Big win for the Detroit Tigers on Thursday afternoon to put pressure on the Chicago White Sox as they host Tampa Bay tonight. The quick math: If the White Sox lose they're 2 games back of the Tigers with six to play. That means if the Tigers go 3-3 the White Sox have to go 5-1 to tie. So it's not a must-win situation as Jake Peavy takes on James Shields ... but it almost is a must-win situation considering you have three more against Tampa Bay, including facing David Price on Sunday.
So we kind of see the direction the AL Central is going. The White Sox had been in first place since July 23, but now they've lost seven of eight and four games in standings in just eight days. The Tigers haven't exactly taken the bull by horns here but it looks like they'll end up doing what everybody predicted in April and win the division.
Doug Fister's outing on Thursday is a reason the Tigers -- despite likely finishing with the seventh-best record in the American League -- will be a scary team to face in the playoffs. First, assuming he's not needed in a tiebreaker game with the White Sox -- Justin Verlander could start twice in the five-game Division Series. Then there's Fister, who set an AL record with nine consecutive strikeouts against the Royals. That amazing run, which fell one short of Tom Seaver's major league record of 10 in a row:
Salvador Perez looking on 1-2, 91-mph fastball.
Mike Moustakas swinging on 3-2 changeup.
Jeff Francoeur swinging on 1-2 slider.
Brayan Pena looking on 1-2, 89-mph fastball.
Johnny Giavotella looking on 0-2, 89-mph fastball.
David Lough looking on 2-2, 88-mph fastball.
Alcides Escobar swinging on 0-2, 89-mph fastball.
Alex Gordon looking on 0-2, 89-mph fastball up in the zone.
Billy Butler swinging on 1-2, 91-mph fastball.
As you can see from the velocity clockings, Fister isn't overpowering, although at 6-foot-7 his release point probably helps his fastball appear a tick or two faster. Plus, he gets great movement on it, which actually allows him to post an acceptable groundball rate even though he'll pitch up in the zone. Against the Royals he may have received a little help from home-plate ump Jeff Nelson.
Fister ended up with a no-decision as the Royals rallied from a four-run deficit to tie it up before a great hustle play by Prince Fielder helped create the winning run in the bottom of the ninth.
The Tigers bullpen is certainly an issue but that 1-2 punch of Verlander and Fister looks pretty tough right now. The good news on Thursday was tempered, however, by the news that Max Scherzer won't start on Friday, still bothered by the muscle strain in his shoulder. He'll be replaced instead by Drew Smyly.
The standings now would have the Tigers playing the Yankees in a rematch of last year's Division Series. If that doesn't excite you then you don't like baseball.