|AP Photo: Cabrera and Verlander|
It’s September 10th and the boys of the Old English D are 20 games over .500.
The Tigers are 9.5 games up on the dastardly bastardly White Sox, 10 up on the Indians, and 23 games up on the Twins – the team that in past years (2006 and 2009) made the Tigers look foolish by sliding by on the last pitch of those seasons to swipe the AL Central Division Title.
The magic number this morning is 10. There are 18 games left to play. The Tigers have won their last 7.
I think now we can all take a deep breath and realize the Tigers will get to the post season.
Those last seven games have been against Chicago, Cleveland, and Minnesota. They have been beating up on weak pitching. Justin Verlander’s Cy Young bid has been secondary talk to the debate over whether a pitcher can be the AL MVP.
The additions since the All Star to the Tiger’s roster have been key. Wilson Betimit at third, Delmon Young and Doug Fister have each contributed significantly to help stretch the lead by adding power at the plate and solid pitching into a weak rotation.
But in the words of Yogi Berra – it ain’t over ‘till it’s over.
Yeah, I know. That’s not a great attitude. But I still have that horrific taste of 2009’s game 163 in my mouth – the last game ever played in the dome from hell in Minnesota – next to the Twin Cities airport – the one that brought my last feelings of Tiger’s jubilation crashing to the ground like the meteor that slammed into the Earth millions of years ago and ended the reign of the dinosaurs.
But it doesn’t smell like that this year. 2011 smells much sweeter, more so than 2006 when the Tiger’s lucked out by having the AL wildcard slot to fall back into after being swept by Kansas City in the final three games to watch Minnesota tip-toe past them to back into the AL Central Division title.
It smells a lot better this year. The air is sweetened by power appearing up and down the line up scoring 73 runs in their last 8 games – averaging a hair more than nine runs a game, and outscoring their opponents by an average of more than six runs a game.
Yes, it’s true this streak has taken place against AL Central rivals – the Tigers haven’t played outside their division since their last game in Tampa Bay August 25th, but that’s what they needed to do to pull away from Chicago and Cleveland – beat the snot out of them.
And they have.
So now the talk turns instead to looking forward to the post season, and where will they finish in the bigger picture of the four post season contenders. The wildcard will be in the East, that’s a lock, so you know both the Yankees and the Red Sox will be in but the Yankees are not a lock with only a 2.5 game lead, and many conceding the Red Sox are actually the better team of the two. In the West, Texas and Los Angeles are also battling with the Rangers up by 2.5 – but the loser of this race can only sit and watch.
If the playoffs were to start today, the Tigers who are a single loss better than Texas – would be playing wildcard entry Boston in the ALDS – not the best match up for the Tigers. But the Tigers would have the opportunity to throw Verlander at them twice and Fister once in a short five game series – so they do have a fighting chance.
The post season is the big unknown. To me it’s a really big black hole where anything could happen once the Tigers get there. Notice I said when?
Listening to the sports radio this morning, the eminent Pat Caputo hosting his Saturday morning show – one caller in particular spoke vehemently that Tiger fans should not be satisfied unless they win the World Series. The good sport side of my brain - the dominant side I’m afraid – thinks that’s the wrong attitude. But deep in my heart – and in that tiny suppressed side of my psyche – agrees that this year just getting to the playoffs is not good enough.
Not after 2006 when the Tigers folded in the World Series against a much inferior Cardinals team, folding and freezing up offensively – and defensively with pitcher fielding errors in damned near every game – choking like they did against Kansas City in the final three games of the regular season .
No, the playoffs are not good enough.
This newly expanded explosive offense needs to be fully loaded and ready to go off like crazed madmen satisfied with nothing less than World Series rings at the end of October. No standing at the plate with men in scoring position watching strike three go by.
No Brandon Inge on this post season roster. As you can tell by my last post some two months ago now, I thought we put that enigma to rest. Instead we need to see a lineup of hot Cabrera’s, Martinez’s, Young’s, Avila’s and even Santiago’s and Guillen’s hit line shots with power all over and out of the park. We need Verlander’s and Fister’s and Scherzer’s nailing the corners with 95-100 mph stuff and wicked-ass breaking stuff leaving Bo-Sox batters standing at the plate whimpering like little girls not invited to the Halloween dance at the local elementary school.
Is that too much to ask?
Baseball – it has been said – is a game of losing. You lose more than you win. If you get on base just once in three times at bat, your succeeding even though you failing two thirds of the time.
We’ve seen the Tigers lose before. They used to be pretty damn good at it.
Should these Detroiter boys of summer not continue deep into fall and win this whole thing, Tiger fans will feel heartbreak. Tiger fans will see 2011 as another missed opportunity. Tiger fans will find it even harder to get emotionally steady to go through it all over again in 2012.
Mr. Illitch isn’t getting any younger. His recent spending will attest to it.
Mr. Leyland isn’t getting any more cleverer. His recent decision making will attest to it.
Mr. Dombrowski won’t get any more insightful, his recent off season acquisitions will attest to it.
2011 has to be the year. Anything less won’t be enough.
The cards are all on that table. And the Tiger’s Leyland holds a pretty decent hand. But baseball, like poker, has eight strong contenders sitting at the same table, betting and bluffing and pulling out straights and royal flushes and full hoses and royal straights. This is the big boy’s table.
The way I see it, the rest of this season depends as much on Leyland’s ability to play his cards right, lining up his starting rotation and picking the right hot hitter in the two hole in the lineup, and managing his bullpen.
I can tell you for sure that Leyland will be second guessed by Tiger fans at every move he makes.
I can’t wait.But I’m not wearing my heart on my sleeve this year. It hurts too much.