DETROIT – The Detroit Tigers are still very much in the hunt for a playoff spot, and Friday could end up being one of the most important days left in the season.
At the start of the day, the Tigers sit two games behind both the Toronto Blue Jays and New York Yankees -- the teams currently occupying the seventh and eighth playoff spots in the American League. The Minnesota Twins and Houston Astros are both three games ahead of the Tigers.
Friday is so important for a number of reasons. First of all, the Tigers, Blue Jays, Yankees and Twins all have doubleheaders, meaning there could be massive swings in the standings by the time the dust settles at the end of the day.
Major League Baseball has 20 games scheduled for Friday afternoon and evening. Every team is expected to play at least one game, with 10 teams playing doubleheaders.
So the Tigers, theoretically, could erase the entire two-game deficit if they win both games and either the Yankees or Blue Jays lose both games. The Tigers could also find themselves four games out if the opposite happens.
In other words, the Tigers could go to sleep tonight in possession of a wild card spot, or they could effectively be eliminated from contention entirely.
If the Tigers get swept Friday and fall four games behind the final AL playoff teams, they would need to make up that deficit in just 24 games -- a tall task for a fringy playoff roster.
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There’s also added importance since the doubleheader comes against the Twins -- a team that’s just three games ahead of the Tigers in the standings. It seems unlikely, but if the Tigers continue to play well against the Twins, that could be another potential ticket into the postseason.
Friday has heightened importance beyond the packed schedule, though, because it will demonstrate whether the Tigers have the mental toughness to make a meaningful run down the stretch.
Wednesday’s loss to the Milwaukee Brewers was ugly and self-inflicted. The Tigers jumped out to a 4-0 lead and had their best pitcher, Spencer Turnbull, on the mound. They should have won their seventh in a row and been within a game of the Blue Jays.
Instead, the Tigers issued 10 walks and two hit batters -- 12 free passes -- and blew the game. It snapped their six-game winning streak and handed them their first loss in nine days.
Now the question is: Can they move past that game and bounce back?
The last time the Tigers suffered a devastating loss was Aug. 12, when they mounted an electric comeback in the middle innings, capped by a Willi Castro home run, only to see Matt Boyd cough it up the very next inning.
How did they respond to that adversity? They lost the next seven games in a row.
Obviously, the Tigers can’t afford another losing streak. They can hardly afford any losses at all after dropping nine straight in a 60-game season.
It seems only fitting that Boyd is back on the mound to kick off this crucial doubleheader vs. Minnesota. Not only was the culprit of the Aug. 12 loss, he was also the hero in the first game of a Tigers doubleheader sweep over the Twins last week.
If Boyd can toss another gem and get the Tigers off to a strong start, they have a chance to get back on track Friday. If he struggles and sets the tone for a Twins sweep, this could spiral out of control quickly -- again.
It’s September and the Tigers are playing meaningful games -- that’s a victory in itself. But if they want to turn meaningful games into a true playoff race, they have to figure out a way to survive this five-game series with the Twins, and that starts with bouncing back on Friday.