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Reactions to Tigers’ fourth straight division title

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.”

Game 162 lineups: Tigers vs. Twins

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)

  1. Ian Kinsler, 2B (3-for-10, walk, K)
  2. Torii Hunter, RF (2-for-7, walk)
  3. Miguel Cabrera, 1B (5-for-8, double, HR, K)
  4. Victor Martinez, DH (3-for-9, double, 2 walks)
  5. J.D. Martinez, LF (3-for-8, double, walk, 2 K’s)
  6. Alex Avila, C (3-for-7, double, K)
  7. Nick Castellanos, 3B (1-for-9, walk, 3 K’s)
  8. Andrew Romine, SS (2-for-5, walk, K)
  9. Ezequiel Carrera, CF

P: David Price

TWINS (career numbers off Price)

  1. Danny Santana, SS (2-for-8, double, triple, 5 K’s)
  2. Brian Dozier, 2B (4-for-15, double, 2 HR, walk, 2 K’s)
  3. Joe Mauer, 1B (3-for-20, double, 4 walks, 6 K’s)
  4. Kennys Vargas, DH (1-for-3, K)
  5. Josmil Pinto, C (1-for-5, 2 walks)
  6. Oswaldo Arcia, RF
  7. Eduardo Escobar, 3B (3-for-5, double)
  8. Chris Herrmann, LF
  9. Aaron Hicks, CF (2-for-5, double, walk, K)

P: Kyle Gibson

Saturday’s lineup: Tigers vs. Twins

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)

  1. Ian Kinsler, 2B (5-for-9, 3 doubles, K)
  2. Torii Hunter, RF (1-for-6, K)
  3. Miguel Cabrera, 1B (1-for-6, 3 K’s)
  4. Victor Martinez, DH (4-for-5, double, walk)
  5. J.D. Martinez, LF (3-for-8, walk, K)
  6. Nick Castellanos, 3B (1-for-2, double)
  7. Alex Avila, C (0-for-2, walk)
  8. Andrew Romine, SS (0-for-3, 3 K’s)
  9. Rajai Davis, CF (1-for-6, double)

P: Kyle Lobstein

TWINS

  1. Danny Santana, SS
  2. Brian Dozier, 2B
  3. Joe Mauer, 1B
  4. Kennys Vargas, DH
  5. Josmil Pinto, C
  6. Oswaldo Arcia, RF
  7. Eduardo Escobar, 3B
  8. Chris Herrmann, LF
  9. Aaron Hicks, CF

P: Ricky Nolasco

Friday’s lineups: Tigers at Twins

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.

Gameday | TV: MLB Network, FSD | Radio: 97.1 FM, AM 1270, Gameday Audio

TIGERS (career numbers off Swarzak)

  1. Ian Kinsler, 2B (7-for-19, double, HR, K)
  2. Torii Hunter, RF (3-for-18, double, K)
  3. Miguel Cabrera, 1B (8-for-22, 3 doubles, 2 HR, 2 walks, 2 K’s)
  4. Victor Martinez, DH (4-for-17, 2 doubles, walk, 2 K’s)
  5. J.D. Martinez, LF (4-for-4, double, walk)
  6. Nick Castellanos, 3B (1-for-7, 4 K’s)
  7. Alex Avila, C (3-for-14, 2 doubles, HR, 2 walks, 3 K’s)
  8. Andrew Romine, SS (2-for-6, K)
  9. Rajai Davis, CF (5-for-11)

P: Rick Porcello

TWINS (career numbers vs. Porcello)

  1. Danny Santana, SS (2-for-8, double, K)
  2. Brian Dozier, 2B (5-for-21, 2 HR, 2 walks, 2 K’s)
  3. Joe Mauer, 1B (11-for-43, 4 doubles, 4 walks, 4 K’s)
  4. Kennys Vargas, DH (3-for-3, triple, HR)
  5. Oswaldo Arcia, RF (1-for-4, double, walk, K)
  6. Kurt Suzuki, C (5-for-21, 2 doubles, 4 walks)
  7. Chris Herrmann, LF (1-for-2)
  8. Aaron Hicks, CF (1-for-7, walk, 3 K’s)
  9. Eduardo Escobar, 3B (3-for-8, double)

P: Anthony Swarzak

Scherzer: Not the same numbers, but a better pitcher this year

There are scenarios for the Tigers in which last night’s outing could go down as Max Scherzer’s last start at Comerica Park as a Tiger. If Scherzer ends up opening for the Tigers in a Division Series, he’d pitch Game 1 and a potential Game 5, both on the road. If the Tigers didn’t advance, he’d then go into free agency. There’s another scenario in which the Tigers need Scherzer to save them from collapse in the Wild Card game.

“These starts matter,” Scherzer said after he turned a night of command struggles and a high pitch count into six innings of two-run ball. “Where I’m at now and executing pitches, it matters, and now I need to fine-tune more, because every pitch in the playoffs is crucial. It’s so huge, and so obviously we’re in [the playoffs] in some capacity, so whatever game I do get into, I just know you have to be at your best. You have to bring your A-game. There is no other way to script it, because the moment you give these guys an inch, they hit it a mile. It only counts even more in the playoffs.”

Either way, the regular-season portion of his Follow-Up Season is over. And after he ended it with his 18th win of this year, and his 39th win over the last two seasons, he was good with what he posted.

He said in the spring that he could pitch better than last year and not have the same results. He wasn’t far off statistically. From a pure pitching standpoint, he feels like he’s better.

“I really do, because I feel like I’m executing pitches at a higher level than I was, say, last year,” Scherzer said. “Last year I was very consistent, and that’s something that’s so hard to strive for. In my eyes I wasn’t quite as consistent this year as I was last year. I had a few more ups and downs this year. But overall, I still did a heckuva job this year. In some ways I pitched from a numbers perspective pretty much the same. But from a pitching standpoint, I’m able to execute pitches at a higher level. I have a much more consistent curveball, and that allows me to really pitch with four pitches.

“As I keep going, that’s what you strive for, is to always find ways to keep getting better and execute pitches in new ways, because you know the rest of the league’s keying on you to try to figure you out and try to figure out ways to get hits off you. You have to come up with ways to keep getting better, and that’s what I’m proud of. Even after an unbelievable year last year, I still found a way to get better this year.”

He’s said it before many times, and he said it again Thursday, that you either get better or worse, and it’s impossible to stay the same pitcher.

“For me,” Scherzer said, “I can look back on 2014 — at least in the regular season now — and say, ‘OK, maybe I didn’t have quite the numbers as I was able to put up last year, but some things I did do better at this year. But overall, I feel like I’m a better pitcher than I was in 2013.”

Here’s a comparison of the main stats:

Year W L W-L% ERA GS CG SHO IP H R ER HR BB SO HBP WP ERA+ FIP WHIP H9 HR9 BB9 SO9 SO/W
2013 ★ 21 3 .875 2.90 32 0 0 214.1 152 73 69 18 56 240 4 6 144 2.74 0.970 6.4 0.8 2.4 10.1 4.29
2014 ★ 18 5 .783 3.19 33 1 1 220.1 196 80 78 18 63 252 6 10 125 2.84 1.175 8.0 0.7 2.6 10.3 4.00
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/26/2014.

Take away the inconsistencies from one start to the next, and the season numbers look similar. There’s an uptick in strikeouts, but also in walks, resulting in a lower strikeout-to-walk ratio (a huge stat for Scherzer, who has a profound appreciation for what Phil Hughes did with his record ratio).

And here’s a look at some of the ratios:

Year PA HR% SO% BB% XBH% X/H% GB/FB GO/AO IP% LD% HR/FB IF/FB DPopp DPs DP%
2013 836 2.2% 28.7% 6.7% 7.1% 39% 0.60 0.67 62% 19% 6.4% 15% 119 10 8%
2014 904 2.0% 27.9% 7.0% 7.6% 35% 0.60 0.76 62% 22% 5.8% 13% 174 15 9%
7 Yrs 5138 2.6% 25.7% 7.6% 7.7% 35% 0.65 0.83 63% 20% 7.7% 14% 907 79 9%
MLB Averages 2.5% 18.9% 8.3% 7.6% 33% 0.81 1.09 69% 20% 7.5% 13% 11%
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/26/2014.

The percentage of plate appearances ending in a strikeout actually went down, even though the strikeouts per nine innings went up. Likewise, though the percentage of plate appearances ending in an extra-base hit went up, extra-base hits comprised a smaller percentage of his hit total.

The most interesting thing for me in the bunch, though, might be the uptick in his ground-ball rate. He’s still a flyball pitcher, but he has able to get more grounders when he needed them, resulting in five more double plays than he had last season. Given his work on becoming more of a four-pitch pitcher, it would not be a surprise if this trend continues, no matter what team he ends up pitching for next year.

Finally, an analysis on his strike percentages and strikeouts:

Year Pit Pit/PA Str% L/Str S/Str F/Str I/Str AS/Str AS/Pit Con 1st% L/SO S/SO L/SO%
2013 3388 4.05 65.9% 28.3% 20.0% 27.7% 24.0% 71.7% 47.2% 72.1% 64.4% 53 187 22.1%
2014 3638 4.01 66.2% 26.9% 19.7% 29.1% 24.2% 73.1% 48.4% 73.0% 63.2% 45 207 17.9%
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/26/2014.

He was ever so slightly more efficient than last year, and he threw an incrementally higher percentage of strikes. However, hitters seemed more aggressive, taking fewer strikes and swinging more, evidenced more in the percentage of pitches fouled off.

Thursday’s lineups: Tigers vs. Twins

Aside from Alex Avila catching, the Tigers have the same lineup that they had when they faced Trevor May a month ago at Target Field. He gave up five runs on 11 hits that day. Everyone but Rajai Davis ended up with a base hit that day.

The Twins get Joe Mauer back after he left Tuesday’s game against the Diamondbacks with a bruised elbow from a hit-by-pitch. He missed Wednesday’s game, but will take his cuts against Max Scherzer.

TIGERS

  1. Ian Kinsler, 2B
  2. Torii Hunter, RF
  3. Miguel Cabrera, 1B
  4. Victor Martinez, DH
  5. J.D. Martinez, LF
  6. Nick Castellanos, 3B
  7. Alex Avila, C
  8. Eugenio Suarez, SS
  9. Rajai Davis, CF

P: Max Scherzer

TWINS (career numbers against Scherzer)

  1. Danny Santana, SS (4-for-9, 2 doubles, K)
  2. Brian Dozier, 2B (2-for-15, HR, 3 walks, 7 K’s)
  3. Joe Mauer, 1B (9-for-34, HR, 2 walks, 2 K’s)
  4. Kennys Vargas, DH (3-for-6, K)
  5. Oswaldo Arcia, RF (3-for-9, double, HR, 5 K’s)
  6. Kurt Suzuki, C (4-for-10, HR, walk, K)
  7. Chris Herrmann, LF (0-for-2, walk, K)
  8. Aaron Hicks, CF (0-for-7, walk, 4 K’s)
  9. Eduardo Escobar, 3B (2-for-10, double, 2 K’s)

P: Trevor May

Tigers clinch fourth straight postseason berth

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.

Wednesday’s lineups: Tigers vs. White Sox

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.

Gameday | TV: MLB Network, FSD | Radio: 97.1 FM, AM 1270, Gameday Audio

TIGERS (career numbers off Sale)

  1. Ian Kinsler, 2B (6-for-21, 2 HR, 2 walks, 3 K’s)
  2. Torii Hunter, RF (6-for-24, double, triple, HR, walk, 7 K’s)
  3. Miguel Cabrera, 1B (6-for-27, 2 HR, 6 walks, 8 K’s)
  4. Victor Martinez, DH (15-for-28, 3 doubles, 3 HR, walk, 4 K’s)
  5. J.D. Martinez, LF (3-for-13, double, 6 K’s)
  6. Nick Castellanos, 3B (1-for-8, walk, 5 K’s)
  7. Bryan Holaday, C (1-for-5, 2 K’s)
  8. Andrew Romine, SS
  9. Rajai Davis, CF (4-for-10, double, walk)

P: Justin Verlander

WHITE SOX (2014 numbers vs. Verlander)

  1. Adam Eaton, CF (5-for-11, 2 doubles, triple, walk, 3 K’s)
  2. Alexei Ramirez, SS (18-for-71, double, HR, 2 walks, 9 K’s)
  3. Jose Abreu, 1B (7-for-12, double, 2 HR, walk, 4 K’s)
  4. Conor Gillaspie, 3B (2-for-11, double, 2 walks, 2 K’s)
  5. Avisail Garcia, RF (1-for-3, double, K)
  6. Dayan Viciedo, DH (6-for-23, double, HR, walk, 4 K’s)
  7. Jordan Danks, LF (1-for-4, K)
  8. Tyler Flowers, C (4-for-18, double, 2 HR, 3 walks, 6 K’s)
  9. Marcus Semien, 2B (2-for-7, 3 K’s)

P: Chris Sale

Tuesday’s lineups: Tigers vs. White Sox

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.

Gameday | TV: FSD | Radio: 97.1 FM, AM 1270, Gameday Audio

TIGERS (numbers against Scott Carroll)

  1. Ian Kinsler, 2B (1-for-3, double)
  2. Torii Hunter, RF (1-for-2, double)
  3. Miguel Cabrera, 1B (0-for-3)
  4. Victor Martinez, DH (1-for-3)
  5. J.D. Martinez, LF (3-for-3, double)
  6. Nick Castellanos, 3B (0-for-3)
  7. Alex Avila, C (1-for-3, double, K)
  8. Eugenio Suarez, SS (1-for-3, K)
  9. Rajai Davis, CF

P: David Price

WHITE SOX (numbers off Price)

  1. Adam Eaton, CF (3-for-4)
  2. Alexei Ramirez, SS (5-for-26, 2 walks, 2 K’s)
  3. Jose Abreu, DH (1-for-3, HR)
  4. Avisail Garcia, RF
  5. Dayan Viciedo, LF (2-for-9, double, 3 K’s)
  6. Paul Konerko, 1B (10-for-23, double, 2 HR, walk, 4 K’s)
  7. Marcus Semien, 3B (2-for-4, double, K)
  8. Josh Phegley, C (1-for-4, HR)
  9. Carlos Sanchez, 2B

P: Scott Carroll

Monday’s lineups: Tigers vs. White Sox

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.

TIGERS

  1. Ian Kinsler, 2B
  2. Torii Hunter, RF
  3. Miguel Cabrera, 1B
  4. Victor Martinez, DH
  5. J.D. Martinez, LF
  6. Nick Castellanos, 3B
  7. Alex Avila, C
  8. Andrew Romine, SS
  9. Ezequiel Carrera, CF

P: Kyle Lobstein

WHITE SOX

  1. Alexei Ramirez, SS
  2. Marcus Semien, 3B
  3. Jose Abreu, 1B
  4. Avisail Garcia, RF
  5. Dayan Viciedo, LF
  6. Paul Konerko, DH
  7. Carlos Sanchez, 2B
  8. Tyler Flowers, C
  9. Moises Sierra, CF

P: Chris Bassitt

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