Five days. Five stadiums. Five must-win games. This is one potential scenario for the Detroit Tigers after their final home game of the season was postponed on Thursday. A record-setting rainfall washed away the final Tigers-Indians matchup of the year, leaving the Tigers in a potentially awkward place. With their playoff chances still in doubt — the Baltimore Orioles are one game ahead of Detroit, pending their Thursday evening matchup with Toronto — the Tigers could be forced to play multiple win-or-go-home games before even getting into the winner-take-all Wild Card game.
Sounds like a complete mess, right? Well, it is. Here’s how to make sense of it.
What does the Tigers’ schedule look like after the rainout?
The Tigers will travel to Atlanta for a three-game series against the Braves at Turner Field, as scheduled. The Braves currently own the worst record in the National League, but have been a much better team of late. They own the second-best wRC+ in the National League since the All-Star break, and are a blistering 15-9 in the month of September. With ace Julio Teheran and a couple of promising youngsters scheduled to start, this series is far from a cakewalk for the Tigers.
Following that series, the Tigers will potentially make up Thursday’s game against the Indians on Monday at Comerica Park. This makeup game hinges on there being playoff implications still at stake. If the Tigers are eliminated and the Indians can’t move up or down in the AL standings — they are currently one game behind the Red Sox for the No. 2 seed — the game will be cancelled.
Things get hairy after that. The AL Wild Card game is scheduled for Tuesday, but could potentially be moved if the Tigers have to play a tiebreaker against another playoff contender for the second AL Wild Card spot. This could also throw the ALDS schedule into disarray, as both series are slated to begin on Thursday.
What will the Tigers’ rotation look like going forward?
Prior to Thursday’s rainout, the Tigers were going to use Jordan Zimmermann in one of this weekend’s games against the Braves. Now, it appears Daniel Norris will start on Friday against Atlanta’s Matt Wisler. Zimmermann may still start on Saturday, but it could also be any one of Matt Boyd, Anibal Sanchez, Buck Farmer, or Mike Pelfrey. Justin Verlander will assuredly make his start on Sunday on regular rest, as there is now no way the Tigers could leapfrog the O’s and clinch before then. Let’s assume Norris, Zimmermann, and Verlander start in Atlanta. Michael Fulmer would be able to start on Monday in the makeup game against Cleveland (if it is played).
After that, it’s anyone’s guess. If the Tigers somehow clinch a playoff spot and don’t have to make up their game against Cleveland, Fulmer would start the AL Wild Card game on Tuesday. If the Tigers play that makeup game and move onto the Wild Card game with no tiebreakers, one of Boyd, Sanchez, Farmer, or Pelfrey would start the Wild Card game.
What if there are tiebreakers?
Oh, God. With the Blue Jays, Orioles, Tigers, and Mariners all separated by just three games with four remaining, there could be as many as three teams tied for the final AL Wild Card spot. If that glorious scenario were to happen, the entire AL playoff schedule would be ripped to shreds as the three teams fight out their playoff positioning on Tuesday and Wednesday. Patrick detailed exactly how that scenario is resolved earlier this month, but the important thing to remember is that the Tigers wouldn’t play any tiebreakers until Tuesday, when the AL Wild Card game is currently scheduled.
If the Tigers are only tied with one team, the scenario is much simpler. The two teams would play a tiebreaker on Tuesday evening, with the AL Wild Card game likely pushed back to Wednesday afternoon. The winner would then have a quick turnaround to the ALDS on Thursday, as MLB likely won’t push back the start of those series unless it were absolutely necessary.
Luckily, answering the “who starts?” question is relatively simple. If Boyd/Sanchez/Farmer (I’m done entertaining a hypothetical must-win scenario in which Mike Pelfrey starts) start in a tiebreaker on Tuesday, Daniel Norris could start the Wild Card game on full rest on Wednesday. Then, Jordan Zimmermann starts Game 1 of the ALDS, Justin Verlander starts Game 2, and so on.
|Opponent||@ ATL||@ ATL||@ ATL||vs. CLE||TBD||TBD||TBD|
|No Game 162||Norris||Zimmermann||Verlander||-||Fulmer (WC)||-||Game 1 ALDS|
|No Tiebreaker||Norris||Zimmermann||Verlander||Fulmer||TBD (WC)||-||Game 1 ALDS|
|1 Tiebreaker||Norris||Zimmermann||Verlander||Fulmer||TBD (tiebreaker)||TBD (WC)||Game 1 ALDS|
|2 Tiebreakers||Norris||Zimmermann||Verlander||Fulmer||TBD (tiebreaker 1)||TBD (tiebreaker 2)||TBD (WC)|
So how crazy could this get?
If the Tigers are part of a three-way tie for the second Wild Card spot (Baltimore and Seattle are the most likely candidates), the Tigers could play five must-win games in five days in five different stadiums. From Sunday in Atlanta to a Thursday Wild Card date in Toronto, next week could be the most high-stress stretch of Tigers baseball we have ever seen.
What if there’s a four-way tie for the Wild Card?