Tigers feeling great as they wait out NLCS

Tigers feeling great as they wait out NLCS

Tigers feeling great as they wait out NLCS
There's a dangerous postseason beast waiting, resting, watching. Who's next?

With the Tigers roaring right through the American League Championship Series, one spot in the World Series was claimed Thursday. After wrapping up a four-game sweep of the Yankees with a dominating performance in the clincher, Detroit's fantastic felines have clinched the franchise's 11th trip to the World Series.

Who's next?


Well, the Cardinals are certainly making their case to be right there with the Tigers in the Fall Classic, taking a commanding 3-1 lead in the National League Championship Series over the Giants with a convincing 8-3 victory at Busch Stadium on Thursday night.

Game 5 of the NLCS, which will either finalize the 2012 World Series invitations or send the best-of-seven series back to San Francisco, will match veteran Giants left-hander Barry Zito against the Cardinals' Lance Lynn at 8 p.m. ET Friday on FOX.

For Detroit's diamond heroes, the opponent doesn't matter as much as the achievement. They're in the World Series, and that's first and foremost in their minds.

"It's a great thrill. My fans -- 3 million -- you pump my players up," Tigers owner Mike Ilitch said emphatically to the Comerica Park crowd and a global TV audience while receiving the American League Championship trophy.

In reaching the pinnacle, the Tigers handed the venerable Yankees their first postseason sweep in any round since 1980, a span of 36 series.

Said Tigers manager Jim Leyland: "If someone would have told me we would sweep the Yankees in this series, I would have told them they were crazy. A little luck, some pretty good pitching, obviously, and a couple of hits at the right time, and sometimes you get on a roll that's pretty good."


In the ALCS finale, the Tigers continued that roll. Max Scherzer's mound mastery and the continued mashing of Miguel Cabrera, Delmon Young and, yes, Jhonny Peralta propelled the Tigers to the ultimate level with an 8-1 victory over the Yankees, completing Detroit's AL reign, delayed by rain for just one day, as it turned out.

By clinching in four, the Tigers claimed the sixth sweep in LCS history and fourth in the ALCS since it went to a seven-game format in 1985. It's the first LCS sweep since 2006, when the Tigers rolled past the A's.

The 2012 postseason's first sweep -- after the four Division Series matchups went the distance -- was a series that left the Yankees with numerous questions heading into an offseason that no doubt will be busy, whether the rumors of an Alex Rodriguez departure come true or just by the volume of free agents that figure to be coming and going.

"Certainly now's not the time to talk about what we can or will be doing or want to be doing," Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said. "We didn't want our winter to start just yet. Unfortunately, it's coming sooner than we wanted."

A more contentious NLCS also could end quickly, if the Cardinals are able to capitalize on the momentum provided in Game 4 by Adam Wainwright's strong start and offensive contributions throughout the lineup, a formula that has St. Louis one victory from truly defending their 2011 World Series crown.

History is definitely on the Cardinals' side going forward. Teams with 3-1 advantages in the NLCS are 12-2 and 27-6 overall when combining ALCS results.

Giants starter Tim Lincecum, having pitched 8 1/3 innings of strong relief thus far in the postseason, had trouble finding a groove, and eventually succumbed to the thick Cardinals lineup.

And Wainwright set the tone with his strong seven innings of work on the mound, a performance that was vastly improved over his Game 5 work in the Division Series at Washington.

"A little part of me wanted to reprove it to myself that I could go out there and pitch great when we need me to," Wainwright said.

So for the second time this season, the Giants need to win three consecutive games to stay alive. The good news: Unlike their three-game rally in Cincinnati, if they win the first one this time, they can try to win the other two at home. The bad news: The Cardinals aren't showing any signs of breaking their grip on this NLCS.

Meanwhile, those ferocious Tigers wait.

With their quick work in the ALCS, the Tigers assured themselves of a five-day break before Game 1 of the World Series on Wednesday. That is long, but not as long as the six days they waited for the 2006 World Series to begin, or the eight days the Rockies had to wait before meeting the Red Sox in 2007. Incidentally, both teams lost after their long waits.

The Tigers' last trip to the World Series was that five-game loss in 2006 to the Cardinals, who won their first title since 1982. Detroit's last title came in 1984, when a team that began the regular season 35-5 beat the Padres in five -- after another sweep in the ALCS, over the Royals that time.

If it's Tigers-Cardinals in the World Series, it would mark the fourth time the two franchises have squared off at baseball's mountaintop, following 1934, 1968 and 2006. The Tigers and Giants haven't met in the World Series, despite 28 appearances between them.

Thanks to the National League's third consecutive victory in the All-Star Game, the Tigers know they will be starting the World Series on the road, ceding the home-field advantage to the NL champ.

But in closing out the ALCS, the Tigers showed once again they will be dangerous animals at home, winning their sixth LCS home game in their last seven and their fourth home game in as many tries this postseason, including the first two games of their Division Series against the A's, eventually won in five games.

Four victories later, the Tigers are four victories away from a World Series title.

And now they have the luxury of lying in wait, resting their bodies and minds, watching their World Series opponent squirm through at least one more day.

The Tigers are in.

Who's next?

John Schlegel is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.