The Tigers had a huge opportunity over the last 10 days. Between Minnesota, Anaheim, and Chicago, Detroit faced several subpar teams, and were even more fortunate to face the subpar pitchers on those rosters. It was essentially a system where the Tigers had to capitalize, and they did magnificently, going 7-2 over that stretch.
Their win on Wednesday has Detroit in a tie for the second Wild Card as the final month of the regular season approaches. FanGraphs is sipping the Kool-aid, giving the Tigers a 51.2 percent chance to make the playoffs. It’s important to note that its projection has the Tigers going 16-13 or so down the stretch to reach 88 wins. As many have said all along, 88 wins will get a team in the playoffs in the American League.
However, the first six of the remaining 29 games have a pretty grim outlook. Let’s take a look at Detroit’s upcoming road trip.
Tigers at Royals
Friday: Anibal Sanchez (7-13, 5.92) vs. Danny Duffy (11-2, 3.01)
This has the potential to get ugly quickly. FiveThirtyEight gives Kansas City a 60 percent chance of winning this game, and the odds may be even worse when Detroit’s shaky record against Kansas City (4-9) is considered. Danny Duffy is one of the American League’s best pitchers, on par with Corey Kluber or Chris Sale, although Boston did knock him around in his last start (who don’t they knock around?). Meanwhile, Anibal Sanchez is coming off of a poor outing against the Angels. He did have an excellent start against Kansas City a few weeks ago. The Tigers will need that Sanchez again.
Saturday: Michael Fulmer (10-5, 2.69) vs. Yordano Ventura (9-9, 4.33)
In a surprise move, manager Brad Ausmus isn’t going to use Thursday’s off day to give Michael Fulmer extra rest. Fulmer has given up seven home runs over his last seven starts, a trend that he cannot afford to continue. The Tigers have been absolutely owned by Yordano Ventura this year; he is 2-0 with a 1.82 ERA against them in four starts. Fulmer is going to have to be at his best on Saturday to earn the win for Detroit.
Sunday: Daniel Norris (2-2, 3.86) vs. Dillon Gee (6-7, 4.37)
Only in the cavernous confines of Kauffman Stadium can a replacement-level pitcher put up a 4.37 ERA (oh hey, Ian Kennedy). The Royals have been an anemic hitting team — seriously, how did they have such a good August with a team wRC+ of 84? — but they aren’t all that bad against lefties. Still, given Gee’s abilities, this is a huge winnable matchup for the Tigers at the end of the series.
Tigers at White Sox
Monday: TBD vs. Chris Sale (15-7, 3.10)
FiveThirtyEight lists Justin Verlander as the starter for Tuesday, but it seems like the Tigers would want him to start their series against the White Sox off against Sale. As it stands, we have seen enough of the Tigers’ ace to know that he has the potential to cut Chicago’s lineup to pieces. This is going to be a very difficult start to the series in Chicago, even if Verlander is on the mound. If we are focusing on the positives, it’s that Detroit has managed to win three of Sale’s four starts against the Tigers this year.
Tuesday: TBD vs. Jose Quintana (11-9, 2.77 ERA)
Matt Boyd will most likely toe the rubber for Detroit in the middle of the series, and oh yeah, here’s Jose Quintana. The fourth scary pitching matchup the Tigers will face in five games, Quintana is in the middle of his third straight 5-WAR season. He boasts an insane 7.56 strikeout-to-walk ratio at home. U.S. Cellular Field seems like exactly the sort of park that would be the undoing of Matt Boyd, but he navigated the dimensions of Toronto and Arlington phenomenally earlier this year. If he can keep it in the yard, he can give the Tigers a fighting shot.
Wednesday: Sanchez vs. Carlos Rodon (5-8, 3.91)
And the Tigers get to finish the set with the third part of the scary Chicago trio. Carlos Rodon has an elevated ERA due to an elevated BABIP of .331, but make no mistake, dude can chuck. His 14.9 percent K-BB rate attests to that. And then there’s Sanchez in a tiny ballpark. Gotta get him goin’ (as Jim Leyland would say) before the playoffs.
There are some really rough matchups in the upcoming week. In three of those games, the Tigers will be set at a significant disadvantage thanks to the pitching matchups, and that’s not even factoring in the weird dominance of Yordano Ventura over the Tigers. This has the look of a classic tread-water road trip, and I wouldn’t be feeling at all bad about entering next week’s seven-game homestand after a .500 road trip. The Tigers would still be primed for a late-season run, with 14 of their last 23 games at home. Ultimately, a small step back from their solid performance earlier this week seem very possible.