Tigers embrace challenge final week brings

Detroit 1 1/2 games out of Wild Card, opens set vs. Cleveland on Monday

Tigers embrace challenge final week brings

DETROIT -- If the Tigers' topsy-turvy September has proven anything, it's the difference that just a few days can make on the outlook of the playoff race. As they enter the final week of the regular season, they have to hope the roller coaster continues.

They took the field at Comerica Park for the ninth inning Saturday afternoon with a seemingly firm grasp on the second American League Wild Card spot. As they left that same field about 25 hours later, their comeback attempt having fallen just short in a 12-9 loss to the Royals, they had dropped 1 1/2 games down in the AL Wild Card race.

Two rough innings -- a five-run ninth on Saturday and a fourth-run first on Sunday -- cost Detroit a vast stretch of ground on its charge to October.

The Tigers have shown time and again that seven days is more than enough time to make up a couple of games in the standings. But with the Indians coming to town for four games starting Monday -- an AL Central title clinched if they win one of them -- followed by three games at upstart Atlanta, the Tigers have their work cut out.

V-Mart's grand slam

"It stinks, no doubt about that," Matt Boyd said. "More than anything, you know you're going to wake up tomorrow, and we're still very much in this thing. And it's going to be a heck of a week when we pull this thing off."

Still, they no longer control their fate.

"When you're fighting for a playoff spot, it feels like every loss at times is insurmountable," manager Brad Ausmus said. "But the truth is, it's not insurmountable. We still have a week of games left and there are still three or four teams involved. We're going to go out there and play the Cleveland Indians tomorrow and hopefully win tomorrow and maybe somebody helps us on the other end."

The good news for the Tigers is that the two Wild Card holders meet for three games starting Tuesday, when the Orioles visit the Blue Jays. While Baltimore seems much more feasible to catch than Toronto, which is three games up on Detroit, a sweep either way could have a big impact if the Tigers take care of their own business.

Martinez scores on a wild pitch

To do that, though, they'll have to beat the Indians, something they've done just twice in 15 tries this year, including losing two out of three a week ago in Cleveland.

"Time to turn that around," catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia said.

The bright side for the Tigers was that one of their losses was a 1-0 defeat in extra innings. Meanwhile, Detroit has lined up its top three starters -- Justin Verlander, Michael Fulmer and Daniel Norris -- for the final three games of the series following a Buck Farmer vs. Corey Kluber challenge in the opener.

The Orioles finish the regular season with a three-game series at the Yankees. If Baltimore goes 3-3 -- they're 13-10 this month -- the Tigers need to go 5-2 to force a tiebreaker, which would be at Camden Yards next Monday based on head-to-head records -- unless there was a three-way tie.

"We all believe we can do it in here," Boyd said, "and that's exactly what we plan on doing. We can only control our end of things. That being said, we still believe in ourselves. We're, what, a game and a half back now? We know what we can do."

Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.