Cleat Geeks

Tigers Need Strong September to Return to Playoffs

As we go into September the Detroit Tigers, following a dramatic sweep of the division rival Chicago White Sox, sit just 0.5 game out of the playoffs, trailing the Baltimore Orioles for the second American League wild card spot. However, following today’s victory, they still remain four games back of the Cleveland Indians. Though they statistically have the easiest remaining schedule of any team in the junior circuit the Tigers need a strong final 29 games if they want to have any hope of returning to the playoffs.

JaCobyJones

There are three issues that have plagued the Tigers this season: injuries, inconsistency, and struggles against their AL Central counterparts. The injury bug’s bite has lessened as of late, with pitchers Mike Pelfrey and Jordan Zimmerman looking to return soon following strong rehab appearances in Toledo. Plus the emergence of JaCoby Jones over the last two games (including clutch hits both Tuesday night and Wednesday afternoon) have provided a better offensive outlook at 3rd base in the absence of Nick Castellanos. However, Cameron Maybin, following a slide gone awry, now sits as a day-to-day injury with further thumb issues that have plagued him for the last month. As well, Castellanos continues his recovery from a bone fracture in his right hand, but he is still a bit away from returning to the lineup (a silver lining: Castellanos is now able to put a glove on and play catch and is tentatively slated to return in mid-September). But, despite these injuries, the Tigers have shown a lot of heart, with young pitchers such as Michael Fulmer, Daniel Norris, and Matt Boyd (for more on those young read my last article here), as well as a re-emerging Anibal Sanchez picking up the slack in the absence of Pelfrey and Zimmermann. J.D. Martinez has been effective since his return from the DL and Justin Upton has been red hot as of late. As players return from injury the Tigers need to keep up this level of play to keep themselves afloat.

The Tigers, though sitting with a 71-61 record, aren’t a model of a consistent ballclub. They are among the most streaky teams in the league, both for better (five separate streaks of 5+ consecutive wins) and for worse (five separate streaks of 4+ losses). There have been many series lost in this stretch, which is a must to avoid for any team in the playoff hunt. They need to find some kind of consistency in their remaining games, particularly against rivals within the division as well as against teams that they have an edge over, be it from momentum or in the statistical or injury departments, where they have struggled this season (see their latest series against the Angels and you’ll see exactly what I mean).

HosmerVScaberaPerhaps above all, however, is the need for the Tigers to play well against rivals within their division. Of their remaining 29 games, the Tigers will face teams within the AL Central in 23 of them. The Indians are obviously the rabbit the Tigers are to chase (as well they should be, as four games is not an insurmountable margin by any means) but they are by far the only team in the division that the Tigers need to worry about. The Kansas City Royals, who will host the Tigers for a weekend series at Kauffman Stadium, have been a perpetual thorn in the Tigers’ sides, leading the season series by a mark of 9-4, are hot on their tails in third place. And this weekend’s series will not be an easy one, as the Royals hold a 41-22 record on their home field, where the Tigers struggle mightily as it is. The Tigers play another three game set against the White Sox after they leave Kansas City, as well as four more against the Twins at Target Field. Perhaps most crucial of all are their remaining three games against the Baltimore Orioles, who lead the Tigers in the wild card, and their remaining seven match-ups against an Indians club that has, to put it mildly, had their number this season.

The Tigers are most definitely still in the playoff game, but if they make any missteps against their division, particularly in the series they should win against the Twins and White Sox, they could find themselves falling behind the Royals and Indians much more quickly than they think.

Can this streaky team find their consistency at the most crucial time of the year? Only time will tell.

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