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DETROIT - The Detroit Tigers hate to admit it, but they've turned into the Midwest version of the New York Yankees.

Huge payroll.

Massive expectations.

Disappointing results.

Anything less than a World Series championship in Detroit now has become unacceptable.

The Yankees can certainly empathize as they got together Tuesday night for a crucial three-game series at Comerica Park.

"Believe me, we know the feeling,'' Yankees general manager Brian Cashman tells USA TODAY Sports. "The expectations get so high. But (Tigers president and GM) David Dombrowski has constantly put that franchise in position to be more relevant every year. It's amazing how when he got to that city, he put that team on the baseball map again.

"They're legitimately at a point where that team can run the table if they get into the playoffs.''

That, of course, is the problem.

The Tigers are fighting for their lives just to get there, sitting 1 ½ games behind the Kansas City Royals entering the night.

"We can't think about the postseason. That's not even in the discussion at this point,'' Dombrowski tells USA TODAY Sports. "We've got to get there. This has not been an easy road for us. We just can't show flashes. We've got to buckle down. We've got to win.

"It's been a long time since we've had a hot streak.''

Would you believe three months?

The Tigers, who jumped out to a seven-game lead in the American League Central on May 18, have spent the last three months muddling along with a 43-47 record.

"We never anticipated it would be easy,'' Dombrowski says. "We had some injuries, like a lot of clubs. We had guys who haven't had as good a season as in the past. And we've been inconsistent offensively.''

On Aug. 3, the Tigers had a five-game lead over the Royals, and their addition of lefty ace David Price figured to expedite their AL Central coronation.

Now? The Royals have jumped them, and now they're a half-game behind the Seattle Mariners for the final wild-card spot, with the Yankees lurking two games behind them entering Tuesday.

It leaves everyone asking the same thing: How in the world are the injury-riddled Yankees so close to the Tigers with less than five weeks to play?

"Sometimes you get complacent at the top,'' Tigers right fielder Torii Hunter says. "You get comfortable, and then you don't have that drive and that motivation. It can happen. Not just in baseball, but in life, and the next thing you know you get slapped in the face.

"When you're down a little bit like we are, you try to climb out of that little hole you dug, and you try to survive. I still have faith good things are going to happen.''

Still, just battling to catch the Royals is hardly what the Tigers had in mind, not with a franchise-record payroll of $171.5 million - third-richest in baseball behind only the Los Angeles Dodgers and Yankees.

The Tigers built their team for the World Series, and after winning three consecutive AL Central titles, believe that anything short of a championship will be considered a failure.

"We expect that out of ourselves,'' Tigers catcher Alex Avila says. "Winning the World Series, that's the ultimate goal. I'm not happy just getting into the playoffs. We've gone to the playoffs.

"We want to win the World Series, so obviously when you don't achieve that, it's not a successful season.''

They Tigers certainly are doing everything in their power to change that fate, desperately trying to win for beloved owner Mike Ilitch, 85. It's the same burning desire the Yankees had when owner George Steinbrenner was struggling with his health.

You win now, and worry about the consequences later.

Dombrowski wasn't stressing about the future when he acquired Price at the trade deadline. It came at a steep cost, and center fielder Austin Jackson's departure was a huge blow to the clubhouse morale, but Price was considered essential for a World Series berth.

They didn't stop. They grabbed an insurance policy for beleaguered closer Joe Nathan by trading for Joakim Soria of the Texas Rangers. They are even seeking more bullpen help by claiming Houston Astros veteran reliever Chad Qualls on waivers in hopes of landing him.

Still, just when it looked like everything was set except for the World Series parade route, starter Anibal Sanchez went down Aug. 9 with a strained right pectoral muscle. The Tigers hoped he could return Saturday, but he disclosed Tuesday he may not be coming back again this season, ending his bullpen sessions when he felt a stabbing pain.

Soria is also out with a strained left abdominal muscle and is not expected back for several more weeks.

"It's all about faith now,'' Hunter says. Don't worry about the now. That stresses you out. Just worry about the end.

"Pressure can be great. If enough pressure is applied to coal, that makes diamonds, right?''

It might be different if Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander resembled the same players the Tigers signed to $428 million in extensions the past year. Cabrera, winner of the past two AL MVP awards, has been hobbled by nagging injuries and hit just three home runs since July 1.

Verlander's 98-mph fastball has gone AWOL, and he's just 11-11 with a 4.82 ERA.

Yet, even if the big boys aren't living up to expectations, the Tigers need look no further than the Yankees for inspiration. They're somehow staying alive in the playoff race despite their dizzying array of injuries. The Yankees have been without 80% of their starting rotation most of the season, with only Hiroki Kuroda, 39, staying off the DL.

When Derek Jeter was asked before the game if he knew how many teammates he's had during his 20-year Yankee career, he deadpanned: "I can't even count the guys I played with this year.''

The number is 52, including a club-record 31 pitchers, but who's counting?

Yet, by mixing, matching, scouring the waiver wire, and trading, the Yankees have remained relevant. They picked up three games in the last four days on the Baltimore Orioles, with eight remaining games against them to wipe out a six-game deficit.

"There's no time for optimism,'' Cashman says. "And I'm not a dreamer. I'm more of a realist.

"This is the time of getting things done. We have to win. And we have to win every day.''

After all, it's the Yankee way.

"I know they have some luxuries that people don't have,'' Dombrowski says, "but Brian Cashman and (manager) Joe Girardi do such a tremendous job, they always find a way. Even when it doesn't look like they're going to be there, they find a way to get it done.

"We've got to do the same thing.''

GALLERY: Derek Jeter's farewell tour

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