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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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Michigan's Moritz Wagner could be Wizards' solution for a stretch-five

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USA Today Sports Images

Michigan's Moritz Wagner could be Wizards' solution for a stretch-five

The pre-draft workout process can be an exhausting journey for players, with so many flights, hotel rooms and NBA arenas that they can all blend in together. Michigan big man Moritz Wagner, though, may have felt a sense of comfort in Washington for his pre-draft workout for the Wizards on Wednesday.

It was just over a year ago that his Michigan Wolverines cut down the nets at Capital One Arena as champions of the Big Ten conference.

"It was good memories, man. Never gets old," he said while glancing around the stadium.

Wagner, 21, will be seeing a lot more of Capital One Arena once he joins the NBA ranks and it is conceivable he ends up in Washington. They hold the 15th pick in the first round and the 44th pick in the second round and Wagner could be within their reach.

Wagner had an impressive workout in Washington and could provide what the Wizards need. He is a big, mobile and can spread the floor. Wagner was terrific at stepping out to hit threes off pick-and-rolls at Michigan and that ability would work well with Wizards All-Star point guard John Wall.

Wagner measured in at just under 7-feet at this month's NBA Combine, fifth-tallest among those who attended. He averaged 14.6 points as a junior this past season and made 39.4 percent of his threes on 4.1 attempts per game.

With three years of college experience and an NBA-ready jumper, Wagner believes he can step right in and help the Wizards.

"I think what we did at Michigan, sharing the ball and playing as a team, very organized basketball, that can help big-time," he said. "It's basically pro basketball I was playing on a different level."

As Wagner will tell you, he is very confident in his abilities. He is comfortable in his own skin and that includes openly discussing his faults. He feels good about his ability to score at the next level. Defense is where he needs to prove himself.

Despite his size, Wagner wasn't much of a rim protector in college. He averaged just a half-block a game as a junior. The Wizards need rim protection badly and he likely would not provide that.

Wagner, though, believes he can bring more to the table defensively than the numbers would suggest.

"I think I've been an offensive guy all of my life, but the more that you mature as a player, you understand that both sides are important. Without defense, you aren't going to play at any level," he said.

"I think the most important thing that I wasn't able to show in college is that I'm able to switch the ball-screen, especially with the way the league is going. Switch on everything and stay in front of guards as a big guy."

Wagner is from Germany and looks up to Mavs legend Dirk Nowitzki, who is entering his 21st season and will be in the Hall of Fame someday. Nowitzki's game has always been built around shooting and, though he developed into a decent shot-blocker in his prime, was never an elite rim protector.

Wagner hopes to follow in his footsteps playing a similar style.

"He was my MJ. He kind of shows you 'okay, this is possible and this is doable.' It's just basketball," Wagner said. "It gives you a lot of hope. It gives you a lot of belief and motivation."

Hear more from Wagner in his one-on-one interview with Chris Miller in our latest Wizards Tipoff podcast. His interview can also be found in the video above:

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Believe it or not, this isn't the first D.C. vs. Vegas postseason matchup

Believe it or not, this isn't the first D.C. vs. Vegas postseason matchup

In what is perhaps the most unexpected Stanley Cup Final pairing in recent memory, the Washington Capitals and the Las Vegas Golden Knights are going to make history this year.

Either it is going to be the first expansion team to win a title in their first season, or it will be a team looking to end a 27-year title drought for one of the biggest cities in the United States.

But what it will not be is the first D.C. vs. Vegas postseason matchup.

Going even farther back than the Capitals last Stanley Cup appearance (1998), the Georgetown Hoyas and UNLV Rebels met in the 1991 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.

Sin City took the first, and up until now, the only postseason bout between these two cities. The Larry Johnson-led University of Las Vegas squad powered right past the Hoyas in the Second Round of the NCAA Tournament.

[D.C. sports and Second Rounds, I know right?]

Coming fresh off the NCAA title in 1990, UNLV waltzed right to the Final Four before meeting their demise against Duke. It also ended up being the last game for Dikembe Mutombo in a Georgetown uniform.

While in all likely-hood this will not be the final game/ series for Alex Ovechkin rocking the red, it may be his last and only chance for him to play this far into a postseason.

In the past two seasons, Vegas has gone from zero professional teams to having a Stanley Cup contender, a WNBA franchise, and lined up to take over the Oakland Raiders in 2020. 

Now time for the Golden Knights' Cinderella story to come up a little bit short. 

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