CabreraPeavyI think most Tigers fans were planning on being in coast mode at this time of the year. Predicted by many to be the runaway favorites in the American League Central, the division was supposed to be all but locked up once late August and September rolled around; the only question was whether or not they’d also finish with the best record in the entire American League.

But the baseball season often doesn’t unfold as anticipated. The Tigers dug themselves a nice hole with a horrible month of May, and the Chicago White Sox, fuelled by the resurgence of Adam Dunn, Alex Rios, and Jake Peavy, the arrival of Chris Sale in the rotation, and a career year from A.J. Pierzynski, have lead the way in the division for much of the season.

Detroit was supposed to be a premier offensive club, but many of their break-out hitters have fizzled. A season ago, Alex Avila, Jhonny Peralta*, Brennan Boesch, Ryan Raburn, and Delmon Young combined for 13.1 WAR (as reported by FanGraphs). This season, those same five players have combined for 1.6 WAR. The White Sox, on the other hand, were supposed to be an also-ran in the division, but have found resurgence in quite a few places. In 2011, Adam Dunn, Alex Rios, A.J. Pierzynski, and Jake Peavy combined for 0.7 WAR. This year, those four players have given the Sox 12.3 WAR. These numbers represent a huge swing in wins from a relatively small number of players.

*I don’t want it to sound like I’m saying Avila and Peralta have been bad. They’ve both been above average, especially when considering their position, but each has taken a step back offensively from last season. Not that we should have necessarily expected them to repeat career-best performances.

But the White Sox haven’t been able to run away with the division – at 2.5 games it’s the second closest race in baseball – and despite patches of struggle and disappointment, the Tigers have kept themselves in position to claim a Wild Card spot even if they fail to catch Chicago. Entering play this weekend, the Tigers find themselves just a single game behind Tampa Bay and Baltimore (who share identical 64-54 records).

With 12 games left against the Angels, Orioles, and Athletics (all teams within 2.5 games of the Tigers and in competition for the Wild Card spots) and another seven against the White Sox, Detroit will get every opportunity to prove that they’re worth of the postseason. And if they can’t claim their spot in October against these evenly matched teams, then perhaps the 16 games remaining versus the Twins and Royals will help push them over the top anyway.

Matt Snyder is the editor of The Tigers Den. He can be reached on Twitter @snyder_matthew.