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Detroit Tigers could clinch AL Central Division tonight

Tigers lead Royals by 2 games

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DETROIT – The 2014 season has been one of many ups and downs for the Detroit Tigers. A team that started the season at 27-12, the best record in the league, fell well out of first place in the second half and even spent a few days on the outside of the playoff picture.

But with just three games left in the regular season, that's no longer the case.

The Tigers got hot at the right time, streaking to the finish line and regaining a slight edge over the rival Kansas City Royals. Detroit holds a 12-5 record since Sept. 7, including a 4-2 mark against KC, and has built a two-game lead in the American League Central Division.

On Wednesday, the Tigers clinched a playoff berth when the Seattle Mariners lost their fifth game in a row. But there was no celebrating in the Detroit locker room as the team remains focused on securing the division title and avoiding the dangerous one-game wildcard battle.

For the first time this season, the Tigers will enter their game on Friday night with a chance to clinch the division before night's end. If the Tigers beat the Minnesota Twins and the Royals lose in Chicago to the White Sox, then the Tigers will take home their fourth straight division crown Friday.

Friday Matchups:

Minnesota @ Detroit (7:08 p.m.):
Anthony Swarzak (3-2) vs. Rick Porcello (15-12)

Kansas City @ Chicago (8:10 p.m.):
Jeremy Guthrie (12-11) vs. Hector Noesi (8-11)

Even if the Tigers don't clinch the division Friday, they're still in great position to finish the job over the weekend. Detroit's magic number to win the Central is at two, which means a 2-1 finish against the Twins would be good enough. If the Royals lose any of their last three games to the White Sox, the Tigers only have to win one of their last three games to clinch the division.

If the Tigers win the AL Central Division, they will likely match up with the AL East champion Baltimore Orioles in the first round of the playoffs. Detroit dominated Baltimore this season, winning five of six total meetings. The Orioles are guaranteed to have more wins than the Tigers, so the first two games of the series would be in Camden Yards, where Detroit won all three meetings this season.

The AL West champion Angels will likely end the season with the top record in the league. Detroit went 3-4 against the Angels this season, including a 1-3 series in Los Angeles.

Even though the Royals face an uphill battle in their quest to win the Central, they are still in great position to earn a wildcard spot. KC is currently in the top wildcard position, one game ahead of Oakland, and needs just one win or a Seattle loss to clinch its first playoff berth since winning the World Series in 1985.

Oakland can clinch the other wildcard spot with a win and a Mariners loss Friday. If the A's and Royals tie, the wildcard game will be played in Kansas City, as the Royals won the season series 5-2.