The Tigers postseason begins tomorrow at 5:30pm ET (that’s finally set now that the Royals have advanced), but tickets for the next round go on sale a few hours earlier. AL Championship Series tickets go on sale Thursday at noon ET online exclusively at tigers.com/postseason (limit 12 per customer). They’ll also be available beginning Friday by phone at 866-66-TIGER and in person at the Comerica Park box office.
Unlike the Division Series, where it was pretty clear a while ago that the Tigers would open the road, Detroit’s ALCS seeding (if the Tigers advance, of course) would depend on which team advances from the other series. An Angels-Tigers series would open in California with Games 1-2 on Oct. 10-11. Games 3-5 would be at Comerica Park Oct. 13-15.
A Royals-Tigers rematch, on the other hand, would open in Detroit Oct. 10-11, go to Kansas City for the middle three innings, then return to Comerica Park for Games 6-7 (if necessary) Oct. 17-18.
A limited number of AL Division Series tickets also remain on sale, including Game 3 Sunday afternoon. The Tigers are encouraging fans going to Sunday’s game to head downtown early and give themselves some extra time. Gates will open at 1:45pm ET for the 3:45 game.
We’re likely to have a pretty good idea about the Tigers’ Division Series roster when the team works out later today. Realistically, though, most of the spots are set. Essentially, it comes down to this:
1. How much can Rajai Davis be expected to play?
This is going to have an impact everywhere from the bench to the bullpen. If his injury allows him to return to the starting lineup, the Tigers can go with their regular outfield mix, use Ezequiel Carrera as an extra outfielder and pinch runner, and use their 25th spot to carry an eighth reliever.
It’s if he isn’t ready that things get tricky. If he’s day-to-day, but still expected to be ready at some point in the series, the Tigers could be expected to use their 25th spot to carry an extra position player. If they want the extra outfielder, Tyler Collins — who can play all three spots — fits the bill. If Don Kelly is expected to handle a share of the playing time, then the better choice might be Hernan Perez, who can shoulder Kelly’s utility infield duties while serving as a late-inning pinch-runner as he did last October. If Davis is completely out, of course, his spot becomes open, and that extra position player can slide into there while freeing up a relief spot.
2. How many lefty relievers do the Tigers want?
If Chris Davis was looming in the Orioles lneup, this would be a no-brainer, despite Davis’ relatively even splits (.199 against righties this season, compared with .188 vs. lefties). But Davis is suspended, and right-handed hitter Steve Pearce is expected to take on his old role. There are still left-handed hitters the Tigers will want to match up — Alejandro De Aza is hitting just .138 (12-for-87) against lefties — but it’s not the same level of concern. As important of a player as Nick Markakis is, he has hit lefties better than righties the last few years, and he’s 6-for-18 off Phil Coke.
It’s an interesting twist for a Tigers bullpen that has struggled since summer to identify a primary reliever for lefty-lefty matchups. Coke is sure to make the staff, but after that, it’s a mystery. Blaine Hardy was a vital piece at one point, but struggled through September. Kyle Lobstein has made a strong case to stay on the roster as a reliever now that Detroit doesn’t need a fifth starter, but is more of a long reliever (which the Tigers also need) than a lefty specialist. Kyle Ryan has performed very well in spots but is also a 23-year-old rookie whose only relief history as a pro has happened in the past month.
Here’s what appears to be safe:
- C (2): Alex Avila, Bryan Holaday
- IF (5): Miguel Cabrera, Nick Castellanos, Ian Kinsler, Andrew Romine, Eugenio Suarez
- OF (4): Ezequiel Carrera, Torii Hunter, Don Kelly, J.D. Martinez
- DH (1): Victor Martinez
- SP (4): Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, David Price, Rick Porcello
- RP (6): Joe Nathan, Joba Chamberlain, Joakim Soria, Phil Coke, Al Alburquerque, Anibal Sanchez
That leaves one positional spot for either a healthy Rajai Davis, Tyler Collins or Hernan Perez. One bullpen spot is likely to be determined between Blaine Hardy, Jim Johnson, Kyle Lobstein, Kyle Ryan, Evan Reed and Pat McCoy. And one spot is up for grabs between both groups.
The choice of Max Scherzer to start the AL Division Series opener was an easy one, Brad Ausmus acknowledged Tuesday. His choice to start Game 2 was a little tougher.
Brad Ausmus cited several secondary reasons why he opted for Justin Verlander over David Price. He did not cite a primary reason.
“There’s a lot of things that go into it,” Ausmus said. “You can look at it from any number of angles. You can look at it from postseason performance. You can look at it from how they pitched against the Orioles. You can look at it about these guys having tons of innings. Maybe the extra day of rest for David would be good. Pitch Verlander [in] Game 3, now you’re really stretching him out; he hadn’t pitched in a while. You could slice this up a lot of different ways.”
Asked if Game 5 was a reason, Ausmus said, “That was part of the thought process, but Max would be available for game five as well. So that decision will come later.”
For the year, Price has been a better pitcher on the road, but pitched two gems at Comerica Park over the final week, save for a bad ninth inning against the White Sox. Verlander is statistically a better pitcher at home, but shut down Kansas City at Kauffman Stadium in that clutch series a week and a half back.
If Scherzer is the guy to start Game 5, then this debate is kind of irrelevant, more of a home-road split kind of thing (Price has a 2.92 ERA on the road this year). Neither pitcher has lost at Camden Yards. Verlander has a lower batting average allowed there, while Price has pretty much the same rate of keeping the ball in the park (4 HR in 50 innings, compared with 5 HR in 57 innings for Verlander).
But then, Scherzer was in line to start Game of last year’s ALDS … until he pitched in relief in Game 4.
One difference this year, at least from the Scherzer-as-reliever standpoint, is the presence of Anibal Sanchez in the bullpen. But if there’s an extra-inning game somewhere along the line, or a rain delay, or another reason for an early exit, it’s going to be an interesting decision.
Major League Baseball investigated last week’s flare-up between White Sox ace Chris Sale and Victor Martinez, as well as the issues surrounding it, but decided against any fines or suspensions.
“We looked at all the factors, and we did not find a reason for disciplinary action,” an MLB spokesperson said Tuesday.
All on-field incidents get some level of review, including a report from the umpires involved. This one was more interesting for multiple reasons, not just the potential implications of a playoff race if Martinez had been injured by Sale’s pitch, but also what prompted Sale to hit Martinez.
Sale said after the game he tried to pitch inside and simply lost a pitch. However, his mannerisms from the mound and the dugout, and the feedback Martinez heard from ex-teammate Avisail Garcia, made it clear Sale suspected Martinez had somebody in the outfield stealing signs or pitch locations. The Tigers and Martinez scoffed at the idea.
“Victor, I think he’s hitting 20 points higher on the road, so apparently he’s got a small army of people with binoculars,” Ausmus said the next day. “I thought the whole thing was kind of ridiculous.”
From a league standpoint, the matter is closed. Whether the two teams — or more importantly, the two players — do the same won’t likely be clear until next season. The White Sox return to Comerica Park April 17-19, but Martinez is a free agent this coming offseason and stands to be one of the hottest hitters on the market. Considering he’s mainly a DH at this point in his career, he’s likely to remain in the American League. Suffice to say, any speculation of a free-agent courtship by the White Sox is now dead.
Victor Martinez spent the season supporting Miguel Cabrera in the Tigers lineup, but he’s going to have a chance to follow Cabrera finally getting a chance at some hitting awards of his own. Detroit’s designated hitter, who led the American League in OPS while finishing second in the batting race, has been nominated for Major League Baseball’s Hank Aaron Award, presented to the best offensive performer in each league.
Martinez was the Tigers’ nominee over Miguel Cabrera, who won the last two Hank Aaron Awards for the American League. On many other teams, Cabrera would’ve had a chance to defend his title. The way Martinez hit, however, simply overshadowed him.
Not only did Martinez set career highs at age 35, he put up the kind of numbers seen from a rare group of hitters his age, batting .335 with 32 home runs and 103 RBIs. He came the third-oldest player ever to post his first career 30-homer, 100-RBI season, trailing only Carlton Fisk and Edgar Martinez.
Add in 70 walks and 33 doubles, and Martinez’s .974 OPS beat out White Sox rookie slugger Jose Abreu for the Major League lead. Martinez nearly capped his season with a batting title, taking the race into the final weekend before losing out to Astros second baseman Jose Altuve.
The discipline from Martinez was eye-opening. He had more than twice as many two-strike hits (93) as strikeouts (42), batting .337 in those situations with 14 home runs. He had almost as many hits (eight) as strikeouts (nine) in 0-2 counts.
The stats suggest a winning case. To earn the award, however, Martinez will have to win the vote of fans and a panel of Hall of Fame hitters. Fans can vote for an AL and NL winner at MLB.com from now until Oct. 5. In addition, Roberto Alomar, Johnny Bench, Paul Molitor, Eddie Murray, Frank Thomas and Robin Yount will take part in the process.
The two winners will be announced during the World Series. The award, established in 1999, will also recognize Aaron’s accomplishments in breaking Babe Ruth’s all-time home run record 40 years ago.
The schedule is out for the first three games of the Division Series, and it’s heavy on day baseball. Between the postseason presence of two teams in the Baltimore-Washington area, and the desire to accommodate West Coast fans with later start times, the one series guaranteed to have two teams in the Eastern time zone is getting the early starts.
It won’t be the case for the series opener, though Game 1 on Thursday could start before 6pm depending on whom the Angels face in the other ALDS. It will be the case for the other two games.
Game 2 on Friday could be a noon start if the Nationals are facing the Giants. It’ll be a 3pm start if the Pirates are facing the Nationals. Either way, it’s a baseball doubleheader for fans in the Beltway.
Detroit, too, is getting a doubleheader of the football-baseball kind. Game 3 Sunday at Comerica Park is scheduled for a 3:45pm start, right around the time the Lions and Bills are likely headed towards the two-minute warning across the street at Ford Field. It’ll be the reverse version of the doubleheader the two teams had downtown a few weeks ago, only without the weekday work traffic. With two stadiums’ worth of fans heading downtown, plan accordingly for traffic and parking hassles.
Tickets, by the way, are still available for Games 3 and 4, if Sunday’s schedule frees you up to go (say, without having to sacrifice sleep ahead of your work day Monday). You can pick up tickets online at tigers.com, by phone at 866-66-TIGER or in person at the Comerica Park box office.
Here’s the schedule:
Thursday: Game 1, Camden Yards — 5:37pm (if Royals win AL Wild Card) or 6:07pm (if A’s win Wild Card)
Friday: Game 2, Camden Yards — 12:07pm (if Giants win NL Wild Card) or 3:07pm ET (if Pirates win NL Wild Card)
Sunday: Game 3, Comerica Park — 3:45pm
Monday: Game 4 (if necesary), Comerica Park — TBD
Wednesday, Oct. 8: Game 5 (if necessary), Camden Yards — TBD
Also announced was the umpiring crew for the series. Jeff Kellogg will be the crew chief. Joining him will be Scott Barry, Dan Bellino, Fieldin Culbreth, Paul Schrieber and Jim Wolf. Replay officials stationed in NY for the various Division Series will be CB Bucknor, Chris Conroy, Ed Hickox and Brian O’Nora.
Down the hallway from the celebration in the Tigers clubhouse, Alex Avila was talking with a scrum of reporters about the Tigers’ journey to their latest AL Central crown when Ian Kinsler crashed the interview with a bottle of champagne, telling Avila to open his eyes as he poured it over his head.
“Feel the burn,” Kinsler said.
The Tigers have celebrated a lot over the past few years, but they haven’t celebrated much at home. They hadn’t celebrated a division title at home since 1987. They made up for it with a playoff series clincher two years ago, and in 2006, but it’s been a while.
So as the Tigers celebrated, they were making up for lost time. They were also recognizing the struggle to make sure this wasn’t a lost season. It wasn’t a crazy celebration, but it was still a notable one.
“There’s not too many storybook seasons in this game,” Ian Kinsler said. “Baseball’s a game of adversity, and we faced a ton of it this year. There were lots of ups and downs. I remember early in May, our bullpen was shot. I mean, Brad didn’t really have a guy to go to. We were running guys in and out from Triple-A, just trying to fight through that long stretch that we had at the beginning of the season. You just remember a bunch of little things that happened that you try to overcome. It always tastes better when it’s hard-fought, for sure.”
Said Victor Martinez: “These four years, it’s been incredible to win. I understand that the fans were frustrated, but there was nobody more frustrated than ourselves, because we don’t want to go out there and strike out with a man on base. The pitcher doesn’t want to give up a run. We know what kind of talent we have here. We really were frustrated, and you know what, I’m really proud of this group today. We stayed together and here we are.”
More reactions …
Alex Avila: “I think everybody expects us every year to just run the table. We expect a lot out of ourselves as well. We had to make up for some bad play early on. We played really well for a long stretch, and then we played pretty poorly for a long stretch. You’re not going to make that up in a week. A lot of times in this game, patience is a virtue.”
Torii Hunter: “Look at Kansas City this year. Everybody said they were going to win the division, and they actually lived up to that. They played well, one game away from winning the division. This division is getting better every year. To win four in a row is tough.”
Dave Dombrowski: “There’s been some struggles at times, but people forget that other years have had struggles too. I was telling guys, ‘Don’t forget, in 2006, we thought we were going to win the division.’ Now, the wild card was different then, but we lost and ended up with the wild card. In 2009, when we went to Game 163, we were in a position where if we would’ve a couple more games won at the end, we would’ve been in. There are three clubs in the American League that won 90 games this year, and yesterday there were six scenarios where somebody could clinch something, and five of them lost. It’s hard. I don’t think people realize how hard it is. There’s a lot of good clubs out there.”
Brad Ausmus: “We were kind of envisioning this type of celebration for a few days now. Kansas City has played extremely well this last week, and really pushed us to the limit. We’re at the last game of the season. I think ultimately, the guys we have — they’ve been through this — didn’t panic, weren’t stressing. If you were in here earlier, there was music playing. Happy-go-lucky, but really with an underlying confidence, because of the experience that’s here, in terms of personnel.”
No surprise, but Rajai Davis is not in the lineup today. Ezequiel Carrera’s start may or may not be surprising. It’s just his second start since Sept. 1, and Don Kelly started three times in center field since then. However, Kelly hasn’t started since Sept. 16, and his hit last night ended an 0-for-11 slump.
Also, for what it’s worth, Ausmus said he considers Carrera to be the best defensive center fielder of the group with Davis out. That said, it could be worth watching how well Carrera reads fly balls with the sun out for the day game, a setting which gave Davis trouble on a ball earlier this week and gave Austin Jackson and Curtis Granderson problems for years.
Meanwhile, Victor Martinez has a division race and a batting race going down to the final day. AL batting leader Jose Altuve (.340) isn’t playing today, which leaves Martinez (.337) with a chance to catch a standing target and earn the Tigers their fourth straight batting title. That said, it’s going to take a stellar day.
Altuve is at .33993902. If Martinez goes 3-for-3, he’ll pass Altuve at .34046346. If Martinez goes 3-for-4, however, he’ll finish just shy at .33985765. A 4-for-5 day would put Martinez at .341.
TIGERS (career numbers against Gibson)
- Ian Kinsler, 2B (3-for-10, walk, K)
- Torii Hunter, RF (2-for-7, walk)
- Miguel Cabrera, 1B (5-for-8, double, HR, K)
- Victor Martinez, DH (3-for-9, double, 2 walks)
- J.D. Martinez, LF (3-for-8, double, walk, 2 K’s)
- Alex Avila, C (3-for-7, double, K)
- Nick Castellanos, 3B (1-for-9, walk, 3 K’s)
- Andrew Romine, SS (2-for-5, walk, K)
- Ezequiel Carrera, CF
P: David Price
TWINS (career numbers off Price)
- Danny Santana, SS (2-for-8, double, triple, 5 K’s)
- Brian Dozier, 2B (4-for-15, double, 2 HR, walk, 2 K’s)
- Joe Mauer, 1B (3-for-20, double, 4 walks, 6 K’s)
- Kennys Vargas, DH (1-for-3, K)
- Josmil Pinto, C (1-for-5, 2 walks)
- Oswaldo Arcia, RF
- Eduardo Escobar, 3B (3-for-5, double)
- Chris Herrmann, LF
- Aaron Hicks, CF (2-for-5, double, walk, K)
P: Kyle Gibson
The Tigers will try to get better at-bats off Ricky Nolasco tonight than they did a week and a half ago in Minneapolis. To that end, Brad Ausmus switched up a couple of spots in the lineup. Nick Castellanos, who did not start against Nolasco last time, starts in the rematch. Alex Avila, who was out for that series last week, is behind the plate. Andrew Romine, who had some rough at-bats against Nolasco last week, starts again for defense behind Kyle Lobstein.
TIGERS (career numbers off Nolasco)
- Ian Kinsler, 2B (5-for-9, 3 doubles, K)
- Torii Hunter, RF (1-for-6, K)
- Miguel Cabrera, 1B (1-for-6, 3 K’s)
- Victor Martinez, DH (4-for-5, double, walk)
- J.D. Martinez, LF (3-for-8, walk, K)
- Nick Castellanos, 3B (1-for-2, double)
- Alex Avila, C (0-for-2, walk)
- Andrew Romine, SS (0-for-3, 3 K’s)
- Rajai Davis, CF (1-for-6, double)
P: Kyle Lobstein
- Danny Santana, SS
- Brian Dozier, 2B
- Joe Mauer, 1B
- Kennys Vargas, DH
- Josmil Pinto, C
- Oswaldo Arcia, RF
- Eduardo Escobar, 3B
- Chris Herrmann, LF
- Aaron Hicks, CF
P: Ricky Nolasco
There are many instances of pitchers having personal catchers. Rick Porcello has a personal shortstop. If he’s on the mound inducing ground balls, Andrew Romine is going to be at shortstop trying to convert them into outs. The offensive matchup is secondary — though with spot starter Anthony Swarzak, I’m not sure how much matching up there is to do.
TIGERS (career numbers off Swarzak)
- Ian Kinsler, 2B (7-for-19, double, HR, K)
- Torii Hunter, RF (3-for-18, double, K)
- Miguel Cabrera, 1B (8-for-22, 3 doubles, 2 HR, 2 walks, 2 K’s)
- Victor Martinez, DH (4-for-17, 2 doubles, walk, 2 K’s)
- J.D. Martinez, LF (4-for-4, double, walk)
- Nick Castellanos, 3B (1-for-7, 4 K’s)
- Alex Avila, C (3-for-14, 2 doubles, HR, 2 walks, 3 K’s)
- Andrew Romine, SS (2-for-6, K)
- Rajai Davis, CF (5-for-11)
P: Rick Porcello
TWINS (career numbers vs. Porcello)
- Danny Santana, SS (2-for-8, double, K)
- Brian Dozier, 2B (5-for-21, 2 HR, 2 walks, 2 K’s)
- Joe Mauer, 1B (11-for-43, 4 doubles, 4 walks, 4 K’s)
- Kennys Vargas, DH (3-for-3, triple, HR)
- Oswaldo Arcia, RF (1-for-4, double, walk, K)
- Kurt Suzuki, C (5-for-21, 2 doubles, 4 walks)
- Chris Herrmann, LF (1-for-2)
- Aaron Hicks, CF (1-for-7, walk, 3 K’s)
- Eduardo Escobar, 3B (3-for-8, double)
P: Anthony Swarzak