DETROIT – After an 11-4 loss to the lowly Minnesota Twins Friday night, the Detroit Tigers have landed in another precarious position with just two games left on the schedule.
With a win in Chicago over the White Sox, the Kansas City Royals clinched their first playoff appearance since 1985 and pulled to within one game of the Tigers for first place in the American League Central Division.
The only certainty for these two teams is that both will be playing in the postseason. Any other details are shrouded in doubt as the regular season comes to a close. Will the Tigers win their fourth straight division title, or will they be forced to play in the one-game elimination wildcard battle? This season could even yield another Game 163, which the Tigers remember from a tough loss in the Metrodome in 2009.
In essence, everything short of missing the postseason all together is still on the table for the Tigers. Below are all the possible scenarios for Detroit, depending on what happens in the final two games of the regular season.
If the Tigers finish 2-0...
...then everyone can breathe a huge sigh of relief in Detroit. No matter what the Royals do, they cannot catch the Tigers without help from the Twins this weekend. Wins on Saturday and Sunday will give the Tigers the third best record in the AL and they will travel to Baltimore Thursday to battle the Orioles in the best-of-five American League Division Series.
With the Tigers finishing atop the division, there will still be work to be done in KC. The Royals sit one game above Oakland for the top wildcard spot, which will determine the site of the game on Tuesday.
If the Royals win either of their last two games, then they secure the top wildcard spot and would welcome the A's to Kauffman Stadium, with the winner traveling to Los Angeles to take on the Angels Thursday in the other ALDS matchup. If KC loses both of their games, then Oakland has to win its last two games to overtake the top wildcard spot and host the game Tuesday.
If the Tigers finish 1-1...
...then next week could get pretty messy. If the Royals lose either of their final two games in Chicago, then a 1-1 record will be good enough for the Tigers to take the AL Central crown. But with the way the Royals are beating up the White Sox this week, a 2-0 finish for KC would leave the teams tied at 90-72.
A tie atop the Central would force a Game 163 on Monday, which the teams would play in Comerica Park. The winning team would fly to Baltimore to take on the Orioles Thursday, and the losing team would host the wildcard game at home on Tuesday. If the Tigers lost to Kansas City on Monday, but won the wildcard game Tuesday (against either Oakland or Seattle), they would fly to Los Angeles to take on the Angels Thursday.
If the Tigers finish 0-2...
...the division will be tough to salvage. Two losses to end the season would mean the Royals could win the Central outright with a 2-0 finish, or force a Game 163 by splitting their last two games. Once again, that game would be played in Detroit on Monday with the same consequences mentioned above at stake.
The worst-case scenario if the Tigers go 0-2 is that they host the wildcard game on Tuesday, with or without a game against KC Monday. Though the A's could finish with the same record as Detroit, the Tigers have secured at worst the top wildcard spot at this point in the season. If Seattle won its final two games and Oakland lost its final two games, those two teams would play a Game 163 in Seattle on Monday for the final wildcard spot.
If the Tigers make it to the ALDS...
...the schedule will look like this:
Game 1 (Road): Thursday, Oct. 2
Game 2 (Road): Friday, Oct. 3
Game 3 (Detroit): Sunday, Oct. 5
*Game 4 (Detroit): Monday, Oct. 6
*Game 5 (Road): Wednesday, Oct. 8
Again, if the Tigers win the Central, then the road games above will be in Baltimore. If the team wins the wildcard game on Tuesday, the road games will be in Los Angeles against the Angels.
The Tigers are 4-0 in ALDS appearances in the last 10 years with two wins each against the Yankees and Athletics. If the team wins another ALDS, then the American League Championship Series will look like this:
Game 1 (Road): Friday, Oct. 10
Game 2 (Road): Saturday, Oct. 11
Game 3 (Detroit): Monday, Oct. 13
Game 4 (Detroit): Tuesday, Oct. 14
*Game 5 (Detroit): Wednesday, Oct. 15
*Game 6 (Road): Friday, Oct. 17
*Game 7 (Road): Saturday, Oct. 18
The locations of these ALCS matchups are correct only if the Tigers face the Angels or Orioles. If the Tigers move on to face the A's or Mariners in the ALCS, then the road and home games above will all be flipped. If Detroit played Kansas City in the ALCS, then the winner of the AL Central would play Games 1, 2, 6 and 7 at home and the team that won the wildcard game would play Games 3, 4 and 5 at home.
Finally, if the Tigers manage to overcome their inconsistencies and reach the World Series, the schedule would look like this:
Game 1 (Detroit): Tuesday, Oct. 21
Game 2 (Detroit): Wednesday, Oct. 22
Game 3 (Road): Friday, Oct. 24
Game 4 (Road): Saturday, Oct. 25
*Game 5 (Road): Sunday, Oct. 26
*Game 6 (Detroit): Tuesday, Oct. 28
*Game 7 (Detroit): Wednesday, Oct. 29
*Game only played if necessary to determine the series winner.
Regardless of who the Tigers would play in the World Series (out of the Nationals, Dodgers, Cardinals, Pirates and Giants), the schedule above would apply, thanks to the American League's victory in the 2014 All-Star game.
Tigers fans expected the fourth straight AL Central title to come easily, but a chippy Royals team and some midseason inconsistencies have landed Detroit in a position of uncertainty.
The Tigers have already played 160 games this season, but there's still much to be determined in the final two.