Posted: Wednesday August 16, 2006 12:19PM; Updated: Wednesday August 16, 2006 2:50PM
The Tigers lost superb contact hitter and defensive whiz Placido Polanco to a separated shoulder Tuesday at Fenway Park.
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Many White Sox players said the pressure during the final weeks of the regular season hardened them for the postseason.
"The test is on, and that's good, because I think if you're successful, it makes you better," Leyland told reporters during the team's recent losing streak. "We'll find out, but I have confidence in this team."
The Tigers would have to completely fold over the final weeks of the season to miss out on the postseason altogether. They can go 15-28 the rest of the way -- that's equivalent to about a 105-loss season -- and still win 93 games, which probably will be good enough for a wild-card berth.
Right now the Tigers are winning at a .655 clip, which translates to about a 106-win season. That'd be the best season in baseball since the Mariners won 116 games in 2001.
But finishing strong and putting up 100 wins doesn't mean anything when it comes to success in the postseason. In the 11 years of the wild-card era there have been 17 teams that have won 100 or more games. Only five of them made it to the World Series (the 1995 Indians, '98 Yankees, '99 Braves, 2003 Yankees and '04 Cardinals), and only one -- the '98 Yanks -- won it.
What's important for the Tigers is not clinching early or putting up 100-plus wins. It's finding a way to beat the White Sox down the stretch (the Tigers have won only 3 of 12 against the Sox this season, with seven games remaining), resting their young starters (no Detroit starter has had to go on short rest all year), getting healthy (second baseman Placido Polanco separated his left shoulder in Tuesday's win over Boston and may be out for the year, while pitcher Mike Maroth is on rehab assignment in the minors) and readying themselves for October.
If they can do that -- if the Tigers can use the heat in these last few weeks of summer to fine-tune an already impressive team -- we might all be waiting for a trip that will never come.