In two weeks, the Tigers will have accomplished something truly extraordinary. Unfortunately, it's not yet evident whether it will be something extraordinarily good or extraordinarily bad. If they hold off the Twins and win the AL Central, it will go down as one of the most unexpected division titles in recent baseball history. Nobody picked the Tigers to win the division before the season. ESPN had 21 of its experts predict the AL Central and only one picked the Tigers. Sure, the division has been atrocious but when you can use fewer than half of your fingers on one hand to count postseason appearances over nearly a quarter of a century, simply getting to the playoffs is a huge deal.
Of course, this could also end tragically. The Twins have already shaved off 4.5 games in just over two weeks; an additional 2.5 games in the next ten days to pull even doesn't seem so unrealistic. As far as collapses go, this would be even worse than 2006. The Tigers snuck into the playoffs as a Wild Card in '06 so few people actually remember but they blew a 5.5 game lead on September 1st. If they blow it this year, it will be one of the greatest collapses in MLB history. The 2007 Mets are famously known for blowing a 7-game lead in the NL East on September 12. If the Tigers fail to hold off the Twins, their collapse would be nearly identical. They were up by 7-games on September 6. Rarely have ten regular season baseball games meant so much.
There is plenty of good news in the midst of a precarious situation for the Tigers. They hold a three game lead over the Twins which, according to Playoffstatus.com, gives them an 84% chance of winning the Central Division. Every GM in baseball would be ecstatic to find out before the season that they will have an 84% chance of making the playoffs with just ten games to go. Mathematically, the Tigers are in a strong position. Unfortunately, the Minnesota Twins control their own destiny. If they sweep the Tigers next week and play even with the Tigers in the remaining six games, they will win the division. Fortunately, the Tigers control their own destiny as well. If they take two of four against the Twins next week, it will be very difficult for the Twins to overcome it.
Of course, the only reason we're in this situation to begin with is because the Twins surprised nobody by catching fire and the Tigers surprised nobody by blowing a huge division lead. The Twins are 9-1 in their last ten games validating The Texas Chainsaw Massacre comparison I made back in June. The Twins are scary. They're even more scary when the Tigers go 7-9 over their last 16 games. If there's a silver lining here, it's that the Twins didn't get hot earlier. Had that happened, I'm not sure we're even talking about the "Tigers" and "playoffs" in the same sentence.
There is good news and bad news with respect to Minnesota's remaining schedule and it all has to do with the Kansas City Royals. The bad news is that the Twins play six of their last ten games against the lowly Royals. The good news is that the Royals are 12-5 in their last 17 games. Hopefully, the Royals can prove to be more useful to the Tigers than they were in '06. They, of course, swept the Tigers in the final series of the season to give the pennant to Minnesota. I hope the Royals fancy themselves as equal opportunity season-ruiners. I would hate to think that the sole purpose of the Royals franchise is to embarrass itself for 95% of every season and then ruin things for the Detroit Tigers. That would be a lame existence.
If you're getting a feeling a deja vu, you're not alone. The only difference between this year and 2006 is that the Tigers don't have the Wild Card to fall back on if they blow it. The Twins are hot on their heels, again. The Tigers are struggling in nearly every facet of the game, again. The mighty New York Yankees are poised to humiliate the Tigers in the first round, again. The Royals are the spoilers, again. I have no idea how the Tigers made the playoffs in '06 and I have no idea how they've led the AL Central for 137 consecutive days this season. I had no idea how they were going to win a single playoff game in '06, and I have no clue how they're going to win a game if they make it this year. I just hope the similarities continue because it gets real good after that. I've said it before and I'll say it again, no matter how bad things get over the next few weeks, this is so much better than the alternative.