It seems like an eternity ago the Detroit Tigers signed Prince Fielder and were instant World Series contenders, but now, just one win away from clinching their second straight Central Division crown, the Tigers are poised to do what no one thought they could weeks ago.
Flawed perfection, it is an oxymoron, a phrase no one should ever used, but there is really no better way to describe this season’s Tigers squad. WIth defensive problems, offensive ineptness and some pitching woes no one expected, Detroit fell out of first place early in the season and didn’t really regain control of the lead until last week. After Prince Fielder’s two-run shot, no one thought was going out until it did, yesterday, the Tigers now look like the perfect team to win the Central Division and contend in a muddled American League.
It seems weird to discuss them as a “perfect team” since many gave up on them once football season started. Yet, when you think about what they are about to accomplish, clinching a playoff spot for the second straight year for the first time since the 1930s, it seems as if there could be no better team to do it. They are by no means the best team in baseball, but they were the best team in the Central when they needed to be.
Manager Jim Leyland may be infuriating, Jhonny Peralta’s lack of range may be unacceptable and Rick Porcello’s inability to pitch to his ability is, well lets be honest, just sad. Yet, here they are, just one game away from going to the postseason where anything can happen. Perhaps though, overcoming what they have this season, could be enough to keep them mentally strong for a playoff run.
Anything can happen in the postseason. Balls carry to the outfield differently in the cold, unknown players become huge stars—paging David Fresse— and sometimes great pitchers become greater. Detroit has done the bare minimum, they got in. In Detroit, a city that has thrived on the Red Wings’ success, it never seems like “just getting in” is enough. Baseball is a different type of sport though, where 162 games can be an indication of exactly nothing, so sometimes all you need to do is just get in.
Look at last year for instance, Don Kelly, yes that Don Kelly, ace right-handed pitcher Don Kelly, the Don Kelly everyone hates, that Don Kelly, practically won the clinching game for the Tigers in the American League Divisional Series. He homered in the first inning off of Ivan Nova to set the tone of the game, before Delmon Young put Detroit in the driver seat with a homer of his own in the next at-bat. Without Kelly’s shot, who knows if the Tigers grab the momentum and gain confidence.
Don Kelly was a major player in the postseason last year, let that sit for a minute. If he can play a huge roll, baseball should watch out for Quintin Berry, if the Tigers make it.
Looking at it from the perspective that baseball is the most unpredictable postseason, suddenly the Tigers’ outlook does not look so bleak. They still have arguably the best pitcher in baseball with Justin Verlander, a Triple-Crown candidate in Miguel Cabrera, perhaps one of the best left-handed power bats in the American League in Fielder, oh, and a couple of guys named Doug Fister, Anibal Sanchez and Max Scherzer.
Its weird to continue to come back to the phrase, but think about this to go along with the fact they may barely make it. The Tigers are tied for baseball’s best home record, sitting at 50-31. This year’s ALDS features a new 2-3 format, where the higher seed has to go on the road for the first two games of the series. If there is another scenario that favors the Tigers more, I would like someone to present it to me.
Many, including myself, may have predicted they would not make the playoffs in June. They could not field to save their lives, could not seem to hit their way out of a paper bag and were just baffled by mediocre starters. Everyone, again including myself, are now eating crow as the team can clinch tonight.
It may be unthinkable that they are here, but this flawed squad seems to be putting themselves in perfect position to make some noise in October.