When I signed up to write this, the Tigers hadn’t started their current six-game losing streak. I was hoping to have some more optimistic news about their chances, but at this point, the Tigers’ odds of making the playoffs are pretty slim. Still, they’re not out of it yet, so I’ll look at the many reasons why the Tigers won’t make the playoffs as well as a few reasons why they still could.
Why the Tigers won’t make the playoffs in 2008
The biggest reason the Tigers won’t make it is that they just aren’t having a great year and it’s hard to come up with reasons why they’ll turn things around.
I know that sounds simplistic, but this is a team that many thought would win 95 games. The Tigers are currently three games below .500 and even that’s deceiving. They tore up the National League in interleague play and finished 13-5 against the Senior Circuit. Carve out those games, and they’re 42-52. If you make one final adjustment and take out the Tigers’ 7-3 record against the Seattle Mariners, who are the worst team in the American League and arguably the worst in baseball, the Tigers are now down to 35-49.
Even worse, the Tigers are 20-29 within their own division, so they aren’t winning the games that mean the most. In addition, the Tigers have had just one month in which they’ve had a winning record. They came close in July, but finished right at .500 and only in their impressive June, when they went 19-8, did they have more wins than losses.
Besides, the playoff math just doesn’t work. The winner of the American League Central probably will end up with 90 wins, but if the Tigers are going to take the title, they’ll need both the Minnesota Twins and Chicago White Sox to tank. With that in mind, let’s say that if the Tigers win the division, they’ll do it with 87 wins. To win 87 games, the Tigers would have to go 32-18 the rest of the way, which is a .640 winning percentage. So in their final 50 games, they’ll have to play like a team on pace to win 104 games (think 1984 Tigers).
Finally, the Tigers can’t manage to win the games that they should. In their previous two games before Wednesday night, they had at least a three-run lead and lost it, then had the lead in extra innings and lost that. They’re 13-18 in one-run games, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. When the Tigers win, they play really well and when they lose, they play really bad (at least on average).
It doesn’t seem like there’s any middle ground. In their wins, they average seven and a half runs of offense and their ERA is 3.24. When they lose, they score 2.7 runs per game and their ERA is 5.93. They’re the first team to score 19 runs in a game three times in the same season, yet they’ve been shut out 11 times this year. The numbers almost defy logic.
Why the Tigers will make the playoffs in 2008
I like their schedule. Of the Tigers’ 50 remaining games, 30 are at home, and the Tigers play much better in the friendly confines of Comerica Park. They’re 29-22 at home and the difference between their home and road OPS is 129 points, which is a lot better than the American League average of 56 points.
Six of those home games are against the mediocre Kansas City Royals; six more are against the struggling Oakland Athletics. In fact, in August, the only team the Tigers play at home that has a winning record is the Toronto Blue Jays, and they’re just above .500. September is a little tougher, with home series against both the Tampa Bay Rays and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, but the short of the story is, the Tigers have a fairly favorable schedule. If they can go 20-10 at home, that means they’d have to go 12-8 on the road to hit that 87-win mark that I talk about.
Another reason the Tigers can get it done is, even though their pitching has struggled, they can score runs in huge bunches. They trail just the Texas Rangers in runs scored and it looks like they’re finally past the shutout thing with just one since June 1. The Tigers already have 32 games in which they’ve scored seven runs or more and in those 30 games, they’re 30-2. If you combine this with the home/road argument and you hope the Tigers’ bats heat up while on the road, maybe playing like the best team in baseball for nearly two months isn’t out of the realm of possibility.
Finally, the Tigers have done it before. They were 19-8 in June, which is a .700 clip. If they can replicate that run and go 19-8 in any 27 games they play the rest of the way, they’ll then have to go 13-10 in their other 23 games to reach the 87-win mark.
As I was writing this, the Tigers lost to the White Sox 5-1, so their road got that much tougher. I think the Tigers will have a solid rest of August and September, but because too many things need to go right for them, they’ll miss out on the playoffs. I do think they’ll at least make some noise, and at least for the next month, they’ll have the Twins and White Sox at least looking in their rear view mirrors instead of completely ignoring the Tigers. I see them finishing with 84 wins and they’ll end up seven games back of first place.