BY RICKY LINDSAY, Staff Writer
It took 160 games, but the Detroit Tigers are playoff bound once again, after clinching their second consecutive American League Central title. It was the first time in team history that the Tigers won back to back division titles.
After a huge off season, capped with the signing of first baseman Prince Fielder, fans and media alike predicted the Tigers to coast to a division title. However, the absence of designated hitter Victor Martinez due to a preseason ACL injury proved to haunt the team offensively for most of the season.
The game-clincher Monday, was a pitching duel between starters Rick Porcello and Bruce Chen until the fifth inning, when shortstop Jhonny Peralta put the Tigers on the board with a solo home run.
The floodgates opened when AL MVP and Triple Crown candidate Miguel Cabrera hit a solo shot to right field to lead off the sixth inning. Cabrera now has 44 homes runs, leading that category, along with RBI’s and batting average. He has a legitimate shot to win Triple Crown, a first since 1967. Fielder later scored on an error, and Gerald Laird hit a three run double to score Peralta, Andy Dirks, and Avisail Garcia, giving the Tigers a commanding 6-0 lead.
Porcello did exactly what was needed of him in this key game, going five innings, allowing only one run, an Alex Gordon home run to lead off the bottom of the sixth inning for the Royals. Jose Valverde closed out the game, to clinch the AL Central title, for the second year in a row.
Before the game clincher, the Tigers traveled to Minnesota over the weekend, extending their AL Central lead.
Converted reliever Drew Smyly took the mound Friday night in place of Max Scherzer, to start the series against the Twins. Smyly pitched well, going five and a third innings while only allowing two hits. Twins designated hitter Ryan Doumit provided all the runs for the Twins, going 2-4 with four RBIs, including a two-run home run in the seventh inning. A combined White Sox win put the Tigers lead to only one game in the AL Central.
Luckily, Saturday was a new day for the Tigers, as ace Justin Verlander took the mound against the Twins. Verlander was spectacular, going seven innings allowing only one run on four hits and striking out eight.
The Tigers’ offense was alive Saturday, as Prince Fielder, Miguel Cabrera, and Andy Dirks all hit home runs to give the Tigers the 6-4 victory. They also extended their lead in the AL Central, combined with a White Sox loss to two games.
Sunday featured a surprisingly good pitching match up between Anibal Sanchez and Liam Hendriks. Sanchez went six and a third innings while allowing only one run. Hendriks was able to shut down the Tigers’ offense, going seven strong innings allowing no runs on five hits.
Fielder provided the fireworks and the offense for the Tigers on Sunday, hitting a clutch, two-run home run in the bottom of the eight inning to give the Tigers a 2-1 win.
The Tigers open the 2012 MLB Playoffs on the road Saturday against the winner of the American League East; either the New York Yankees or Baltimore Orioles. The Tigers possessed a 3-4 record against the Yankees, and 3-3 record against Baltimore in the regular season.