The Tigers had long since left Comerica Park by the time they became the latest team to clinch a spot in the postseason. They probably wouldn’t have celebrated much if they were around anyway.
They have a Wild Card spot assured as a fallback option, but a fourth consecutive American League Central title on their minds. They still have work to do.
“The goal,” Ausmus said Wednesday afternoon, “is to win the division.”
Detroit’s win over the White Sox Wednesday afternoon put the Tigers on the doorstep of October baseball. Once the Mariners lost at Toronto Wednesday night, their foot was in the door, the Tigers assured of finishing no worse than the second AL Wild Card spot.
“We’re in,” Ian Kinsler said. “We have an opportunity to win a World Series regardless of what happens here on out. But the goal is to win the Central. To have that assurance, to know that you’re going to be in the playoffs, yeah, that’s big. But that’s not the goal right now.
“We still have four games left to try to win the Central, and that’s what we’re going to try to do.”
They’re a little closer on the division part as well. A Royals loss in Cleveland stretched Detroit’s lead to two games with four to play, and reduced the magic number to three. A Tigers split at home against the Twins would require the Royals to sweep four games against the White Sox in Chicago to force a one-game playoff.
Consider it a milepost on the Tigers’ quest to take care of unfinished business from last year, when they fell to the Red Sox in a dramatic six-game AL Championship Series that still stings for most Tigers fans.
It’s also a record-setter for the Tigers, whose fourth straight playoff berth sets a new franchise mark. Detroit went to three consecutive World Series from 1907 to 1909, losing all three times.
“Everybody wants to make it to the playoffs, obviously,” Verlander said, “but you never want to settle for a wild card, or just squeaking in. You want to win your division. That’s the goal here. I don’t think anybody’s going to be overly excited just squeaking in and securing a wild card spot.
“There’s still four games to play and we’re in first place in our division, and that’s the most important part.”
Asked if they might still celebrate, Verlander smiled.
“I don’t think you’re going to see us go out and celebrate and get hammered,” he said, “and come in tomorrow not ready to play.”
Barring a Royals collapse, whichever team doesn’t win the Central will take one of the two Wild Card berths and play a winner-take-all game next Tuesday on TBS. Oakland currently holds the other AL Wild Card spot.
The A’s loss Wednesday afternoon, meanwhile, put the Tigers two games ahead of Oakland to go with the head-to-head tiebreaker. Barring a dramatic swing, then, the Tigers would have the consolation of at least hosting a Wild Card game if they finished second in the division.
Detroit won five out of seven from Oakland this year.
The AL Central champion will advance to the AL Division Series as the third seed, opening on the road. Most likely, the opponent would be Baltimore, currently owner of the AL’s second-best record. The Tigers went 5-1 against the Orioles this year, including a three-game sweep at Camden Yards in May.
Andrew Romine has never faced Chris Sale, but for a rare time this season, manager Brad Ausmus is playing off Romine’s switch-hitting success against lefties (17-for-51, three doubles) and giving him a shot. Under most circumstances, it’s a defensive play, but even in his lower-strikeout form Justin Verlander’s not a ground-ball pitcher.
TIGERS (career numbers off Sale)
- Ian Kinsler, 2B (6-for-21, 2 HR, 2 walks, 3 K’s)
- Torii Hunter, RF (6-for-24, double, triple, HR, walk, 7 K’s)
- Miguel Cabrera, 1B (6-for-27, 2 HR, 6 walks, 8 K’s)
- Victor Martinez, DH (15-for-28, 3 doubles, 3 HR, walk, 4 K’s)
- J.D. Martinez, LF (3-for-13, double, 6 K’s)
- Nick Castellanos, 3B (1-for-8, walk, 5 K’s)
- Bryan Holaday, C (1-for-5, 2 K’s)
- Andrew Romine, SS
- Rajai Davis, CF (4-for-10, double, walk)
P: Justin Verlander
WHITE SOX (2014 numbers vs. Verlander)
- Adam Eaton, CF (5-for-11, 2 doubles, triple, walk, 3 K’s)
- Alexei Ramirez, SS (18-for-71, double, HR, 2 walks, 9 K’s)
- Jose Abreu, 1B (7-for-12, double, 2 HR, walk, 4 K’s)
- Conor Gillaspie, 3B (2-for-11, double, 2 walks, 2 K’s)
- Avisail Garcia, RF (1-for-3, double, K)
- Dayan Viciedo, DH (6-for-23, double, HR, walk, 4 K’s)
- Jordan Danks, LF (1-for-4, K)
- Tyler Flowers, C (4-for-18, double, 2 HR, 3 walks, 6 K’s)
- Marcus Semien, 2B (2-for-7, 3 K’s)
P: Chris Sale
Eugenio Suarez (third start in four days) and Rajai Davis return to their respective spots. Other than that, it’s the same Tigers lineup.
The White Sox get quickly emerging Tigers nemesis Adam Eaton back after he missed last night’s game to deal with a family matter.
TIGERS (numbers against Scott Carroll)
- Ian Kinsler, 2B (1-for-3, double)
- Torii Hunter, RF (1-for-2, double)
- Miguel Cabrera, 1B (0-for-3)
- Victor Martinez, DH (1-for-3)
- J.D. Martinez, LF (3-for-3, double)
- Nick Castellanos, 3B (0-for-3)
- Alex Avila, C (1-for-3, double, K)
- Eugenio Suarez, SS (1-for-3, K)
- Rajai Davis, CF
P: David Price
WHITE SOX (numbers off Price)
- Adam Eaton, CF (3-for-4)
- Alexei Ramirez, SS (5-for-26, 2 walks, 2 K’s)
- Jose Abreu, DH (1-for-3, HR)
- Avisail Garcia, RF
- Dayan Viciedo, LF (2-for-9, double, 3 K’s)
- Paul Konerko, 1B (10-for-23, double, 2 HR, walk, 4 K’s)
- Marcus Semien, 3B (2-for-4, double, K)
- Josh Phegley, C (1-for-4, HR)
- Carlos Sanchez, 2B
P: Scott Carroll
Late lineups tonight, but the Tigers didn’t finalize theirs until less than an hour before first pitch, having received clearance for Alex Avila to return from his concussion. He’s in the starting lineup. So is Ezequiel Carrera, who had all but disappeared from the Tigers depth chart after his dive and miss last week but who had a three-hit game when the Tigers faced White Sox rookie Chris Bassitt at Chicago Aug. 30.
Thus, Carrera makes his first start since Labor Day three weeks ago.
- Ian Kinsler, 2B
- Torii Hunter, RF
- Miguel Cabrera, 1B
- Victor Martinez, DH
- J.D. Martinez, LF
- Nick Castellanos, 3B
- Alex Avila, C
- Andrew Romine, SS
- Ezequiel Carrera, CF
P: Kyle Lobstein
- Alexei Ramirez, SS
- Marcus Semien, 3B
- Jose Abreu, 1B
- Avisail Garcia, RF
- Dayan Viciedo, LF
- Paul Konerko, DH
- Carlos Sanchez, 2B
- Tyler Flowers, C
- Moises Sierra, CF
P: Chris Bassitt
Miguel Cabrera was originally slated to play first base, but was switched to designated hitter to ward off some soreness in the ankle. Andrew Romine returns to the lineup for defensive purposes with ground-ball pitcher Rick Porcello on the mound. Bryan Holaday gets a second straight start behind the plate, but with Alex Avila hitting in Sanchez’s sim game Sunday and taking batting practice beyond that, it’s conceivable that Avila could return to the lineup Monday night against the White Sox.
The Royals return Billy Butler to the DH slot over Josh Willingham (who’s 9-for-24 with five extra-base hits lifetime against Rick Porcello, but who’s slumping) and move Alex Gordon down to the sixth spot in the order. Eric Hosmer bats cleanup.
TIGERS (career numbers off Jeremy Guthrie)
- Ian Kinsler, 2B (13-for-39, 2 doubles, triple, 3 walks, 5 K’s)
- Torii Hunter, RF (16-for-46, 3 doubles, HR, 3 K’s)
- Miguel Cabrera, DH (16-for-47, double, 3 HR, 6 walks, 8 K’s)
- Victor Martinez, 1B (11-for-32, 3 doubles, 2 walks, 3 K’s)
- J.D. Martinez, LF (4-for-15, double, 2 HR, walk, 2 K’s)
- Nick Castellanos, 3B (4-for-7, 2 doubles, K)
- Bryan Holaday, C
- Andrew Romine, SS (1-for-2)
- Rajai Davis, CF (4-for-19, double, 5 K’s)
P: Rick Porcello
ROYALS (career numbers against Porcello)
- Alcides Escobar, SS (2-for-29, 6 K’s)
- Nori Aoki, RF (0-for-8, 2 walks, 3 K’s)
- Lorenzo Cain, CF (2-for-8, walk, 2 K’s)
- Eric Hosmer, 1B (7-for-22, 2 HR, 2 walks, 3 K’s)
- Billy Butler, DH (16-for-47, 4 doubles, HR, walk, 10 K’s)
- Alex Gordon, LF (11-for-37, 2 doubles, 2 HR, walk, 8 K’s)
- Salvador Perez, C (5-for-19, 3 K’s)
- Omar Infante, 2B (4-for-9, triple)
- Mike Moustakas, 3B (5-for-23, 3 doubles, 2 walks, 4 K’s)
P: Jeremy Guthrie
Hernan Perez is a long way removed from the days when he was an option on the Tigers’ shortstop carousel. He still arguably won the Tigers a game on Saturday. He did it from the bench.
As Brad Ausmus took questions about the decision to appeal the Royals’ go-ahead play on an errant attempt at second base, Ausmus wasn’t taking credit.
“I have to give credit where credit’s due. Hernan Perez was the guy who initially noticed it, sitting on the bench and watching the game,” Ausmus said. “He noticed that Perez never went back after the line drive. So that’s how it all started.”
The play in question began when Omar Infante lined out to second baseman Ian Kinsler with runners at second and third and one out in a 1-1 game. Kinsler, seeing Eric Hosmer scrambling to get back to second, immediately looked for a chance to double him off and end the threat.
Shortstop Eugenio Suarez, making his first start in a week, was late getting to the bag. Suarez dashed over as the throw went behind him and into short left field. Salvador Perez, who was headed back to third, took off for home.
Perez scored easily, but he never touched third base before doing so.
“I was at the end of the dugout, so I could see the third baseman and second base,” Hernan Perez said. “I was looking at the play at second and when I saw that Suarez missed the ball, I saw Perez, he didn’t go back to the base. When that happened, I ran to [first-base coach] Omar Vizquel and told him to appeal at third base.”
While the bench yelled as Scherzer to throw to third base, Vizquel told Ausmus, who appealed to third-base umpire Larry Vanover, who told Ausmus the play couldn’t be challenged. That’s where Ausmus had to do some convincing.
“I just spoke with [third-base umpire and crew chief] Larry Vanover and said, ‘We’re appealing it. Perez never went back and touched the bag.’ And there was some discussion as to whether it’s a challengeable play, because on a fly-ball tag-up in the outfield, it’s not challengeable. But this wasn’t a case where you’re challenging whether a guy left early or not. This is basically a missed base, and missed bases are challengeable. So that was the basis for the challenge.”
Vanover described the case as Ausmus saying there’s no difference. Ausmus, however, said he was arguing that there is a difference.
“It is kind of a gray area that probably, I would imagine, would have to be addressed at this point,” Ausmus said. “It’s not a tag-up play. You’re not questioning whether a guy left early. He never went and retagged the bases, which is essentially missing a base. And that is challengeable.”
The first umpire conference, Vanover said, involved whether it’s reviewable.
“Let’s go over what’s reviewable or not reviewable, so we talked about that. And the crew was like 75 percent that you cannot review that, but we weren’t 1000 percent [sure]. And in that situation I didn’t want to not go to the headset and ask to review it when I could have. I wanted to make darn sure I didn’t mess that up.”
That’s when he went to the headset.
“I said, ‘I need to know whether tagging up on a line drive is reviewable or not reviewable,’ and they came back with the answer that it’s not a reviewable play.”
At that point, the stadium is under the impression that it’s being reviewed. And thus, the play is being replayed on the scoreboard behind Vanover and as his crew. And the groans from most of the Kauffman Stadium crowd is hard to ignore as fans see that Perez did not touch third base after the lineout.
“I didn’t envy the umpires once they showed the replay on the board,” Ausmus said, “because he clearly didn’t go back and touch the base. I don’t envy the umpires’ position there, because if it’s not challengeable, 45,000 people know what the right call is, including all the umpires and both teams.
“It’s not an enviable position to be in, but ultimately, the goal is to get the call right. And they got the call right.”
But if replay officials couldn’t review the play, how did the crew get the call?
“We started talking about what happened, we walked through the play,” Vanover told a pool reporter. “We took a consensus of the information, and out of that crew consultation, we came up with the answer that he didn’t tag up, he didn’t tag the base.”
Asked if the replay on the scoreboard was a factor, Vanover said it was not. By rule, they’re not allowed to take it into consideration.
Ausmus didn’t know that the play wasn’t reviewed until reporters told him afterward. Neither, for that matter, did Max Scherzer, who was also thanking his lucky stars that Hernan Perez noticed it.
“Really, that goes to Hernan,” Scherzer said. “That just shows you anybody on the bench can be watching a play and can make a difference in a game. We had a guy on our bench make an unbelievable difference in a game today. …
“That’s a one-in-a-million play. It’s just unbelievable we had somebody on our bench be astute and be able to see that. I think everybody on our bench tomorrow will be watching every single play.”
The Tigers won Saturday with help two September call-ups — Hernan Perez for spotting that Salvador Perez didn’t touch third base on his way to scoring a would-be go-ahead run, then Tyler Collins for his pinch-hit RBI single. Their win ended with 39-year-old Joe Nathan facing 42-year-old Raul Ibanez with the game on the line.
It also ended with the argument that the Tigers’ best relief pitcher did not pitch. At this point, however, Joakim Soria appears to be a reliever whose work is contingent on the rest of Detroit’s bullpen.
“Generally speaking, I would go for Joba [Chamberlain] and then Joe, assuming everyone is rested,” manager Brad Ausmus said. “But if I don’t like the way somebody’s throwing or pitching, I certainly wouldn’t hesitate to go to Soria. All three of those guys are proven back-end-of-the-bullpen pitchers.”
That’s a little bit of a shift from his previous situation, but not a full-time role. The question, as this AL Central race heads into its final week, is whether the hesitation will lessen.
In Saturday’s case, Ausmus said, “Soria was almost in the game a number of times.”
Soria warmed up in both the eighth and ninth innings once Joba Chamberlain and Joe Nathan encountered baserunners. Chamberlain gave up an Eric Hosmer single to whittle a 3-1 lead to 3-2 and put the potential tying run on base, but Chamberlain retired Omar Infante from there.
At that point, Soria and Phil Coke — who also began warming with left-handed hitting Mike Moustakas on deck — sat down, and Nathan got up.
Ausmus said that Soria was “not necessarily” going to be held unless the game was tied there.
Once Jarrod Dyson and Alcides Escobar hit back-to-back one-out singles in the ninth, Soria began warming up again. He kept warming until Nathan closed out with back-to-back groundouts from Nori Aoki and Ibanez.
In similar situations this season, Ausmus has had relievers warming in the ninth in case Nathan gave up the lead. When asked after Saturday’s game if the decision to warm up Soria was in case the game was tied, Ausmus said, “That was if I wanted him in the game.”
Ausmus said Nathan looked good until the back-to-back singles. Of course, he only faced one batter before that, getting Moustakas to fly out to left leading off the ninth before putting Dyson in an 0-2 count.
After the singles, Nathan said, “Right there you have to keep making pitches, tell yourself you’ve still got your stuff, you’ve still got things working out, and keep on making quality pitches and hopefully things work out.”
Aoki, who went hitless Saturday after going 13-for-16 over his previous four games, battled Nathan for seven pitches before grounding out to second. Ibanez, 1-for-11 with four strikeouts but a home run last year off Nathan, grounded out to first on a 1-0 pitch.
With that, Nathan had his 33rd save, but also his fourth multi-hit outing in his last five appearances. He has finished off the save in four of those, ending each with the potential tying run either on at the plate or on base.
Asked how his nerves were as Saturday’s ninth inning played, Ausmus said, “Icy.”
He was half-kidding.
“No, I mean, you’re constantly thinking of things,” he said. “You’d love for your closer to get three straight outs on three straight pitches. There’s very few Mariano Riveras that have ever stepped on the pitching mound. I mean, the nature of a closer is you’re in danger when you take the ball. The game is already on the line. He doesn’t come in in a 10-1 game.”
The hits, meanwhile, he prefers to the walks. Saturday was Nathan’s first inning in his last four appearance without a walk.
“Sometimes he creates his own baserunners, yeah, and obviously you can avoid that,” Ausmus said. “Really, they’re going to get hits once in a while. That happens. The one thing you want to avoid is the walks. You don’t want to give them free bases.”
If the free passes pick up, Soria would presumably find himself picking up the ball in the ninth more often.
For a noon local time game after a night game, there’s very little resting of players, another sign of how much this series means. The one change in the lineup is the one Brad Ausmus said he’d do beforehand, swapping out James McCann with Bryan Holaday behind the plate.
Today’s game is on FOX national, not Fox Sports Detroit. It’s also on FM only in Detroit, no AM 1270, for what that’s worth.
TIGERS (2014 off James Shields)
- Ian Kinsler, 2B (3-for-12, K)
- Torii Hunter, RF (4-for-13, triple, K)
- Miguel Cabrera, 1B (2-for-12, 2 doubles, walk, 4 K’s)
- Victor Martinez, DH (4-for-10, 2 doubles, HR)
- J.D. Martinez, LF (3-for-9, double, 4 K’s)
- Nick Castellanos, 3B (1-for-7, 3 K’s)
- Eugenio Suarez, SS
- Bryan Holaday, C
- Rajai Davis, CF (0-for-4)
P: Max Scherzer
ROYALS (2014 against Scherzer)
- Alcides Escobar, SS (2-for-8, K)
- Nori Aoki, RF (2-for-7, 2 walks, K)
- Josh Willingham, DH (1-for-2, walk)
- Alex Gordon, LF (3-for-8, double, HR, 2 walks, 2 K’s)
- Salvador Perez, C (2-for-8, double, walk, K)
- Eric Hosmer, 1B (2-for-9, 2 K’s)
- Omar Infante, 2B (4-for-10, 3 K’s)
- Mike Moustakas, 3B (2-for-8, HR, 3 K’s)
- Jarrod Dyson, CF (1-for-2, K)
P: James Shields
Alex Avila is calling his injury a concussion. His manager is calling it the aftereffects of a concussion. That has become clear while Avila struggles with dizziness and disorientation during baseball activity.
What isn’t clear is when Avila might return.
“Alex will each day come in and do some type of activity,” Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said. “And until he can go through that activity without any side effects, we probably won’t be able to play him.”
The way things are going, the Tigers are now preparing for the possibility that Avila might not be able to return this season. It was with that mind that Ausmus gave September callup James McCann his second Major League start for Friday’s series opener of their division clash with the Royals.
Ausmus has hesitated to use McCann in big situations of a division race, including pinch-hitting opportunities against a left-hander. That was before the extent of Avila’s concussion symptoms became clear.
“The truth is, we don’t know when Alex is coming back,” Ausmus said, “so we better be prepared for the fact that if he doesn’t come back, we’re going to need two catchers.”
Avila believes the concussion happened when he was picked off first base Sunday against Cleveland. First baseman Carlos Santana’s arm hit Avila’s head while Santana swiped to apply the tag. He does not know whether the foul tip off his mask Sept. 2 in Cleveland, which also forced him to miss a few days, had a cumulative effect, something he has been told by doctors is a possibility in cases of repeated blows.
“To be honest with you, it might have,” Avila said. “But that’s my opinion, and I’m not a doctor.”
On Thursday and Friday, Avila was able to lift weights without trouble, but felt disoriented after a while hitting in the cage.
“A little disorientation, difficulty focusing, things like that,” Avila said. “I’ve gotten to the point where I can do things like stuff in the weight room, just normal training things. Even hitting off the tee, everything is fine. But once I get to the point where I’ve got to track a baseball, whether it’s hitting or the ball’s in the air or somebody’s throwing the ball to me, at a certain point I’ve found myself having to step back because I have trouble focusing, I get a little bit disoriented. That’s been the tough part the last couple days, what’s kind of still set me back.
“Basically, it’s kind of like a hoping game each day when I get up.”
If there’s progress in this, it’s that he’s not suffering headaches, unlike past concussions. He’s sleeping well, he says, and he’s perfectly fine when he’s not working out. He talked with reporters Friday for close to 20 minutes in the Tigers clubhouse and seemed perfectly normal.
While he was trying to stay upbeat in those minutes, he was also honest about his situation. He’s further along now than he was at the same point dealing with past concussions.
“This concussion wasn’t any worse than last year’s,” he said.
That said, he’s now dealing with concussions for three straight seasons. Last year, it was a foul tip. The year before, it was a collision with Prince Fielder while chasing a popup.
He’s frustrated at not playing in the heat of a playoff race, yet realistic that he can’t afford to play while he’s dealing with this.
“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t concerned or worried about it,” he said. “But at the same time, talking to doctors, the concern would be if I’m concussed and I continue — instead of coming not and not playing, continue to play and have a situation where I get hit again or something like that while I’m still concussed. That’s where the concern really lies with the doctors, not so much what happened last year and happened this year. …
“I know for a fact I’ve played games with concussions, even in the big leagues. You don’t feel right, but you keep playing, because that’s what you do. That’s my job. But it’s one thing to play when you may not feel 100 percent, but then it’s another thing when you know you’re just not mentally right. There’s been a lot of games where I’ve been able to manage where maybe I’ve gotten hit and I know maybe I’m not 100 percent right now but I keep going. But last year and right now, it got to a point where I couldn’t manage it.”
James McCann’s second Major League start behind the plate for the Tigers is going to be a pretty big one. He gets the start for the opener of this series against the Royals, and he’ll catch Justin Verlander, whose pitch selection could be crucial. The interaction between Verlander and McCann could be an interesting subplot to watch.
We’ll find out later what this means for Alex Avila, who was supposed to catch Anibal Sanchez’s bullpen session yesterday to see how he felt.
Also worth noting is Eugenio Suarez’s return at shortstop. Andrew Romine, who started nine of the previous 10 games at short, is 1-for-6 with a strikeout against Jason Vargas this season.
The Royals lineup reflects the changes Ned Yost made a week ago, with Alcides Escobar leading off, Lorenzo Cain batting third, Alex Gordon at cleanup and Omar Infante near the bottom. Longtime Verlander nemesis Billy Butler still has a place, but it’s the seventh spot.
Reminder: Tonight’s game is on ESPN2 outside of the Detroit market, so if you’re somewhere else for the weekend, you can check it out.
TIGERS (2014 vs. Jason Vargas)
- Ian Kinsler, 2B (5-for-12, double, HR)
- Torii Hunter, RF (4-for-11)
- Miguel Cabrera, 1B (2-for-9, 2 doubles, 3 walks, K)
- Victor Martinez, DH (3-for-10, 2 walks, 2 K’s)
- J.D. Martinez, LF (1-for-3, HR, K)
- Nick Castellanos, 3B (1-for-12, HR, 4 K’s)
- James McCann, C
- Eugenio Suarez, SS (0-for-2)
- Rajai Davis, CF (5-for-11, 2 doubles, HR, 3 K’s)
P: Justin Verlander
ROYALS (2014 season vs. Verlander)
- Alcides Escobar, SS (3-for-13, double, walk, K)
- Nori Aoki, RF (2-for-11, 5 walks, 2 K’s)
- Lorenzo Cain, CF (4-for-9, double, HR, K)
- Alex Gordon, LF (2-for-9, 3 walks, 2 K’s)
- Salvador Perez, C (6-for-12, 3 doubles, 2 K’s)
- Eric Hosmer, 1B (5-for-16, double, triple, 2 K’s)
- Billy Butler, DH (4-for-14, double, walk, 3 K’s)
- Omar Infante, 2B (2-for-16, HR, walk, K)
- Mike Moustakas, 3B (2-for-14, 2 K’s)
P: Jason Vargas