DETROIT — It’s not the situation the Tigers hoped to be in at this point, but there’s no denying it.
With 16 games to go, heading into Tuesday night’s game against the Oakland A’s, the Tigers are three games behind the Chicago White Sox in the American Leagues Central Division.
Manager Jim Leyland points out that at this time last year, the St. Louis Cardinals were 4 1/2 games back in the wild-card race.
“If we win games, we’ve got a shot,” Leyland said succinctly. “If not, we don’t. A lot can happen in a week’s time. But you’ve got to win games.”
Then Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa is one of Leyland’s best friends, and Leyland remembers speaking with him last year at this time.
“Well, they just kept playing, just like we’re going to do,” Leyland said. “Just keep playing because you never know what’s going to happen.
“I mean, we put ourselves in the position we’re in, so you live with that, but you gotta win games. Obviously, nothing has been decided.
“Some people may feel it has been, but there’s a lot of baseball games left. I mean, 16 games is a lot of games, but you’ve gotta win a good share of them.”
After three games against Oakland, the Tigers play host to the Minnesota Twins for three, then the Kansas City Royals for four games. The Tigers finish the season with three games in Minnesota and three in Kansas City.
At least the Tigers know what to expect the rest of the way.
“Basically, when you get to Minnesota and Kansas City, we both know each other very well, so we don’t have somebody doing extra scouting on them,” Leyland said. “We get reports of their call-ups and everything.
“We’re pretty familiar with what guys do against those teams, and what those teams do against us.”
The White Sox have three games in Kansas City, three games in Anaheim, three home games against the Indians, four home games against the Tampa Bay Rays and three games in Cleveland.
If the Tigers don’t make the playoffs, Leyland might be out of a job.
When asked, Leyland, whose contract is up at the end of the season, said he hadn’t thought about whether this might be his last home stand.
“That’s not going to have any effect on me,” Leyland said. “I think about beating the Oakland Athletics tonight and trying to get into the playoffs.
“That situation will all take care of itself in the proper time. And now, obviously, is not the proper time.”
Leyland said he originally had catcher Alex Avila in Tuesday’s lineup until he was told that Avila was “medically not ready to play.”
Avila was hurt Sunday in Cleveland when, going after a foul pop-up by Carlos Santana, he collided with teammate Prince Fielder’s elbow.
Leyland didn’t give a timetable as to when Avila might be ready to play.