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Owens: It’s Tiger Postseason (Sept. 22)

Andrew Owens | Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Amidst all the talk of World Series contenders, one American League team is consistently omitted from the discussion.

They have an ace who is as easy a pick for the AL Cy Young award as you will ever see and has a serious shot of becoming the first non-position player to win the AL MVP since Dennis Eckersley in 1992.

They have a perennial MVP candidate at first base who, for the first time during his stint with the club, has protection in the slot behind him in the lineup.

They have a closer who has converted 46-of-46 save opportunities to highlight a bullpen that has held leads as well as anyone during the second half.

The players? Justin Verlander, Miguel Cabrera and Jose Valverde, respectively.

The team? The Detroit Tigers.

The 2011 AL Central champions are often left out of World Series predictions because they are in the worst division in baseball (since the 2006 NL West) and they are not the Yankees or Red Sox.

Tigers manager Jim Leyland recently lambasted a member of the national media who questioned the legitimacy of the AL Central heading into October.

“You’re looking for something to take something away from [the team],” Leyland said. “I don’t want to talk about that. That’s [expletive.] That’s total [expletive.]”

Sounds like a manager with a chip on his shoulder and a team with something to prove, doesn’t it?

While the Tigers are unlikely to enter the playoffs with the league’s best record (they trailed the Yankees for home-field advantage throughout the AL playoffs by 4.5 games entering play Tuesday), they are arguably the most dreaded team to compete against in a short series.

With Verlander, the winner of 12 consecutive starts (not decisions, starts) dominating the league with a 24-5 record and 2.29 ERA, it would be an extremely stiff challenge for an opposing lineup to beat him in a playoff game. In a five-game series, he would pitch twice, and in a seven-game series, he could take the mound three times.

The argument against the Tigers all season was that someone outside of Verlander needed to step up. Behind their ace, it was hard to find consistent starting pitching.

Detroit found its No. 2 starter in July when it acquired Doug Fister from Seattle. Cleveland was praised for making a bigger splash when they added Ubaldo Jimenez, but Fister has been much more effective since the deals were made. Fister is 6-1 with a 2.12 ERA in nine starts with Detroit, compared to Jimenez’s 4.56 ERA since joining the Tribe.

Surrounding Cabrera’s name in the Tigers lineup are former Twins leftfielder Delmon Young, an August addition after Brennan Boesch suffered a thumb injury that has since proven to be season-ending, and former Indians designated hitter Victor Martinez and shortstop Jhonny Peralta.

Young is hitting .285 with five home runs and 21 RBIs since joining Detroit, while Peralta is currently hitting .302, which would be a career-high, with 19 home runs and 81 RBIs.

Martinez has shown why the Tigers chose him over Adam Dunn in the offseason, as he has hit .324 with 11 home runs and 94 RBIs, compared to Dunn’s .165, 11 and 41, respectively.

In the postseason, the two most important keys are strong starting pitching and timely hitting. Many do not realize it yet, but the Tigers have both.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of the observer.