Detroit — If the Tigers win the American League Central, they might look back on Tuesday night as they night they got it done.
Think about it.
Early in the evening, the Tigers were winning big and the Royals were losing big.
But later on, around the same time the Royals were rallying for their victory over the White Sox, the Tigers coughed up their lead and went to the ninth tied with the Twins.
Had the Tigers lost that game, the division lead would’ve been down to just a half-game, when a couple hours earlier it was looking like it’d be swelling to 2.5 games.
But Torii Hunter came up huge, with a leadoff bomb to left field in the ninth inning. And Miguel Cabrera followed him with a home run to almost the exact same spot. And suddenly, the Tigers were in control of their game, and back in control of their destiny.
It’s hard to ever signify one moment as so big in a long, grinding, 162-game baseball season.
But Tuesday night, well, that comes darn close to qualifying.
Now, onto this week’s Tigers Mailbag.
Question: What are the chances we see Joakim Soria as our closer instead of Joe Nathan? — Bryan Blank (twitter.com/bblank98)
Answer: That’s a tough one to answer, Bryan.
My possible answers range from “absolutely” to “no freakin’ way.”
The discrepency is mostly based on manager Brad Ausmus and his hesitation to dethrone Nathan as the Tigers’ closer. There are a few reasons for this.
One, the contract. Nathan is not even halfway through a deal that pays him $20 million through 2015. When push comes to shove, though, this shouldn’t matter. Winning is paramount, of course.
The second reason is this: The Tigers believe Nathan has righted the ship, and while he still gives up too many base runners, there is truth here. Since July 1, opponents have only a .289 slugging percentage against Nathan. For comparison’s sake, Andrew Romine’s slugging percentage is .284. See what we’re talking about?
Plus, there’s this: If Nathan doesn’t close, what role would he take over? Nobody, not the Tigers or Nathan, knows the answer to this.
Here’s how I see this shaking out: If Nathan implodes over the next week, the Tigers will serious contemplate the change ahead of the postseason. If Nathan is lights-out over the next week, well, they’re likely sticking with him, for better or worse.
And here’s the most-likely scenario: Nathan is so-so, and Ausmus and Co’ decide to play the closer situation by ear — or matchups.
My suggestion: Stop pitching Nathan on consecutive days, because Father Time clearly is catching up with the 39-year-old. When Nathan pitches without a day off, opponents are batting .400 against him, with a .448 on-base percentage. When Nathan gets at least one day off, his numbers are significantly better.
In other words, I think we’ll see some more of what we saw Tuesday night, when Soria closed it out, so Nathan wouldn’t have to work a third consecutive day.
Question: The Tigers have to use the off day on Thursday to skip Kyle Lobstein, right? — Garrett Elliott (twitter.com/BigRed6810)
Answer: I asked Ausmus this very question after Lobstein’s start Saturday, and, of course, Ausmus was noncommittal. Probably because he had yet to talk it over with Lobstein. Ausmus is all about talking to the player first, and then the media. Wise.
Lobstein is in line to start Friday’s opener of the mega-huge series against the Royals in Kansas City.
But the Tigers catch a break in the schedule, with an off-day Thursday, their last off-day of the regular season. That means, they theoretically can — and, frankly, probably will — bypass Lobstein’s start, and bump up the rest of their rotation.
That would allow the starters for the three games in Kansas City to be Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello, instead of Lobstein, Verlander and Scherzer.
The detractors will say, “Wait, Lobstein has pitched great! Why skip him?” Simple. The Tigers can’t afford to keep playing with fire, and, while Lobstein has been a stunningly pleasant surprise in his four starts (four Tigers wins), his roughest outing was his last one — a sign that the scouting reports might’ve finally be making their way around the league.
These three games in Kansas City are too huge for Detroit’s chances at a fourth straight AL Central championship.
All apologies to Kyle. He’s gotta sit this one out.
Question: If the Tigers make the ALDS, is it safe to assume David Price is the Game 1 starter? — Curtis (twitter.com/Curtos07)
Answer: Absolutely. No question.
While Price has had a couple odd starts with the Tigers — like when he gave up nine straight hits to the Yankees, and five in a row to the Giants — he’s mostly been darn good, including that one-hitter he threw, unbelievably, in a Tigers loss.
The fact he’s usually owned the Orioles, the Tigers’ likely first-round foe, helps his case.
Price’s chief competition would be Max Scherzer, and Scherzer’s year hasn’t been too much of a falloff than last year’s, when he cruised to the Cy Young Award.
The problem with Scherzer is two-fold: One, as we saw Tuesday, he has a knack for not making a big lead stand up, and two, he often is out of the gas in the sixth or seventh inning. And if the Tigers bullpen is being called on before the eighth, there could be trouble.
The other guys, Rick Porcello and Justin Verlander, will slot in 3-4, though I’m not sure what order. Today, I’d have Porcello going third and Verlander fourth.
For those, by the way, asking if the Tigers could possibly get by with just four starters in the ALDS, the answer is no — not unless they pitch someone on three days’ rest. There are two games, then an off-day, then two more games, before another off-day ahead of Game 5.
Question: What does a Tigers playoff bench look like? — Kyle Remenap (twitter.com/KRemenap0424)
Answer: Interesting question. It won’t be as good as the Red Sox bench last year, but then again, you already knew that.
Let’s start with the easy pick — although many Tigers fans won’t appreciate calling this “easy.” Don Kelly is going to be on the playoff roster, and absolutely should be. He is a valuable late-inning defensive replacement at third base, and in the outfield. He’s in.
Then there’s Bryan Holaday — he’s the backup, unless, of course, Alex Avila’s concussion symptoms don’t go away. Holaday’s in.
And the last no-brainer is Eugenio Suarez. As many rookies do, Suarez has hit a little bit of a wall, probably due to being forced to play in the major leagues sooner than he should’ve. So Andrew Romine has started seven of the last eight games at short, and that tells you all you need to know about what Ausmus is thinking. Nonetheless, Suarez is still in.
After that, it’s kinda murky. I would think Ezequiel Carrera makes it because he can fly in the outfield, and steal a base late in games with his blazing speed. His chief competition is Tyler Collins, who can run a little, too, and has some thump — something the Tigers severely lack off the bench. I have a hunch they actually both make it, assuming the Tigers stay with a seven-man bullpen and use the fifth pitcher’s spot to add a hitter.
Question: What happened to the long-time public-address announcer at Comerica Park? Lately, I keep hearing a new voice. — Mike Gill (twitter.com/southcambridge)
Answer: How astute of you, Mike.
Yes, lately, there has been a new voice introducing all the batters and such during Tigers home games. That’s Anthony Bellino. Eric Freiny also has done some fill-in work.
The Tigers’ regular guy, Bobb Vergiles, has taken a leave of absence to deal with a health issue. But good news, Vergiles is expected back before the end of the regular season.