Rick Porcello isn't guaranteed a start in the AL division series, but he'll likely take the hill for the Detroit Tigers should that best-of-five series extend to a Game 4. With a strong regular-season finish, the right-hander could make manager Jim Leyland feel much better about giving him the ball in such a scenario.
Porcello goes for a career-high 15th win Friday night against the Baltimore Orioles as the AL Central champions continue their push for home-field advantage in the opening round.
To nobody's surprise, Cy Young favorite and MVP candidate Justin Verlander will start Game 1 when the Tigers (90-66) make their first playoff appearance since 2006. However, Leyland said prior to Thursday's 6-5 series-opening loss to Baltimore (66-90) that the 24-game winner will not start a possible Game 4 on three days' rest.
"All the second-guessers can come out and say I should pitch him in the fourth game if we're behind, but that's not going to happen," Leyland told the Tigers' official website.
Porcello (14-9, 4.79 ERA), who is scheduled to start Wednesday's regular-season finale against Cleveland, seems to be the logical choice over No. 5 starter Brad Penny , who is 1-2 with an 8.28 ERA in his last five starts.
Pitching less than 24 hours after the Tigers won their first division title since 1987, Porcello threw seven innings of three-run ball in Saturday's 5-3 loss in Oakland. He had won his previous three decisions.
"It was still a good day for me, because I thought Porcello pitched pretty well," Leyland said.
That wasn't the case in a 5-1 loss in Baltimore on April 4 when Porcello gave up five runs and nine hits over five innings in his season debut.
He'll try to deliver a better outing Friday with the Tigers trying to stay in front of West-leading Texas (90-66) for the AL's second-best record, which would give them home-field advantage in the opening round.
"We want to stay ahead of Texas, because if there's going to be a Game 5, we want it in front of our fans," Leyland said.
Orioles fans won't see their team in the playoffs for the 14th consecutive season, but the club has won eight of 10.
J.J. Hardy hit his third home run during that stretch and recorded a career-best 10 assists in Thursday's win.
"It is hard to imagine a shortstop playing at a higher (level) than he is," manager Buck Showalter said.
Hardy is one homer shy of becoming just the third Orioles shortstop - and first since Miguel Tejada (34) in 2004 - to reach 30.
The Orioles go for their fourth straight road win with Alfredo Simon (4-9, 4.96) on the hill.
The right-hander is 0-2 with a 7.71 ERA in four September starts after yielding a season high-tying six runs over five innings of Sunday's 11-2 loss to the Los Angeles Angels .
In his first career start against Detroit on Aug. 12, Simon lasted 4 2-3 innings, surrendering four runs and a career-high 11 hits in a 5-4 home loss.
Miguel Cabrera , 3 for 3 with a homer off the right-hander, is two RBIs shy of becoming the first Tiger since Rocky Colavito and Norm Cash in 1961 to drive in 100, score 100 runs and walk 100 times in a season.