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Tigers’ playoff odds take a serious hit after recent skid

No publication gives the Tigers more than a 25 percent chance at making the postseason after a rough week.

Detroit Tigers v Cleveland Indians Photo by David Maxwell/Getty Images

It was not too long ago that we were rather optimistic about the Detroit Tigers’ chances of making the postseason. Two weeks ago, the Tigers had finished off a huge road series win against the then-surging Kansas City Royals and were tied with the Baltimore Orioles for the second wild card spot. With a relatively thin schedule on the horizon — not to mention a home series against the Orioles — the Tigers’ playoff hopes seemed bright. Sites like FanGraphs agreed, giving the Tigers a 61.3 percent chance of making the postseason in some form.

Well, we know how that turned out. The Tigers lost two of three to the White Sox, dropped that crucial Orioles series, and split a four-game set with the Minnesota Twins before a backs-to-the-wall series against the Cleveland Indians. Their 5-8 record over the past two weeks should have buried them, but subpar performances from other wild card contenders have kept the Tigers within striking distance.

Still, with just two weeks left in the regular season, the Tigers have little room for error. They have fallen two games behind the Toronto Blue Jays for the second AL Wild Card spot, tied with the Seattle Mariners. FanGraphs has lowered the Tigers’ playoff odds to just 24.3 percent, while Baseball Prospectus gives them a meager 16.1 percent chance of making the postseason. FiveThirtyEight is in agreement with FanGraphs, at 24 percent playoff odds.

Luckily, the schedule is still in the Tigers’ favor. After Monday’s off day, the Tigers have a three-game series against the lowly Twins, followed by a home series against a Royals team that has since been eliminated from postseason contention. The Tigers’ toughest test remaining is a four-game home series against the Cleveland Indians from September 26-29, but even that might not be so dangerous. Currently sitting on a seven-game lead, the Indians may lock up the division by the time they arrive in Detroit, and could already be looking toward the postseason. Finally, the Tigers finish with a three-game series in Atlanta against a Braves team that leads the National League with a 106 wRC+ since the All-Star break.

If you look at FiveThirtyEight’s game-by-game projections, the Tigers have a better than 50 percent chance of winning 10 of their final 13 games. This doesn’t mean that they are projected to finish 10-3 — adding up the win probabilities in each game puts the Tigers at 7-6, or an 86-76 record — although that would be nice. Justin Verlander and Michael Fulmer have the best odds, naturally, with Daniel Norris sitting about neutral on days that he starts. Should the Tigers look to replace Anibal Sanchez in the rotation, their odds of winning might increase a bit.

Here are FiveThirtyEight’s projections for how other teams will finish.

Team Current Record Playoff Odds Projected Wins Projected Record
Baltimore 82-67 75% 6.6 88-74
Toronto 81-68 57% 6.6 87-75
Detroit 79-70 24% 6.9 86-76
Seattle 79-70 29% 7.1 86-76
Houston 78-71 13% 7.1 85-77

Both the Mariners and Astros have the highest projected win totals remaining for Wild Card contenders, in large part because they have series remaining against the A’s and Angels (and, in the Mariners’ case, the Twins). The Mariners have a chance to control their own playoff destiny this week with a three-game series against the Blue Jays, while the AL East clubs will have to wade through one another to reach the postseason.

Still, the Tigers have a chance to control their own destiny. With nine of their 13 games remaining against teams out of playoff contention and seven of 13 left at home, a strong finish should vault them ahead of one of the AL East contenders and into the Wild Card game.