Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Of all the preseason predictions, theeasiest one to make - or so we thought - was that the Detroit Tigers would runaway with the American League Central.
Well, like they say, that's why they play the games.
The Tigers underachieved for the first half of the season and spent most ofthe second half trying to catch the Chicago White Sox, which they finally didwith just over a week left in the regular season.
Detroit entered the postseason with the worst record of any of the AmericanLeague playoff teams at 88-74, but it was a club that had won eight of 10 toclose the year and one that had a Triple Crown winner in their lineup.
In other words, it wasn't all that much of a stretch to think the Tigers werereadying themselves for a long run, especially when you consider they weregoing to be able to throw reigning AL MVP and Cy Young Award winner JustinVerlander twice in a short best-of-five series against the red-hot OaklandAthletics.
After two wins in Detroit to start the series, the A's found some of thatmagic at home that carried them to an American League West crown and forced adecisive Game 5 on Thursday.
They say momentum lasts only as long as the next day's starting pitcher andthat was certainly the case for the Tigers, as Verlander struck out 11 andtossed a four-hit shutout in Detroit's 6-0 Game 5 win.
Verlander (2-0) fanned 11, scattered four hits and walked one for Detroit,which will appear in the franchise's sixth ALCS and third in the last sevenyears.
"I don't have anybody better than him," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "Andif they get to him that much, we'll probably be in trouble. I'm not taking himout, I can assure you of that, because I don't have anybody better to bringin."
The one knock on Verlander has been his inability to get it done in thepostseason. He entered these playoffs with a 3-3 mark and a 5.57 ERA overeight starts, but won both of his starts in this series, surrendering just onerun over 16 frames.
Including the postseason, the 29-year-old has won his last six starts and hasposted a minuscule 0.64 ERA during the span.
"We had our backs against the wall all year and we're playing our bestbaseball now when it matters," Verlander said.
But, with the ALCS starting on Saturday, the Tigers may only have the greatVerlander for two starts in the next round and he probably won't pitch untilTuesday's Game 3. He'd also be available in a potential seventh game on shortrest.
Amazingly, the Tigers won the series despite just a .190 batting average (4-for-21) from Prince Fielder and just one RBI from Miguel Cabrera, who, ofcourse, led the AL with a 330 average, 44 HRs and 139 RBIs.
Now they wait for the winner between the other Game 5 in the ALDS between theNew York Yankees and Baltimore Orioles. If the Yankees win the Tigers will bein the Bronx on Saturday, whereas should Baltimore win, Detroit will behosting Game 1.
In other words, there will be a lot of Buck Showalter fans in Motown onFriday.
So, at the end of the day, although it might have been a tougher route thananyone would have expected, the Tigers are right where they were supposed tobe - playing for the right to represent the American League at the WorldSeries.
And they might just be getting started.