Despite the collective trembling nerves of Tigers fans everywhere—including in my palms as I write this sentence— the Tigers are actually in a very commanding position. On the surface, a 4.5-game lead doesn’t seem all that comforting especially with the 2006 division collapse fresh on the mind. The Tigers held a five game lead over the Twins with just 21 games remaining. Thankfully, the Tigers were able to hold on to the Wild Card and fend off what might have been the most disastrous moment in recent Tigers history. No harm, no foul, so to speak. The Tigers won’t have that luxury this year with Boston starting to separate itself from the pack. Fortunately, there is a good chance they won’t need it. A 4.5-game lead sounds precarious but according to PlayoffStatus.com, that is good enough to give the Tigers a 72% chance of making the playoffs. The teams trying to catch the Tigers—Chicago and Minnesota—only boast 14% odds, respectively. A lot can change but that is certainly a strong position to be in with just over a month to go.
If the Tigers are going to avoid a repeat of 2006, they will have to do it head-to-head against Chicago and Minnesota. All told, the Tigers play 13 games against the White Sox and Twins. That is certainly more than enough action to significantly alter the AL Central race if the Tigers stumble. At the very least, the Tigers will need to tread water at .500 in those 13 games to keep the division lead from constricting. Fortunately, the Twins and White Sox play each other six more times. That will cut down on the ability for both teams to gain ground.
The determining factor in the AL Central race could come down to schedule strength. The Tigers have a favorable schedule down the stretch with 37 remaining games against teams with a collective winning percentage of .480. Equally important is the fact that the Tigers only have 16 road games remaining. That’s what makes the two wins over the Angels doubly important: 1). They were against a team with a .600 winning percentage and 2). They were on the road where the Tigers boast a loathsome .415 winning percentage. As of this afternoon, the Tigers are through playing the three best teams in the American League—New York, LAA, and Boston. Other than seven pivotal matchups with Tampa Bay, the Tigers don’t play a single team above .500 the rest of the season.
As for the two teams chasing the Tigers, there is good news and bad news. The good news is Chicago’s backloaded schedule. The White Sox have 36 games remaining—21 on the road—against teams with a collective winning percentage of .520. That includes a brutal stretch over the next 2.5 weeks in which they play Boston six times, and the Yankees and Angels three times each. If Chicago is still within 4.5 games on September 15, it will be a player in the final weeks with six games against the Tigers to go along with three each against KC and Cleveland. The difference in schedule strength between Detroit and Chicago is so significant from here out that the White Sox are probably not the main competition for the division crown.
Unfortunately, that brings us to the bad news. Of all the teams in the American League, the Twins have the easiest remaining schedule. They get to feast on a 36-game slate featuring teams with a combined winning percentage of just .471. After their three game tilt against Texas this weekend, the Twins only play one team—the Tigers—the rest of the season that is over .500. They’ll also get to do their damage in the Metrodome for 19 of those games where they have a .565 winning percentage.
|Player||GB||Games Left||Strength of Schedule||Road Games||Odds of Playoffs|
*Games through Tuesday, August 25
With Minnesota’s struggling pitching and Chicago’s brutal schedule, there is no guarantee that either team—let alone both—will make a sustained run as the season closes. However, we’ve seen Minnesota and Chicago get hot before. In fact, the Twins have reeled off five in a row already. Some of that is the weak schedule talking but a lot of it is the fact that the Twins—led by Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau—can be scary good. We've also seen the Tigers get cold as they boast (or the opposite of boast) eight 3-game (or more) losing streaks this season which, for a division leader, is dreadful. I don’t know what’s going to happen. Odds and schedules only tell part of the story. There is a lot of baseball to be played but the most important part for the Tigers is that it’s meaningful baseball in September. That is something that--amid the sweaty palms--cannot be taken for granted considering the previous 20 years. Yes, that leaves open the possibility of a flaming collapse, but that is so much better than the alternative.