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Leaving their season (and talk of disappointment) behind, the Tigers take 2-0 lead over the A's

By Danny Knobler | Baseball Insider
After going hitless in Game 1, Miguel Cabrera bounces back big. (Getty Images)

DETROIT -- Prince, after the season you guys had ...

"I'm in the playoffs," Prince Fielder said Sunday. "I don't even care about the season anymore."

Miggy, about the season ...

"That's in the past," Miguel Cabrera said. "We won the division. We're in the playoffs."

They're in the playoffs, and two games in, the Tigers cannot be called disappointing. Two games in, the Tigers haven't lost.

For the record, two games into the season, the Tigers hadn't lost, either. But two games in April are nothing like two games in October.

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The Tigers still have their issues. Despite what manager Jim Leyland says, they have to be concerned about setup man Joaquin Benoit, and they still aren't scoring runs like crazy.

But they also have an opportunity. If they can make the rest of this month look like the last two days, no one will care that they didn't blow everyone away from April through September.

If they get the same combination of starting pitching, a little hitting and a reasonable amount of luck that carried them to Sunday's 5-4 Game 2 win over the A's, they won't need to sound defensive about anything (not even about their sometimes-shaky defense).

Keep winning, and they can get past any talk of what they did or didn't do during the season.

"We won the division," Fielder said. "I don't think we need to get past anything.

"All we can do is keep winning."

They'll have three tries to win one game in Oakland. While the Rangers could tell you that's no simple task, the Tigers don't go there with nearly the issues the Rangers carried with them.

The Rangers, some of the A's players suspect, weren't the most together team by the time they arrived in California for last week's final regular-season series. The Tigers seem to have no such issues, especially now, up two games to none.

If the A's had anything to say about the Tigers Sunday, it was about reliever Al Alburquerque kissing the baseball before throwing it to first base to get the final out in the top of the ninth. But the A's, who were publicly lectured last month by ex-teammate Eric Chavez for showing too much emotion, are hardly a team that can complain about someone else having fun.

This season wasn't always fun for the Tigers, the team everyone expected to run away with the title in the weak American League Central. While the Tigers did eventually win the division, from April 22 to Sept. 27 they spent just three days alone in first place.

They had a Triple Crown season from Cabrera and outstanding years from both Fielder and Austin Jackson, but the rest of their lineup was so thin that they finished just 11th in the majors in runs.

They didn't score a ton of runs the last two days, either, with a 3-1 win in Game 1 and a 5-4 win Sunday in which one run scored on a wild pitch, another on a groundout, two more on a Coco Crisp error and the winning run on Don Kelly's ninth-inning sacrifice fly.

Two games in, the Tigers have exactly one hit that scored a run -- Alex Avila's fifth-inning home run Saturday night.

If it didn't go against the pre-series storyline, we'd say they're the team that's scrappy.

Or lucky.

"I'd prefer to be lucky," Cabrera said with a smile. "Did you see, I got jammed and got a hit [in the game-winning rally in the ninth]? And I got jammed and they dropped the ball [to give the Tigers a lead in the seventh]?"

The dropped ball, in center field by Crisp, looked at the time to be the key play in Sunday's game. It gave the Tigers a 3-2 lead, and put Leyland in position to do what he did in Game 1, go directly from his starter to the late-inning tandem of Benoit and closer Jose Valverde.

Pitching with a two-run lead Saturday, Benoit gave up a Brandon Moss fly ball to the wall in right, but got through the eighth with the lead intact. Pitching with a one-run lead Sunday, he wild-pitched home the tying run, then gave up a Josh Reddick home run that temporarily gave the A's the lead.

The Tigers came back and won, but Leyland may need to consider replacing Benoit in the eighth with someone else (perhaps Alburquerque, or even Drew Smyly).

The Tigers still have questions, but they now seem to have some answers, too.

And if some of them would rather not answer questions about what happened during the season, in other parts of the clubhouse there are thoughts that the challenges of the season helped them.

"I like to think that," Justin Verlander said. "We battled. When our backs were against the wall, we played our best.

"That's a mentality that plays well in the playoffs."

Up two games to none, the Tigers don't have their backs against the wall. But in a short playoff series, it can always feel that way, even when you're ahead.

You never get a 15-game lead, the kind of lead everyone thought the Tigers would have in the AL Central.

"Fifteen games up, we might have taken things lightly," Gerald Laird said. "We had to play the last month like it was the playoffs. It builds your personality. It builds your character."

I'd ask Fielder and Cabrera if they agree, but remember, they both (politely) made it clear they're not talking about what happened during the season.

A few more wins, and they won't need to.

 
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