OAKLAND -- The Tigers are heading back to the American League Championship Series for the second straight year. In team history, they had never advanced that far in back-to-back seasons.It's certainly a moment to be celebrated, which the players did by soaking each other in champagne shortly after Justin Verlander went the distance to defeat the A's, 6-0, in a do-or-die Game 5 of the AL Division Series on Thursday night at the Coliseum. But once the team boards its flight back to Detroit, it's back to business as the goal remains to end a 28-year title drought and win the franchise's first World Series title since 1984. Detroit awaits the winner of the Orioles-Yankees series, which was pushed to a deciding Game 5 on Friday after Baltimore escaped with a 2-1 victory on Thursday night in 13 innings.
"We'll be watching, obviously," Tigers catcher Alex Avila said. "At this point, it doesn't matter [who we play]. We are just happy to be celebrating."That sentiment was shared with his teammates as well. And general manager Dave Dombrowski perhaps said it best: "They're both good clubs. All clubs are good at this point." However, there's still one key component hanging in the balance that might sway their interest. "We'll either be opening Saturday against Baltimore at home or we'll be going to New York tomorrow night late and playing there on Saturday," Dombrowski said. If the Orioles win, the Tigers would have home-field advantage, with four of the seven possible ALCS games to be played at Comerica Park in Detroit. The Tigers were 50-31 at home this season and 38-43 on the road. "It really makes no difference," Dombrowski said. Statistically, the Tigers should have little rooting interest, as they've encountered their success and struggles against both potential opponents. They were a better pitching team against the Orioles, and a better hitting team vs. the Yankees. With a 3.59 team ERA in six games vs. Baltimore, the Tigers went 3-3 and outscored the O's, 29-23. They also limited Orioles hitters to a .230 batting average. Comparatively, a 5.30 ERA vs. New York resulted in a 4-6 record, while Detroit got outscored in the season series, 58-48. The Yankees pounded the Tigers' staff for 15 home runs -- the O's had six -- and owned a .287 batting average. But when they faced the Yankees, it was a battle of offense, as the Tigers hit .294 in the 10 contests. Third baseman and Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera was 12-for-39 (.308) with five homers and 11 RBIs, and Prince Fielder was 12-for-36 (.333) with three homers and seven RBIs. Although it's a larger sample size against New York, the two performed equally well against the Baltimore staff this year. Cabrera was 11-for-22 (.500) with three solo home runs, while Fielder posted a .333 average with five RBIs. As a team, though, Detroit hit almost 30 points lower (.268) against Baltimore. "We just have to keep playing one game at a time," catcher Gerald Laird said. "I think we match up with anybody." The revenge factor is also at play. The Yankees took the Tigers to five games last season in the ALDS before being eliminated. And the veteran ballclub in New York is always hungry to get back to the World Series. The Tigers, however, insist last year's experience helped them defeat the A's on Thursday night. And having been in must-win situations all September -- coming back from three games behind the White Sox with 16 remaining to clinch the division -- they believe they'll be at an advantage, regardless of the opponent. "This last whole month of the season we've been playing pressure games, where our backs are against the wall. We won the games that we needed to win," Verlander said. "And I think that bodes extremely well for us as a team moving forward in the playoffs." "We beat the Yankees in New York [last year], which is tough. We beat Oakland in Oakland," Dombrowski said. "We've won the fifth game two years in a row. It shows the type of club we have. ... We'll take either one. As long as we're playing Saturday, we'll take it, any way it goes."
Anthony Odoardi is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.