Tigers pitcher Max Scherzer, here answering questions during the media session Thursday, will be counted on to get the postseason off to a winning note. (Robin Buckson / Detroit News)
Detroit ó Tigers fans are a bit down on their team, given its sluggish finish.
What else is new?
The Tigers lost the division in 2006 and settled for the wild card, which bought them a date with the mighty Yankees.
Last season, the Tigers limped through the spring and summer before taking control of the division the final week of the season.
Both times, the Tigers went to the World Series.
The only time they didnít reach the World Series after making the playoffs under Jim Leyland was in 2011, when they won the division by 15 games.
Even then, the Tigers reached the American League Championship Series.
Thereís some truth to the belief that some teams are built more for the playoffs. The Tigers are one of those teams.
And itís all because of starting pitching.
Runs are at a premium in October, but even more so when youíre facing, in succession, Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, Anibal Sanchez and Doug Fister.
Even if the Tigers continue slumping on offense ó and itís certainly possible, given the uncertainty surrounding Miguel Cabreraís health plus an Aís staff that makes up for its relative inexperience with some impressive talent ó they should be able to score just enough to get by.
At least by Oakland.
But there are plenty of factors at play that will determine if the Tigers are to continue their drive for their first world championship since 1984.
And here are nine inningsí worth.
2. For starters ...
The Tigers are going as far as their starting pitching takes them. If the starters struggle to get through six innings, the Aís could pick off a game or two late. But if they go seven-plus and limit the relief corps to the best four ó Joaquin Benoit, Drew Smyly, Al Alburquerque and Rick Porcello ó the O.co Coliseum pipes wonít be all thatís broken. The lights will be out, too.
3. Get it started
Itíll all start with Max Scherzer, who gets the ball for the Tigers in Game 1. This is a supremely winnable game, given theyíre facing a very hittable pitcher in Bartolo Colon. If Scherzerís sharp and the Tigers pick off the opener, thus putting home-field advantage in their corner, itíll be a massive uphill battle for the Aís.
4. Avoid mistakes
In a short series, mistakes usually are magnified. Just ask Coco Crisp, the Aís outfielder who dropped a flyball early in last yearís ALDS, a gaffe that proved huge when the series went five games. The Tigers will make an error or two, but canít afford mental miscues. So a guy to watch here is third-base coach Tom Brookens, who canít get guys thrown out at home.
5. Room to move
Jim Leyland has to be flexible. Itís a fact, the Tigers are struggling to score. And if that continues early in the series, he must leave open the possibility of maneuvering his pieces to get the best bat-heavy lineup he can, even if that means using Jhonny Peralta against righties or playing Andy Dirks in left, Peralta at short and sitting Jose Iglesias.
6. Explore options
There are other ways Jim Leyland can try to kickstart the offense, including with hit-and-runs (heís a fan) or squeeze bunts (heís not a fan). Anything and everything has to be on the table. The Tigers must get to the Aís starters because their relievers are nasty.
7. Ace in the hole
Justin Verlander didnít get the Game 1 start he wanted, but rather a critical Game 2. Heís gotta bring his vintage swagger and go after Aís hitters with the high-90s fastball and nasty slider weíve seen lately, rather than nibble, as he sometimes does. Itís a big park in Oakland, where so many flyballs go to die.
8. Bottomís up
The Tigers have as fine a 1-2 punch in the middle of the order as any team still left standing, in Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder. But theyíll need the bottom part, including Jhonny Peralta, Alex Avila and Omar Infante to do some big damage because theís Aís arenít going to let the big guys beat them.
9. Closing time
Joaquin Benoit is huge. The Tigers nearly lost last yearís ALDS with a closer who was leaking oil. And while great early, Benoit hasnít exactly been automatic lately. Heís blown two of his last four save chances, and in one allowed a homer ó a major problem last year that he has mostly remedied. There will be razor-thin games in this series, and the Aís, it just so happens, hit a ton of homers.