Rounding Third: Tigers right where they were supposed to be

10:45 AM, Oct 12, 2012   |    comments
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Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Of all the preseason predictions, the easiest one to make - or so we thought - was that the Detroit Tigers would run away with the American League Central.

Well, like they say, that's why they play the games.

The Tigers underachieved for the first half of the season and spent most of the second half trying to catch the Chicago White Sox, which they finally did with just over a week left in the regular season.

Detroit entered the postseason with the worst record of any of the American League playoff teams at 88-74, but it was a club that had won eight of 10 to close the year and one that had a Triple Crown winner in their lineup.

In other words, it wasn't all that much of a stretch to think the Tigers were readying themselves for a long run, especially when you consider they were going to be able to throw reigning AL MVP and Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander twice in a short best-of-five series against the red-hot Oakland Athletics.

After two wins in Detroit to start the series, the A's found some of that magic at home that carried them to an American League West crown and forced a decisive Game 5 on Thursday.

They say momentum lasts only as long as the next day's starting pitcher and that was certainly the case for the Tigers, as Verlander struck out 11 and tossed a four-hit shutout in Detroit's 6-0 Game 5 win.

Verlander (2-0) fanned 11, scattered four hits and walked one for Detroit, which will appear in the franchise's sixth ALCS and third in the last seven years.

"I don't have anybody better than him," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "And if they get to him that much, we'll probably be in trouble. I'm not taking him out, I can assure you of that, because I don't have anybody better to bring in."

The one knock on Verlander has been his inability to get it done in the postseason. He entered these playoffs with a 3-3 mark and a 5.57 ERA over eight starts, but won both of his starts in this series, surrendering just one run over 16 frames.

Including the postseason, the 29-year-old has won his last six starts and has posted a minuscule 0.64 ERA during the span.

"We had our backs against the wall all year and we're playing our best baseball now when it matters," Verlander said.

But, with the ALCS starting on Saturday, the Tigers may only have the great Verlander for two starts in the next round and he probably won't pitch until Tuesday's Game 3. He'd also be available in a potential seventh game on short rest.

Amazingly, the Tigers won the series despite just a .190 batting average (4- for-21) from Prince Fielder and just one RBI from Miguel Cabrera, who, of course, led the AL with a 330 average, 44 HRs and 139 RBIs.

Now they wait for the winner between the other Game 5 in the ALDS between the New York Yankees and Baltimore Orioles. If the Yankees win the Tigers will be in the Bronx on Saturday, whereas should Baltimore win, Detroit will be hosting Game 1.

In other words, there will be a lot of Buck Showalter fans in Motown on Friday.

So, at the end of the day, although it might have been a tougher route than anyone would have expected, the Tigers are right where they were supposed to be - playing for the right to represent the American League at the World Series.

And they might just be getting started.

The Sports Network

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