Based on what the Tigers have accomplished so far and what is left on their schedule, they should qualify for the postseason. There is nothing automatic about it, but this club should be one of the five AL clubs still playing after the first weekend in October.
Sunday, a solid start by lefty Daniel Norris demonstrated again the depth of Detroit's starting rotation. With Norris coming on, Justin Verlander winning again, the breakthrough performance of Michael Fulmer and, soon enough, the return of Jordan Zimmermann from the disabled list, this is a group completely suitable for the postseason.
The Tigers didn't play a flawless game Sunday, but they once again provided evidence of what makes them an extremely difficult opponent.
A game against Detroit is a repeated trip through the imposing No. 3-4-5 spots in its lineup: Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, J.D. Martinez. The Tigers also have a complete offensive player, Ian Kinsler, in the leadoff spot. And this year, for good measure, they have another power threat batting sixth in Justin Upton. He hasn't had quite the season they hoped for, but he is still a threat -- as he demonstrated Sunday.
How to cope with Detroit's Big Three? You can do what Kansas City's Yordano Ventura did Saturday night, which was to walk Cabrera, Martinez and Martinez a total of five times in six innings. But then you need to have the extraordinary stuff that allows you to dominate the rest of the lineup. Ventura, with his high-90s heat, was capable of that kind of approach.
Sunday, J.D. Martinez started the festivities against Kansas City's Edinson Volquez, singling and scoring in the second, then hitting a 432-foot home run in the fourth.
After the Royals came back from a 4-1 deficit with a four-run seventh, Cabrera singled to open the eighth. Two outs later, Upton, who doubled in a run earlier, hit a two-run homer that gave the Tigers the lead and, eventually, the game.
Upton's homer was the 16th go-ahead home run of his career in the eighth inning or later, which is the third most in the Majors since his debut in 2007. The leader in late-inning go-ahead homers in that time? Naturally, it's Cabrera with 20.
The Tigers and Orioles have a two-game lead over the Astros for that second AL Wild Card spot, with a 3 1/2-game lead over the Yankees and four ahead of the Royals.
"Any series win on the road is good," Detroit manager Brad Ausmus said. "This is against a team we're fighting in the Central and the Wild Card."
Another element that makes the Tigers a tough opponent is experience. Closer Francisco Rodriguez picked up the 424th save of his career, which ties him with John Franco for fourth place on the all-time saves list. But that happened after a leadoff double and a groundout to the right side put the potential tying run on third with one out.
Rodriquez responded by getting two groundouts. They were both sharply struck but on the ground, and the runner never advanced.
"That was huge," Ausmus said. "[Rodriguez's] poise and experience are enormous and that's part of what makes him so good."
With one out and the infield in, Alex Gordon drilled a shot to Kinsler. The second baseman took the ball off his bare hand, opening up a cut. But he kept the ball in front of him, kept the runner at third and got the out at first.
"There's something that shows you experience right there," Ausmus said. "There's no panic. He was just going to let the ball hit him if he had to. It wasn't getting by him. And he'd deal with the pain after that."
"I'm just trying to stop the ball no matter what," Kinsler said. "Either get the guy at the plate or get the guy at first."
So Detroit, coming off a vital series win on the road, enters the last four weeks of the regular season fully in contention for a spot in the postseason.
"We're playing some really good baseball right now," Kinsler said. "You're in September, you have an opportunity to make the playoffs. That's all you could ask for at the beginning of the season."
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.