As the MLB trade deadline approaches, teams around the league are looking to bolster their roster to position themselves to make the playoffs. While general manager Al Avila has insisted that the Detroit Tigers are going to have a quiet deadline, they have still managed to pop up in a few trade rumors. Coming off of a three-game sweep in Boston against the Red Sox, the odds of the Tigers making the playoffs are starting to look a little more friendly. The sheer fact that the Tigers are in on quality trade candidates shows that the front office believes that this team has a real shot. While it might not look all that rosy on the surface, the Tigers have quietly put themselves in a good position to play important baseball in October.
As of Thursday morning, the Tigers have a 35.1 percent chance of making the playoffs according to FanGraphs, and a 29 percent chance according to Baseball Prospectus. Neither of those percentages are encouraging, but the standings paint a slightly different picture. They currently sit 4 1/2 games back of the Cleveland Indians for the division lead, and only 2 1/2 back in the wild card race. While much of the season has been a roller coaster that has dipped and dived to a .500-ish record, things might be about to break the Tigers’ way.
The Return of J-Z
The Tigers were dealt a key blow to their starting rotation with Jordan Zimmermann going on the disabled list at the end of June, but he is now on the cusp of returning. After throwing a rehab start with Triple-A Toledo last Sunday, Zimmermann is scheduled for one more start with the Mud Hens on Friday. He will then hopefully rejoin the big club if things go well. While it won’t directly reflect in their playoff percentage, getting him back will be a huge boost.
Subbing in Zimmermann’s production for Anibal Sanchez’s (woof) spot in the rotation is a huge swing in the positive direction. In 15 starts this season, Zimmermann has put up a 3.95 ERA, 3.75 FIP, and has been worth 2.2 fWAR. Sanchez, on the other hand, has put up an unfathomable 7.13 ERA to go with a 5.59 FIP in 16 starts. Getting their No. 2 starter back is just as big as any addition the Tigers could make at the trade deadline.
Home Field Advantage
Out of the 102 games that the Tigers have played this season, only 45 have been within the friendly confines of Comerica Park. With some simple algebra, you can see that they only have 24 regular season road games remaining, but 36 more home games. The Tigers hold a 26-19 record (.578) at home, and a 28-29 record (.491) in road games. Luckily for them, 22 of the next 31 games are at home.
Of their six home opponents, two of them — the White Sox and Royals — are in their division. Both out of the playoff hunt, they will most likely be selling a portion of their tradeable assets this weekend. With that, the Tigers will have a golden opportunity down their dilapidated division rivals. Two more of their home opponents — the Astros and Red Sox — are also in the playoff hunt. This is where the schedule gets tough, but winning these games essentially counts as a two-game swing in the Wild Card standings. Their other opponents are the Mets, who are in the playoff hunt in the National League, and the Angels, who usually dismantle the Tigers regardless of the quality of their team (but are currently mired in last place).
Ba De Ya — Dancing in September!
The Tigers’ September (and early October) schedule is very encouraging for their playoff chances. Of the six opponents they face to finish off the season, only two currently have records above .500. On the contrary, two are arguably in the bottom three for the entire league. Ten of their final 29 games come against the Twins and the Braves, both terrible, and both likely to be even worse due to selling at the trade deadline. The two mid-tier teams are our old friends, the Royals and the White Sox, who again will not be playing for anything down the stretch.
The Orioles, on the other hand, will absolutely be playing for something. The O’s currently sit atop the American League East, but have the Blue Jays and the Red Sox breathing down their neck. Those three home games against Baltimore will have a playoff-like atmosphere as both teams are looking to, at the very least, win a wild card spot.
Finally, the biggest games of the season will come against that team from Ohio. The Indians feature the best rotation in the AL and lead the Tigers by 4 1/2 games in the division. Detroit has only managed to win one game against the Tribe, but natural regression to the mean can’t let that losing trend continue, right? Either way, those seven games against Cleveland will likely define whether the Tigers can cap off a comeback to win the Central, or if they will have to scrape and claw to get into the postseason via the wild card.
Of course, all of those reasons mentioned could fall apart with the Tigers down the stretch. As much as we try and predict it, baseball is a crazy sport that is largely unpredictable. Still, with the upcoming schedule and the return of Jordan Zimmermann to the rotation, the chances of them stealing a playoff spot look a lot better than they did even one week ago. It’s all up to the boys on the field wearing the Old English D, but these Detroit Tigers are still very much on the prowl for October.