Tigers embark on crazy journey to playoffs

One of several possible scenarios will play out over season's final days

Tigers embark on crazy journey to playoffs

ATLANTA -- The Tigers took off from Detroit on Thursday night with what could best be called an open itinerary, thanks to a slew of playoff possibilities. They also carried on a determination to enjoy the ride into October baseball.

"If they don't appreciate it," manager Brad Ausmus said, "they're missing out."

Consider the possible destinations based on how the postseason picture develops by Sunday:

• They could be back at Comerica Park on Monday to make up Thursday's rainout against the Indians if it means something to the playoff race.

• They could be on the road for a week, possibly with a game every day, if they have a three-team Wild Card tiebreaker, the Wild Card game and the Division Series.

• Or, they could go their separate ways and head home if they're eliminated this weekend. What happens in three different cities over the next three days will determine how that falls. But the Tigers, who had to prepare for their trip even before knowing for sure that Thursday's game would be rained out, had to prepare for every possibility.

With Friday's 6-2 win over the Braves, the Tigers moved within a half-game of the Blue Jays for the American League's second Wild Card.

"I packed for eight [days]," Cameron Maybin said. "That's how a lot of guys are thinking. I packed very heavy for this trip. I'm hoping it's a long road trip."

Ian Kinsler, for his part, packed for four.

"Come to the field, take it off, put it back on and go home," Kinsler said.

Their manager fell on the checked baggage side.

"I packed for eight," Ausmus said, "but now I didn't need to, because we'll be back on Monday."

If they're going to get into the postseason, that makeup game is the most likely path. They need some help to put that game in play, but not nearly as much as they would need to get in without it.

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If they need to play it, rookie Michael Fulmer would get the start, according to Ausmus. Though Fulmer struggled against the Indians last Wednesday, lasting just 3 1/3 innings, he remains the best option they have.

"We're short on choices," Ausmus said. "He hasn't pitched great against the Indians, but he's been our second-best pitcher."

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Ausmus did not announce starters after that, because he has no idea what the schedule would look like. The fifth rotation spot that the Tigers avoided with Thursday's rainout would come back around Tuesday, either in the Wild Card Game or a tiebreaker. And the choice between Matt Boyd, Buck Farmer or Anibal Sanchez would take on a much higher profile.

"Every game's going to be a must-win," Ausmus said, "so we're going to go with who we think can help us win. And really, because we're playing so many days in a row, if you keep playing, you keep guys on their regular rest and hope they have a good day."

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It's a crazy path to the postseason. But as Ausmus acknowledged, it has to be fun to be endured.

"I think fun is a very appropriate word, because last year at this time, it wasn't fun," he said, referring to last year's last-place finish. "Yeah, would I rather have been like the Indians and clinched it and be able to set up my rotation? Absolutely. But there's a lot of teams with three days left, four for us, they're just playing out the season. These games have meaning for us."

He has tried to emphasize that with younger players.

"I think some of them get it," he said. "I think some of them are having fun on the ride. But a lot of times, you don't realize how difficult it is to get to the postseason until you're done.

"I played 18 years. I went to the postseason seven times, only one World Series, and never won a World Series championship. It happens a little bit more frequently now because of the two Wild Cards, but it doesn't happen often. I went to one World Series in 18 years."

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.