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Published: Monday, 9/23/2013 - Updated: 11 months ago

COMMENTARY

A lot to be decided in baseball

BY DAVE HACKENBERG
BLADE SPORTS COLUMNIST

It’s officially the start of cork-popping season.

The Dodgers, Red Sox, Braves, and the A’s have already enjoyed their first champagne showers for clinching division titles and, thus, postseason berths.

The Detroit Tigers, meanwhile, have whittled away at their magic number, although they’ll have to make it disappear during a season-ending, six-game road trip. The Tigers don’t appear to be in jeopardy, but the longer they tread water the less time they have to rest starters and get their postseason pitching rotation in order.

The wild-card races in both leagues will go down to the wire, the wire being next Sunday when the regular season comes to an end.

By then we will know the fate of the Cleveland Indians, one of baseball’s remarkable stories in 2013.

October is waiting.

Regardless of how it ends, shouldn’t Terry Francona be the American League’s manager of the year? Boston fans may argue but, hey, Tribe fans will line up (although maybe not in large numbers) to compare rosters with the Red Sox anytime, anywhere.

They may get to do it in person.

If the season ended this very moment, the Tribe and Tampa Bay would face off in the sudden-death, wild-card game with the winner advancing against Boston.

Of course, that’s how it looks today. Much could change in the final week. Plus, home-field advantage for the wild-card games is yet to be decided. The Indians figure to have an edge because Tampa still has to host Baltimore today before going to Yankee Stadium for three games.

The Orioles and Yankees, along with Kansas City and Texas, are still in the playoff running, although close to running on fumes.

Cleveland is hot at the right time. The Indians have won four straight and nine of their last 11 heading into two home dates against the White Sox and a four-game series to close the season at Minnesota.

On paper, that is nothing but favorable.

The National League’s wild-card race is no less a thing of beauty. The Central Division has been just that all season, in large part because of the Pirates’ march back to prominence after two decades of futility.

The way it lines up today is St. Louis with 91 wins while Cincinnati and Pittsburgh have 89 victories each.

Pennant races don’t get much better than that and the Reds-Pirates finish head-to-head with three games in Cincy.

Barring a collapse that would allow Washington’s Nationals to complete a late-season charge, all three of the NL Central powers should be in the playoffs, if only for one game.

Regardless of where that wild-card game is played there won’t be enough tickets available.

Meanwhile, it will be interesting to see the attendance figure if the AL wild-card game is played in Cleveland. Although the crowds picked up over this past weekend, the Tribe actually played two home games before fewer than 10,000 fans earlier this month.

Attendance hasn’t been an issue at Comerica Park. Consistency from the Tigers’ pitching staff has been.

Max Scherzer, a 20-game winner finally, seems to have lost a bit of his edge as the season winds down and Justin Verlander has been a coin flip throughout. Still, it’s not a bad 1-2 punch and Rick Porcello, the No. 5 starter and a guy who a month ago would have been considered the weak link in the staff, has probably been the Tigers’ best starter of late.

In addition to clinching the AL Central crown, the Tigers must be mindful of Oakland’s record if Detroit has any hope of gaining home-field advantage for a potential ALDS between the two teams. The A’s have 93 wins to 91 for the Tigers.

Both teams finish with six games on the road. Oakland goes to Anaheim and Seattle while the Tigers have three in Minnesota and three in a strangely-timed interleague series at Miami which will take the designated hitter out of the lineup.

One week to go, so much yet to be decided.

Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: dhack@theblade.com or 419-724-6398.



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