lights out" self.

Everything Jim Leyland and Dave Dombrowski has touched has seemed to turn to gold since the All-Star break and boisterous fans are packing Comerica Park.

Then we come to the biggest reason any team should fear the Tigers: Justin Verlander.

Verlander has done what we all probably thought he could, but never would do. He's become the best pitcher in baseball. He's the weapon that will give the Tigers a shot in any playoff series.

I might be getting ahead of myself, I might be drinking the Old English D Kool-Aid, but I think I'm justified in my optimism.

Just ask the Yankees and Red Sox if they want to see the Tigers in the playoffs.

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