The month of September begins with the Detroit Tigers tied for the second American League Wild Card spot in with the Baltimore Orioles. Detroit is also 4.5 games out of first place in the AL Central behind the Cleveland Indians. Detroit Sports Nation has given us reasons not to give up on the season and an overview of the September schedule. Today we ask the Tigers staff a few burning questions about the the playoff push.
Who are the three most important players for the final month and playoff race?
Carl Poposki: At this point, I don’t think we can expect more from the pitching staff. They are performing as well (or better, really) than expected. This team needs to produce the way it was designed: offense. That means that Victor Martinez, J.D. Martinez, and Justin Upton are under pressure to perform. Of those three, Upton is under the most pressure. He has been swinging the bat much better after the All Star Break, but, his early season strikeout struggles give me pause.
Alex Muller: To me, it’s obvious the Tigers need to somehow jump start the bats of both Jose Iglesias and Ian Kinsler, particularly the latter. Kinsler hit just .229 in the month of August and for being one of the best table setters in the game all year long, a batting average like that simply won’t cut it in September. Iglesias gets a bit of a pass because he was injured but Detroit could use the Iglesias that hit .333 in June earlier this year.
And number three for me is a guy that isn’t even back yet from injury – Jordan Zimmermann. As good as the youngsters have been throwing the ball, one cannot realistically expect them to replicate that in a month where the games matter most, when they have never done it before. Heck, this is the first time in the professional career of Michael Fulmer he’s even pitching in September. Detroit desperately needs a battle-tested veteran like Zimmermann to pair with Justin Verlander for the stretch run.
Don Drysdale: Pitching, Pitching, and Pitching. In my opinion, teams that make the playoffs and then make a run in the playoffs do so because they have a solid pitching staff, both the starters and the bullpen. With that in mind, the three most important players from here on out are Jordan Zimmermann, Justin Verlander, and Michael Fulmer.
Zimmermann is expected to rejoin the rotation sooner rather than later and it is crucial that he performs up to his abilities immediately. In addition to Zimmermann, Justin Verlander has to continue to dominate. After a rough start to the season, JV has been lights out and if that can continue, the Tigers have a chance to do something special. Last, but not least, is Michael Fulmer. If the rookie can manage to keep his strength through the rest of the season, the Tigers will have a 1-2-3 punch that will be difficult for opposing teams to deal with.
AJ Reilly: I think that the most important player on the Tigers roster for the playoff stretch is Francisco Rodriguez. K-Rod has hit milestone after milestone this season, passing other great closers on the all-time saves list, even amid a slump here a month back. If the Tigers want to make a deep run through the regular season and into the playoffs, winning 1,2, or 3 run games are key. He’s 37 for 40 in save opportunities and down the stretch it will be imperative that he is perfect in every chance he gets.
I second what Alex said above with Ian Kinsler being a key offensively. If he does not set the table and put pressure on the opposing pitchers, then that will directly affect Miggy’s ability to influence a game. Who, consequently, is my final key. Miguel Cabrera, the Big Fella, will need to swing an incredibly hot bat down the stretch, producing and producing like we have become so accustomed to. If he is neutralized, our lineups “bite” isn’t as strong.
Dan Willim: The three most important players heading into the final month of the season for the Detroit Tigers, in my eyes, are Ian Kinsler, Justin Verlander and Francisco Rodriguez. Kinsler has been the table setter all season long and I don’t see him stopping anytime soon. He’ll be on base for the meat of the lineup to do damage and score valuable runs for the Tigers. Verlander has been arguably the best pitcher in the American League over the past three months. He’s seen his numbers go in the right direction and has looked like the Verlander of old every time he toes the slab. Pitching is crucial down the stretch, especially heading into the playoffs and with an ace like Justin Verlander, he can win you that all important game. K-Rod has put the the continued search for a closer in Detroit to rest. His 37 saves ranks second in the AL behind Baltimore’s Zach Britton. He’s had a few hiccups this season, but through it all, he’s proven that he can come on in the 9th inning and lock up a victory for the Tigers. Having a reliable closer at your disposal down the stretch and heading into the playoffs is huge and I feel comfortable with K-Rod as the option for Detroit.