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|Subject: Tigers take first step toward defending AL crown Wed Sep 25, 2013 1:49 am|| |
Tigers take first step toward defending AL crown
Clinch postseason spot; magic number one to claim AL Central title
By Jason Beck / MLB.com | 9/24/2013 11:39 P.M. ET
MINNEAPOLIS -- The Tigers have punched their ticket for a chance to defend their American League title. They're one win away from upgrading their seat.
With Tuesday's 4-2 win over the Twins, the Tigers guaranteed themselves at least a share of the AL Central title, and a Wild Card spot if they somehow lost out on that. One more win -- either Wednesday night against the Twins or this weekend against the last-place Marlins in Miami -- or a loss from second-place Cleveland, will remove all suspense and clinch Detroit's third straight division crown.
It's not a cause for celebration just yet, but it's close. The Tigers are clearly a team with loftier goals than a return to the postseason, but they couldn't get back to the World Series without qualifying for the playoffs first.
"I think our focus is winning the division," Justin Verlander said Monday. "It has been since Day 1 of the season. I don't think you're going to see us coming in here popping bottles celebrating to clinch a playoff spot. Our goal is to win a division, and we haven't been able to get there yet."
That hasn't been quite as easy as expected. Though they won 19 of their first 30 games to sprint out to an early division lead, they essentially played .500 ball for a two-month stretch from early May until the All-Star break. Add in a torrid first half from the Indians, and Detroit fell to second place for a couple of stretches, most recently July 2, and struggled to build a gap after that.
Even a sweep of their four-game division clash in Cleveland in August, part of a 12-game winning streak, didn't end up being the springboard many hoped toward putting the division away. While Detroit hovered 20-25 games over .500, the Indians kept pace and later slashed the gap as low as 4 1/2 games on Sept. 9. Detroit has gone 9-3 since, which hasn't re-opened the gap but has held off the Tribe long enough to run down the number of games left to make up ground.
Unless the Tigers lose out and the Indians win the rest of the way, including a tiebreaker, the Tigers will take the division.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
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