Cabrera's big night helps Tigers clinch Central

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Cabrera's big night helps Tigers clinch Central

From Comcast SportsNet

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) -- There could have been some infighting when the Detroit Tigers were languishing below .500 midway through the season, or even when they trailed the Chicago White Sox deep into September.

This was the team, after all, that won the AL Central last year, and was only supposed to get better with the signing of Prince Fielder. But the lofty expectations out of spring training had been long forgotten by everyone outside the clubhouse, the season so often close to being written off.

Then the White Sox started to falter, the Tigers finally started to play defense, and all the pieces came together for a joyous ride that ended in a raucous celebration Monday night.

The Tigers, paced by MVP front-runner Miguel Cabrera, beat the Kansas City Royals 6-3 to clinch back-to-back division titles for the first time since the 1934-35 seasons.

"It was a rocky road, it was a tough season, but in this business, you have to be able to take some hits," Detroit manager Jim Leyland said. "This isn't a place for the faint-hearted, hell, we took a lot of punches, a lot of them justified, some of them maybe not, but hey, we can take a punch."

They're just as likely to come out swinging, too.

Cabrera had four hits on the night, including a homer during a decisive five-run sixth inning, to prop up his chances of becoming the first Triple Crown winner since 1967.

Gerald Laird added a bases-loaded double, Rick Porcello (10-12) pitched shutout ball into the sixth inning and Jhonny Peralta went deep off Bruce Chen (11-14) to give the Tigers a big lead.

After hanging over the dugout railing the entire ninth inning, they streamed onto the field behind the pitchers' mound to celebrate their division title the moment Jose Valverde got Alcides Escobar to ground out to shortstop with a runner on second for his 35th save in 40 chances.

"We always knew it wasn't going to be easy, and the guys handled it great," Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski said. "This is the first step. We want to go a couple more, too."

The Tigers were even mindful of their victory celebration, choosing Fre Brut -- an alcohol-removed sparkling wine -- in deference to Cabrera, who's had alcohol abuse problems.

"It feels really good," Fielder said. "I mean, it wasn't easy, but we got it done."

The Tigers (87-73) will have the worst record among AL division champions, which means they'll open the playoffs Saturday at home against the division winner with the second-best mark.

Not that when and where matters much to Leyland's bunch.

They're just glad to be back in the playoffs.

"You've got to take your hat off to them. They're the champs," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "They've got the starting pitching, the power, a great bullpen. They've got a chance to go deep."

It hasn't just been Cabrera, either. Justin Verlander is closing in another Cy Young Award, right-hander Anibal Sanchez has been terrific down the stretch, and Fielder has delivered everything that Detroit had hoped for when they signed him, including four more hits Monday night.

"You get that kind of momentum, usually it ends up very good," said team owner Mike Ilitch, who has spent a lot of money to chase the Tigers' first World Series title since 1984.

The Tigers clung to a 1-0 lead, provided by Peralta's homer, until their big sixth inning.

Cabrera broke a tie with the Rangers' Josh Hamilton for the major league lead in homers with his 44th, a solo shot to right, and two fielding mistakes by David Lough in center led to another run.

Laird's bases-loaded double knocked Chen from the game, and effectively knocked the White Sox out of the playoffs, though they didn't do much to help themselves down the stretch.

Chicago beat the Indians 11-0 earlier in the night for just its third win in 13 games.

Meanwhile, the Tigers have won seven of their last eight as they surged to the division crown, including five straight against the Royals, who have dropped eight of their last nine.

Porcello kept the Royals off the scoreboard until the sixth, when Alex Gordon's homer to right field finally gave Kansas City some life. Leyland wasted no time lifting his right-hander, who'd done enough to end a string of six straight losses and pick up his first victory in nine starts.

Cabrera had singles in the fourth, seventh and ninth in addition to his homer in the sixth, pushing his AL-leading batting average to .329, ahead of the Angels' Mike Trout and the Twins' Joe Mauer. Cabrera also moved his RBI total to 137, by far the best in the majors.

Cabrera was only part of the party Monday night, though, slapping backs and exchanging high-fives with the rest of his teammates as Detroit locked up its place in the postseason.

He could be the center of the celebration when the regular season ends Wednesday night.

"I don't know what else to say," Leyland said. "If he's not the MVP then there's no such thing."

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Caps get the rematch they were hoping for

Caps get the rematch they were hoping for

Last season left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth in Washington. The Caps dominated the regular season, wrapping up the Presidents’ Trophy for the top record in the NHL by late March with seven games still remaining.

And yet, once again, Washington’s regular season success did not translate to the playoffs. The Caps met the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round and were eliminated in six games.

RELATED: Why Eller may be the key to beating the Penguins

Now, however, Washington will get a chance to erase the sting of last year’s loss in a second-round rematch with the Penguins.

“We were disappointed last year,” Nicklas Backstrom said. “First thing that you thought was about coming back and playing them again and here we are. Maybe not a surprise, but it's going to be a good match up. They're a good team, they're the Stanley Cup champs so it will be a really good match and we're excited about it.”

“Pittsburgh's a rivalry team, knocked us out last year,” T.J. Oshie said. “You don't need much more motivation to get started here.”

In the team’s 41 seasons, Washington has advanced past the second round of the postseason only twice and have failed to do so in the Alex Ovechkin era. Much of their playoff troubles have come at the hands of the same team they now prepare to face.

In the franchise’s 27 playoff appearances, this will be the 10th time Washington and Pittsburgh have met. Washington has gone only 1-8 in their previous nine meetings.

For a team looking to overcome its previous playoff history, it seems almost necessary to have to go through Pittsburgh.

“There's a history with the Penguins,” head coach Barry Trotz said. “I think it's fitting that we have to go through the Penguins at some point. Got to change the narrative hopefully this year and that's what we intend to do.”

MORE CAPITALS: Trotz calls Hornqvist a guy who 'conveniently will fall on your goalie'

Check out the latest edition of the Capitals Faceoff Podcast and subscribe on Apple podcastsAudioboom and Google Play!

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Five things to watch during the NFL draft while waiting for the Redskins to pick

Five things to watch during the NFL draft while waiting for the Redskins to pick

The Redskins have the 17th pick in tonight’s first round. Things get underway when the Browns go on the clock at about 8 p.m. There are 10 minutes allotted between picks. If each team takes the maximum time the Redskins will pick sometime after 11 p.m. However, picks are usually in with a few minutes to spare so Washington will go on the clock sometime between 10 and 10:30.

So, what is there to watch for until then? In what everything thinks will be one of the wildest and most unpredictable first rounds in recent memory, here are five places where the decisions made could have ripple effects back to pick No. 17.

No. 1, Browns—The steaming hot rumor that has popped up in the last 24 hours is that QB Mitchell Trubisky, not DE Myles Garret, will be the top pick in the draft. Of course, that talk could be a steaming pile of, well, what comes out of the south end of a bull. If the Browns do go with Trubisky, who was expected to remain on the board through the first five picks, there could be a run on quarterbacks in the top half of the draft, with teams maneuvering to get their guy. That could push a solid defensive player back to the Redskins.

No. 4, Jaguars—Nobody is quite sure what is going on here. Leonard Fournette is the chalk pick but this is the team that drafted Blake Bortles completely out of the blue in the top five a few years ago. They have spent a lot of draft capital and free agent money on defense. They may be ready to move on from Bortles so a QB is a possibility, a move that would start or, if Trubusky goes to the Browns at No. 1, continue a run on quarterbacks.

RELATED: Final NFL Mock Draft

No. 8, Panthers—In a draft that is supposedly unpredictable, the constant in mock drafts over the last 10 days or so has been Christian McCaffrey to Carolina. It almost seems to be too simple to be true, especially if the top seven picks are loaded with surprises. The Panthers have plenty of needs and if they have a top safety or linebacker fall into their laps they could well bypass McCaffrey. That would put him in play for the Redskins at 17.

No. 13, Cardinals—We go back to quarterbacks here. Will the Cardinals, who have plenty of needs, take a quarterback like Patrick Mahomes of Texas Tech to groom to replace Carson Palmer? If they do, that could force the a QB-needy team picking later in the first such as the Texans to move up to make sure they aren’t left out. That could have them on the phone to Ashburn offering their second-round pick to entice the Redskins to move down to No. 25.

MORE REDSKINS: Final Redskins mock: Defense goes 1-2, surprise in the third 

No. 16, Ravens—Picking immediately in front of the Redskins, the Ravens also have needs everywhere. Jonathan Allen and Reuben Foster seem like the type of player the Ravens like so there is the possibility that the Redskins could see a very good player at a top area of need slide back towards them only to get snatched up one pick prior to them going on the clock. The good news may be that many analysts have Baltimore addressing wide receiver or offensive line at No. 16 and those positions are not likely to be of high interest to the Redskins in the first round.

Stay up to date on the Redskins! Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page Facebook.com/TandlerCSN and follow him on Twitter @Rich_TandlerCSN.