Tracy Ringolsby

Uncontent Tigers shift focus to ultimate goal

Resurgence of Verlander has Detroit feeling better about October

Uncontent Tigers shift focus to ultimate goal

Keep the champagne on ice. Yep, the Tigers clinched their franchise-record fourth consecutive postseason appearance on Wednesday night. Nope, there was no celebration. There was just another check mark for Detroit's 2014 to-do list.

The biggest event for the Tigers on Wednesday was a second dominating effort in a row by Justin Verlander, providing reason for hope that he has hit his stride just in time. It has provided a belief that what for him has been a disappointing regular season can give way to another October of domination.

The right-hander, who was burdened with an un-Verlander-like 12-12 record going onto his Sept. 8 start against Kansas City, has not only won his past three decisions, but he stepped up big twice in the past six days. Verlander has allowed two runs in 15 1/3 innings in victories over a Royals team that is trying to overtake the Tigers in the American League Central and then the White Sox on Wednesday afternoon to set up the clinching of the postseason berth when the Mariners lost later that night in Toronto.

That, however, is still no reason to pop champagne in Motown. There won't be any letdown for the Tigers when they open a four-game set against the Twins at Comerica Park on Thursday night for the club's final regular-season series of the season.

Advancing to the postseason was an expectation for Detroit this time around. Remember back on July 31, when other teams were scurrying in advance of the non-waiver Trade Deadline to add a piece or two to help them improve their chances of getting to play in October?

The Tigers were busy, too, but their focus wasn't on being a Wild Card or winning another AL Central title. They sent shock waves around baseball when they shipped center fielder Austin Jackson to the Mariners and left-hander Drew Smyly and shortstop prospect Willy Adames to the Rays in a three-team deal that brought them David Price.

Why? Because getting to the postseason was no longer good enough.

Been there, done that.

This year, the whole idea for Detroit is to host the final celebration in baseball. It's about winning it all.

The Tigers and their fans haven't celebrated a World Series championship since 1984, and all the last three Octobers have done is whet the appetite.

There's no knocking what the Tigers have done. They are, after all, one of only two teams in baseball (along with the St. Louis Cardinals) that is headed to the postseason for the fourth consecutive season.

The defending World Series champion Boston Red Sox, the team that eliminated the Tigers in six games in the AL Championship Series a year ago? They started to rebuild in midseason, having accepted that they were headed towards finishing near the bottom of the AL East standings.

The fabled New York Yankees, who have enjoyed a Major League-record 27 World Series championships? The final days of Derek Jeter's storied career has become their season-ending focus as they put the finishing touches on back-to-back seasons without advancing to the postseason for the first time in two decades.

Those Texas Rangers, who eliminated that Tigers in six games in the ALCS three years ago? They are in a battle with the D-backs to avoid being saddled with the worst record in the Majors this season.

Oh, the San Francisco Giants, the franchise that swept the Tigers in the 2012 World Series? Well, they are just one victory away from clinching the second National League Wild Card spot, but on the night Detroit clinched its spot in the postseason, San Francisco was officially eliminated in its bid for the NL West championship.

The Tigers? They are looking for the fourth time to be the charm.

They have their reasons for concern, particularly in the late innings where the bullpen's inconsistency was underscored on Tuesday night. Manager Brad Ausmus allowed Price to give up five hits and three runs in the ninth inning before finally going to closer Joe Nathan with two outs and the scored tied at 3-3 in a game that Detroit rallied to win on Miguel Cabrera's walk-off single in the bottom of the ninth.

All of that, however, could be pushed aside, at least for the moment, on Thursday.

The Tigers were able to feel good about the fact that they had taken that first necessary step towards the World Series championship they are in search of by clinching a postseason berth.

And they could get excited about the late-season surge of Verlander, who as much as any Tiger has a postseason point to prove.

Verlander has been the horse in Detroit's rotation the past three years. But there was a blemish.

Verlander may be 6-2 with a 2.13 ERA in the 10 postseason starts he has made the past three years in the AL Division Series and the ALCS, but he, like the rest of the Tigers, has a score to settle from that World Series appearance two years ago, where the Giants stunned him with five runs in four innings.

It wasn't the ending envisioned by Verlander and the rest of the Tigers. It fed into that vision the folks in Detroit have been chasing since Opening Day this season.

Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for Read his blog, Write 'em Cowboy. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.