What was hoped to be a postseason tuneup for Justin Verlander is now the Tigers' biggest game of the regular season, and a must-win to get them there. If they win there and the Twins win Sunday, the Tigers will send their next-hottest starter, rookie Rick Porcello, onto the mound for a one-game playoff at Minnesota on Tuesday.
It's essentially postseason baseball now, and the win-or-go-home mentality was starting to set into the Tigers' clubhouse after Saturday's loss. If they can get through there, though, their rotation would surprisingly shape up decently for a first-round matchup with the Yankees.
But that, as manager Jim Leyland likes to say, is putting the cart before the horse.
"We don't really need help," Leyland said. "You figure [the Twins] are going to win tomorrow. We've got to win, and then we've got to go to Minnesota. We still have to win two games, and hopefully they still have to win two games.
"Hopefully we can get by that one tomorrow, win tomorrow, and then start the kid up in Minnesota. You always feel pretty good with Justin going, but you still have to score some runs."
Leyland said earlier Saturday that starting either Verlander or Porcello in Saturday's game on three days' rest was never really a consideration. Porcello is a 20-year-old rookie completing his first season above Class A ball, and the Tigers have taken measures to try to control his workload and limit his pitches with surprising success.
Verlander has been around longer and shown a remarkable ability to fire high-90s fastballs deep into a game with high pitch counts. However, he has never started on three days' rest, and Leyland didn't want to experiment now.
On the flip side, the Twins started Nick Blackburn on short rest to go up against Zack Greinke on Saturday, winning the decision to move into a tie with the Tigers atop the division. With Sunday's game now meaningful, they'll start veteran Carl Pavano on short rest.
Starting Porcello on Tuesday wasn't an option until last Monday's rainout against the Twins pushed his start back a day and scratched what would've been his scheduled start Saturday. Coincidentally, following that Tuesday outing, Porcello was in the clubhouse afterward when it dawned on him that he might've thrown his final pitch of the regular season. However, he said he didn't want to think about it then because he couldn't be sure. Now, his regular season might not be over.
If the Tigers win both Sunday and Tuesday, they'd have little time to fly to New York in preparation for the AL Division Series against the Yankees. Indications are that New York would prefer to start that series Wednesday, as is its choice as the top-seeded team in the AL.
With both Verlander and Porcello unavailable, Edwin Jackson would most likely get the call for that game. Verlander would seemingly be on schedule to pitch Game 2 on Friday on his regular rest, as would Porcello to pitch Game 3 on Sunday at Comerica Park.
But again, the Tigers have to win first.