With all of the chaos surrounding the AL Wild Card race, Tigers fans have understandably been focusing on the games at hand. The last few games of the season are not technically playoff games, but they are awfully close in terms of what is on the line. It is quite possible that the Tigers will find themselves in elimination games even before the playoffs begin, and anything can happen in single-game scenarios.
One reason why the Tigers are so focused on simply getting into the postseason is that the playoffs provide sort of a blank slate. Instead of a 162-game (or more) marathon, the playoffs are all about timely pitching and hitting. A common narrative has been that the Tigers have a shot to win it all because of their ability to get hot at the right time. But can this claim actually be substantiated?
I did my best to see what a maxed-out Tigers lineup might look like. While my method is far from scientific, I believe it provides a glimpse at what exactly the Tigers’ ceiling may be. For each of the nine position players, I took the stats from their single best month this season. Of course, there are many other things that could be considered, but this seemed like a simple, balanced approach.
I also looked at the best month for the four top starting pitchers. This was a little trickier, but I think it still does a good job of painting the picture. I only considered months with over 20 games for batters and 20 innings for pitchers, unless they have significant circumstances like injuries this season.
The offense could get HOT
On paper, this lineup is scary good. Though all nine Tigers will never all be this hot at the same time, just imagine how many runs would be scored each game. Four players have batting averages over .350, and five players have on-base percentages over .400. Justin Upton is just barely reaches the OBP mark, and yet he leads the way in homers and wRC+.
If it seems like this lineup is unfair, it basically is. By running the same analysis for the other five American League playoff contenders, only Boston owns a higher average and OBP. While most teams rack up more home runs, the Tigers rank first in wRC+. The Orioles, Blue Jays, and Indians do not even touch 150 wRC+ with their maximum potential lineup.
The pitching would do pretty well too
Who the Tigers would even use in a playoff rotation is still uncertain, but these four pitchers would be a great combination. Justin Verlander has been nasty during the second half of the season, and Michael Fulmer’s amazing stretch earlier in the year would be a welcome encore. Neither Matt Boyd nor Daniel Norris have been otherworldly, but their best efforts would be good enough in the playoffs.
Compared to the other five playoff contenders, the Tigers pitchers rank favorably, although they are not as dominant as the batters. Their best months do combine for the top ERA, but they fall to third in both WHIP and FIP. Their wOBA against sits at fourth, but this rotation’s ceiling looks higher than maybe everyone but Boston and Toronto.
When it counts
One interesting quirk about the Tigers’ best lineup is that four of the players were hottest in either August or September. The Red Sox were the only other team to match this number, while the other clubs peaked much earlier. Meanwhile, only Boston saw their top four pitchers average a later best month than Detroit. Against, most other clubs had the peak performances earlier on.
It might not make a huge difference, but it is encouraging to see that some of the Tigers are playing their best baseball near the end of the season, especially when that includes players like J.D. Martinez and Justin Upton. No team will ever have every player reach their full potential at the same time, but the Tigers have shown that their ceiling would be hard to match.