Tigers come home with a chance to wrap up another division title

Torii Hunter hopes to lead the Detroit Tigers in celebration of another division title this week back in Motown.

Torii Hunter hopes to lead the Detroit Tigers in celebration of another division title this week back in Motown.

In 2006 the Detroit Tigers had baseball’s best record for much of the season before wilting at the end and losing the division title on the final day of the season to the Twins.

In 2007 the Tigers were in first place on August 16 but then went 6-11 and fell out of the playoff picture completely.

In 2009 they blew a seven-game September lead and lost a Game 163 (in extra innings) in Minnesota to miss the postseason in heartbreaking fashion.

Last season they had an 8 1/2 game bulge over the rest of the AL Central on September 2 and then proceeded to limp to the finish line, finishing just one game ahead of the Indians and suffering the embarrassment of being no-hit on the last day of the regular season.

Suffice to say that the Tigers haven’t always been a real strong finisher in recent years. Save for 2011 (when they got red-hot in August and buried the rest of the AL Central to pull away) and 2012 (when they surged in the final 10 days to overtake the White Sox), Detroit has been a mess in September in recent years. But this year seems to be one of the exceptions. Twice in 2014 the Tigers had leads of at least seven games, once in May and again in July. But they squandered the lead both times, and in mid-August the Royals chugged past them. But the Tigers didn’t wilt, instead this veteran team recharged and ran down Kansas City. Now it appears they will win their fourth consecutive division title. Knock on wood.

Starting with the second game of a doubleheader on August 23, the Tigers have gone 18-10 over their last 28 games to reclaim the division lead. Justin Verlander won that doubleheader nightcap (one of four times he’s won in that 28-game stretch). The Tigs have won nine of their last 13, including four of six against the Royals. With a 1 1/2 game lead and Kansas City facing a likely loss in the resumption of a suspended game they are trailing on Monday night, Detroit’s lead is really two games, not insurmountable, but it’s going to be difficult for KC to overcome.

Detroit’s magic number to clinch the AL Central is seven and their magic number to make the playoffs is five. Any combination of Tiger wins and Royals losses adding up to seven results in another division crown for Detroit. The Tigs could go 4-3 and Kansas City would have to go 6-2 to win the AL Central.

The Tigers are back in Detroit to finish the season: all seven of their remaining games will be played at Comerica Park. Packed crowds will be on hand to cheer the team to a clinching victory some time this week. The Tigers have dominated at home over the last several years, but this season they haven’t been quite as fortunate. Still, finishing the year in their home park will give Detroit a big boost.

The week at a glance

Monday: Kyle Lobstein vs. the Chicago White Sox

Tuesday: David Price vs. the Chicago White Sox

Wednesday: Justin Verlander vs. Chicago White Sox

Thursday: UNDETERMINED (Max Scherzer?) vs. Minnesota Twins

Friday: UNDETERMINED (Rick Porcello?) vs. Minnesota Twins

Saturday: UNDETERMINED (Kyle Lobstein?) vs. Minnesota Twins

Sunday: UNDETERMINED (David Price?) vs. Minnesota Twins

The only sure things this week are that Lobstein will start tonight in the opener against the ChiSox and Price will pitch tomorrow evening. It’ll probably be Verlander on Wednesday, but nothing has been announced. That would make the most sense, to keep everyone on four days rest unless something strange happens (like Detroit tanks and the Royals nip at their heels again).

If Detroit wins the division they would open the postseason on Thursday, October 2, in Baltimore against the Orioles. That means they could start just about any of their pitchers in Game One, assuming they don’t need to win on Sunday in the last regular season game. I think manager Brad Ausmus will want Max Scherzer to start Game One, with either Price or Verlander in Game Two. That would free up the other one to start back at home at Comerica Park on Sunday, October 5, with Porcello going in Game Four if necessary. That’s all speculation, of course. if the Tigers were to wrap up the division by say, Thursday, there’s no reason to have Porcello or Price pitch much over the weekend against the Twins. You might see Robbie Ray or Buck Farmer or Kyle Ryan make a start to give the others some rest.

Scherzer’s farewell tour?

This Thursday will most likely be Max Scherzer’s last start in the regular season as a member of the Detroit Tigers. That’s if you prescribe to the notion that Max will take bigger money as a free agent and leave Detroit in the offseason. Seeing how Max will likely start one of the first two games of a playoff series and they would be on the road, it COULD be Max’s last start at Comerica Park. Of course, if Detroit makes the ALCS and World Series, as we hope, Scherzer will almost certainly get more starts in Motown. Regardless, these next few weeks could be the last chances we’ll get to cheer for Max on our side.