By Will Burchfield
They tried to squeeze in Thursday’s game between the Tigers and Indians. They really did.
Ultimately, it wasn’t meant to be.
A rain-soaked, four-hour delay turned into a postponement, with a make-up game scheduled for Monday if necessary. And that stands to benefit the Tigers immensely.
How, you ask? Pitching, we answer.
But before we go any further, let’s set the stage.
The Tigers are 1 game behind the Orioles for the second A.L. wild card. They still have a glimmer of hope for the first wild card as well, trailing the Blue Jays by two games, but it’s the former chase in which they’re most invested.
So the Tigers need to win. And the Orioles need to lose.
None of that changes based on today’s rainout, of course, and Baltimore remains in the driver’s seat heading into play tonight. But one figures the Tigers have to win their four remaining games to have a shot at catching the O’s, and they’re suddenly in much better position to do so.
Daniel Norris, who had been scheduled to start this afternoon, will likely take the mound tomorrow night against the NL-worst Atlanta Braves. Jordan Zimmermann will be pushed back to Saturday as a result, bouncing either Matt Boyd or Buck Farmer from the weekend rotation altogether. And Justin Verlander will get the start on Sunday, looking to punctuate his Cy-Young-Award-worthy season.
Then, if the Tigers are still alive, Michael Fulmer figures to start Monday’s make-up game. (ERA title, anyone?)
So thanks to today’s game being postponed, Detroit has its four best available starters lined up to pitch its four most important games of the season.
Baltimore, meanwhile, has Ubaldo Jimenez (5.71 ERA) starting tonight against Toronto and Yovani Gallardo (5.63 ERA) starting tomorrow against the Yankees. The Orioles have yet to announce who will pitch the final two games of the series in New York, but their best starter, Chris Tillmann, likely won’t be available. Tillmann pitched last night against Toronto.
If the Tigers sweep the Braves this weekend, which they absolutely should, and the Orioles lose one of their next four games, the second wild card will come down to Monday’s make-up game between Detroit and Cleveland. If the Tigers win, they’ll set up a one-game playoff with the O’s on Tuesday.
Who would pitch for Detroit at that point? Who knows. But you cross that bridge when you get there. And the road in front of it just got a whole lot smoother.
It’s also worth pointing out that the Indians, should they be forced to play on Monday, may not be concerned with the game’s result. At the moment, Cleveland is still playing for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. But its fate may be decided in this regard by Monday, giving manager Terry Francona little reason to play his best lineup.
That would certainly benefit Fulmer, if he indeed got the start. In three starts against the Indians this year, the rookie is 1-2 with a 6.98 ERA.
This is all speculation, of course. The future remains cloudy for the Tigers.
But today’s rain brightened the outlook.