Catching Chicago Only Postseason Hope For Detroit?

Doug Fister – who pitches on Tuesday night – and the Detroit Tigers face a tough challenge if they're to overtake the White Sox and make the postseason.

Chicago’s 6-1 win over Detroit on Monday night at U.S. Cellular Field did more than break the Tigers’ 7-game win streak against the White Sox: it shrouded Detroit’s postseason hopes that little bit further.

Having entered the season as heavy favorites to win the AL Central outright, Detroit has found itself trailing the White Sox for the better part of the year. Dauntingly, the Tigers last held sole possession of the division lead on July 21. A brief share of the lead on September 2 suggested the Tigers might be making a move but subsequent play has maintained Chicago’s hold on the lead.

The rivals now play a further three head-to-head games – their last of the season – this week, with the emphasis very much being on Detroit winning on the road.

Tiger players and fans alike can put some stock in the Tigers’ record against the South Siders this season. Detroit has compiled a 10-5 record against the Sox, including two consecutive home sweeps. An 8-1 home record though has not translated as well to the Cell, where the Tigers are 2-4 after Monday night’s game. That’s advantage Chicago this week then.

That advantage manifests itself in Tuesday’s game where the White Sox open -1.5 against the spread and -110 straight up.

Ask any big league manager and they’ll tell you all they want come the end of the season is for their postseason future to be in their own hands. At three games back in the race for the division and five games back in the Wild Card hunt, Detroit’s future is slipping away from Tiger control.

Even if the Motown team manages to pick-up three consecutive wins this week – which is possible given their dominance over the White Sox this season although unlikely given the venue – it will put the two in a dead heat. From there on out it’ll be a case of trying to outdo each other.

From a tied scenario at the end of this series, in terms of strength of schedule, Detroit would be favorites to take the division. The combined winning percentage of its remaining opponents – Cleveland, Oakland, Minnesota (twice) and Kansas City (twice) is .467. Compare that to Chicago’s opponents – Minnesota, Kansas City, L.A. Angels, Cleveland (twice) and Tampa Bay – who have tallied a marginally better winning percentage of .475.

Detroit only plays one team (Oakland) still in the postseason mix whilst Chicago comes up against two (L.A. Angels and Tampa Bay). How important could that additional contender make to Detroit’s future?  Of course, the problem with not playing contenders is that it makes it that much more difficult to skip past those ahead of you in the Wild Card race. Simply put, gaining five games on four teams is a tough ask, and another clear indication that Detroit needs to win the division to move on in October.

But, before you head out and put your money on Detroit based on strength of schedule, you might want to consider the following. The Tigers’ record against those teams left on their schedule stands at 22-20 (.524). Chicago meanwhile has tallied a record of 30-20 (.600) against their remaining opponents. That’s a distinct advantage in favor of the White Sox, and another hurdle for the Tigers to jump.

Of course, all of this will be impacted by the results of the remaining three head-to-head games this week. Failure to make-up ground would put the Tigers in an even more precarious predicament, whilst opening a path for Chicago to take home only its fifth AL Central crown in the 19 year history of the division.

With the rest of the AL Wild Card field still playing tough baseball, winning the division looks like the only chance Detroit has of making the postseason. Fortunately for Detroit, oddsmakers still favor the Tigers over the White Sox. Detroit is 7/1 to take the AL pennant while Chicago is 8/1. Both are considered outsiders for the World Series championship, with Detroit (12/1) again edging out Chicago (14/1).

There’s still a chance that Chicago and those in the Wild Card pack could slip and open the door for Detroit, but it has to start Tuesday against Chicago. Anything less than a win is going to make things that much tougher.