Epic failure averted for Tigers

At the very least, the Tigers have clinched a Game 163 against the Chicago White Sox.


Epic failure has been averted.

The Detroit Tigers, monumental favorites to make the playoffs coming into the season, will be playing postseason baseball.

At the very least, the Tigers have clinched a Game 163 against the Chicago White Sox at Comerica Park on Thursday to determine the American League Central champions.

After Sunday's 2-1 victory at Minnesota — coupled with Chicago's 10th loss in 12 games — the Tigers more likely will claim the Central outright and open the AL Division Series at Comerica Park next weekend.

With their magic number at 1, either a Tigers victory or White Sox loss on Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday will end the Central race.

First baseman Prince Fielder, the offseason acquisition who supposedly made the Tigers the team to beat in the Central, was the hero Sunday. His two-run homer in the eighth inning turned a 1-0 deficit into a victory.

"We're not all the way happy yet," Fielder told the media in Minnesota after the game. "We have what, three games left? Try to win those, and after that, we'll see what happens."

Having trailed the White Sox by three games in the division less than two weeks ago, the Tigers and their fans will take it. As long as there's baseball in Detroit after Oct. 3, that's way better than the epic failure that once seemed imminent.

Despite the high preseason expectations for the Tigers, there were few indications throughout the regular season that the playoffs were going to happen for them. It's been an up-and-down year, filled with mediocre defense, spotty hitting and sometimes utter frustration.

That frustration turned into outright despair after a 5-4 loss at Chicago on Sept. 17. The Tigers had a 3-0 lead that day, only to let it slip away, putting them three games behind the White Sox in the Central with 16 to play.

The loss came on the heels of a devastating 7-6 defeat the day before in Cleveland, where Tigers closer Jose Valverde surrendered two runs in the bottom of the ninth.

Often accused of being heartless underachievers this season, the Tigers managed to pick themselves off the mat and have gone 9-4 since to catch and pass the fading White Sox, whose pulse is barely there now.

The Tigers' hearts, on the other hand, are beating strong and proud. Did you see the reaction to Fielder's homer on Sunday — the pump-fists, chest-bumps and hugs? They can feel it, and they're finally letting their feelings show.

Called out recently by Tigers reliever Octavio Dotel for their lack of emotion, that doesn't seem to be a problem now.

And that's the beautiful part of postseason baseball. Once you get there, problems or not, you have a chance.

The St. Louis Cardinals had to come on strong just to qualify as a wild-card entry last season. But when the final pitch was thrown, they were on top of the baseball world.

The Tigers will have that same opportunity. And for all the same reasons pundits liked them back in April, the Tigers have to be considered dangerous in October.

Fielder and Triple Crown contender Miguel Cabrera make up the fiercest 3-4 combination in baseball. The Tigers rotation, led by reigning AL MVP Justin Verlander and boosted by the emergence of Anibal Sanchez, is one of the best in the game. And their bullpen is talented and deep.

Yes, like a teenager who works the french-fry vat at the corner McDonld's, the blemishes are there, too.

The Lions play better defensively. Other than Fielder, Cabrera and lead-off man Austin Jackson, the rest of the lineup has hit with the consistency of Michigan's weather. Valverde has blown five saves and has an ERA of 3.90. And arguably their best starting pitcher this season, Max Scherzer, is dealing with a shoulder injury and is questionable for the playoffs.

Name a team that doesn't have holes, though. You can't because there isn't one.

What's the old saying? Opinions are like holes; everybody has one ... or something like that.

Epic failure averted, the Tigers are in the postseason and have as good a chance as everybody else to win the whole doggone thing.