While the MLB regular season is in its final week, the stage has been set for a dramatic finish in the American League. There are six teams vying for two wild-card spots and it’s coming down to the wire.
Fortunately for Jim Leyland and the Tigers, they’re not in that cluster. They have a commanding lead in the A.L. Central and are pretty much a lock for the playoffs.
Life’s never that simple, though.
The format of the playoffs works like this: The two wild cards play each other in a pre-round and the winner of that plays the team with the league’s best record — very likely the Boston Red Sox. The teams with the second- and third-best records in the league play each other in the first round.
The Tigers are in a situation where, barring an epic collapse of Boston, they’re on a collision course to meet the Oakland Athletics in the ALDS. And the Tigers also happen to have an almost identical record to the A’s — meaning whoever finishes with the better record will gain home-field advantage.
Home-field advantage is — well, it’s ideal. With it, the Tigers would play at home in games one, and potentially games four and five. My point is that, although the division is all but locked up, the season should be far from over.
We’ll start to hear people calling for “so and so” to rest and then for the starting pitchers to be given days off so Leyland can set up the rotation. Those kinds of demands will go on and on. They shouldn’t.
The Tigers should play out the season to the end. It’s in their best interest for a couple of reasons, but mainly just so they don’t have to possibly travel to Oakland twice in a five-game series. Last year, when the Tigers clinched the division with a few games remaining in the season, Leyland was able to rest his starting pitching enough to set up the rotation for the playoffs — aka Justin Verlander pitching games one and five of the ALDS.
The beautiful thing about this year’s rotation is, even if there weren’t a compelling reason to play the season out to its final pitch, the rotation doesn’t need to be set up. Max Sherzer is the favorite to pitch game one, but I’d be more than fine with Anibal Sanchez in that role — or even Verlander (never thought I’d be hesitantly saying he maybe could start in the playoff opener).
And finally, if there’s one thing a Jim Leyland Tigers team has proven, it’s that extra rest does terrible, terrible things to them. After making quick work of the New York Yankees in the ALCS a year ago, the Tigers had a long rest before the World Series. As we all know, to say the Tigers were rusty and the Giants fresh would be an understatement. Back in 2006, after a similar ALCS to last year, the Cardinals spanked the rested Tigers in five games.
A clinching situation isn’t the same as waiting for a series to end, but in principle, it’s extremely similar. If Leyland starts resting players and diddling around with the pitching rotation, there’s a chance that last year’s rust will return. Maybe giving Cabrera a day or two off once the division’s in the bag wouldn’t be a terrible idea, but as a whole the players should play.
What I’d like to see is a Tigers team that sweeps its final series of the season with all hands on deck — which considering they play at Miami, which has the MLB’s second-worst record, is a reasonable request.
I want to see Jim Leyland and the Tigers put their heads down and go balls-to-the-wall all the way until that final pitch against the Marlins crosses the plate. Instead of limping into the playoffs hungover from their AL Central victory, the Tigers need to charge in, riding a nice hefty winning streak too.
Michael Laurila writes about sports for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.