The Detroit Tigers Aren’t Out of the Playoff Race Yet

Entering Friday, the Tigers sat an uninspiring 13 games out of the American League Central lead. However, they also began the day only five games back of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim for the second wild card spot.

Why is this important?

Because Miguel Cabrera is back.

The slugger returns from a lengthy disabled-list stint and immediately gives the Tigers a massive shot in the arm (understatement of the century).

Cabrera’s numbers on the season? A .350 batting average, a .456 OBP, a 1.034 OPS (!), 15 home runs, 54 RBI and 32 extra-base-hits.

Yeah, he’s going to help the Tigers.

Detroit opens a three-game set in Houston against the Astros on Friday before facing the Cubs in Chicago before returning home to face Texas. The former Marlin slots in at third in the Tigers’ batting order. His arrival means the red-hot Ian Kinsler (.374 batting average, .979 OPS since the start of July) receives more at-bats in the second spot in the order. It also means less pressure on Victor Martinez and J.D. Martinez, who slide down the order. At the very least, Cabrera moves everyone but Kinsler down in the lineup, thereby lengthening it considerably.

To put Cabrera’s importance to the team in perspective, his WAR is 4.0. That’s for wins above replacement. Four wins. Add four wins to the Tigers and they would be .500 on the season.

Not only is Cabrera back, but Bruce Rondon is pitching like the pitcher most thought he would become. Rondon owns a 1.80 ERA over his last 11 appearances, striking out 14 batters in ten innings in the process.

Rondon’s resurgence gives the Tigers three dependable, late-inning arms at the end of games. With Rondon, Alex Wilson and Blaine Hardy, there less of a need to feel anxious when the Tigers close out games.

Further stats of note on Rondon? His FIP (Fielding independent pitching—basically an ERA that the pitcher can control) is 2.43, lower than every reliever the Tigers have used this season. He’s also allowed only three base-runners (one hit, two walks) over his last six outings. He’s struck out 40% of the batters he’s faced over that span. In terms of his last six outings, Rondon’s opponents are managing a .259 OPS.

If he continues to pitch like that down the stretch in save-situations, the Tigers are going to be tough to beat.

The tricky part of the wild-card situation is that the do have to beat a number of teams (at least in the standings) in order to make it into October. The Texas Rangers, Minnesota Twins, Baltimore Orioles and Tampa Bay Rays all sit ahead of Detroit in the wild card race. That’s not to mention the New York Yankees and the Angels, who lead the race. Even with all those teams ahead of them, the Tigers can take solace in the fact that all of them (with the exceptions of Tampa Bay and Texas) have struggled as of late. New York and Baltimore are both 4-6 over their last ten respective games while Anaheim is 5-5. Minnesota is the fastest sinking ship in the harbor with a 3-7 record over the team’s last ten contests.

With Miguel Cabrera back in the fold and the back-end of the Tigers bullpen gaining some much needed consistency, the Tigers aren’t out of the playoff picture yet, not even close. Throw in some uncertainty ahead of the team in the standings and Detroit has the potential to make some noise down the stretch and once again make the postseason.

All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

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Take flier on following Ben on Twitter. He promises that he doesn’t always refer to himself in the third person.

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