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Can the Detroit Tigers Make the Playoffs?

Detroit Tigers v Cleveland Indians
David Maxwell, Getty Images

A little over a week ago, many Tiger fans were ready to give up on their baseball team.  “Stick a fork in them” was what I was hearing from fickle fans after the team was embarrassed by Cleveland and then held at bay the the then first-place White Sox.

With just 8 games left in the regular season, the Tigers and White Sox are now tied for first place in the American League Central division.  One of these teams will go to the postseason.  The other will watch on tv.

The Tigers play the remainder of their games against Kansas City and Minnesota.  The Sox play Cleveland and Tampa.  The Tigers play the last six games on the road.  Chicago has four at home and four on the road.

Reasons the Tigers can win:

Miguel Cabrera.  The Tiger 3rd baseman has a chance to win a Triple Crown in batting this year.  He leads the American League in batting average, runs batted in, and is one homer shy of leading that category.  Miguel can put the team on his back and carry them.

Starting Pitching.  Justin Verlander won’t win 20 games this season, but he can still dominate a game.  Doug Fister has been really good since the All-Star break.  Anibal Sanchez threw a complete-game shutout last night and looks to be stepping up his game.  Max Scherzer has battled Verlander for the strikeout lead all season until shoulder problems recently surfaced.  Rick Porcello has also pitched well as of late, but has received little run support.

Austin Jackson & Prince Fielder.  In games when Jackson scores a run, the Tigers are twice as likely to win as not.  He also gives this team good defense in center field.  Fielder hits for power and average and drives in runs.  Like Cabrera, he can put a team on his broad shoulders and carry them.

Reasons they WON’T make it:

Lack of production from people NOT named Jackson, Cabrera or Fielder.  For this team to make the playoffs and entertain a championship run, the big guys will need some help.  Delmon Young, Alex Avila, Brennan Boesch, Omar Infante, Jhonny Peralta, Andy Dirks, one or more of these guys needs to go on a tear.  Otherwise, teams will continue to pitch around both Cabrera and Fielder.

Max Scherzer.  For most of the season, Scherzer has been as good as Verlander.  That’s saying something.  Max has gained better command of his secondary pitches, and routinely threw fastballs in the upper 90′s.  Two starts ago, he had to leave after two innings with “shoulder fatigue.”  He made his last start, but his fastball was in the low 90′s.  Give Mad Max credit for taking the ball and giving it a go.  We’ll need him at his best when the games count most.

The Bullpen.  On most days, this is a strength of the Detroit Tigers.  Get the game to the 8th inning and it’s Joaquin Benoit, then Jose Valverde for the 9th and you could pretty much put it in the win column.  Not so much this season.  Phil Coke can’t seem to get anyone out anymore.  Octavio Dotel has been a nice addition, and Villarreal has stepped up his game this season to make some great contributions.  Al Alburquerque is back and striking people out with regularity.  The problem is that none of these pitchers has been dependable enough to not fray everyone’s nerve endings when they come into a game.

Defense.  You would think that we should be able to play “D” in “The D.”  We can’t.  It’s the reason we don’t lead the division by 15 games right now.

Despite not living up to pre-season expectations, we are tied for first place with 8 games to go.  This team has the talent to go places.  For a little over a week, we will find out if that is the case.  Fans in Chicago are thinking the same thing right now.

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