In a sport epitomized by ups and downs, the Detroit Tigers’ 2014 regular season was one of the most up and down of them all. There was the outstanding 27-12 start, the good 27-18 finish… and the 36-42, 4th place-esque middle. The lineup finished 2nd in runs scored and 2nd in OPS, yet for a couple of stretches couldn’t seem to hit if the ball was placed on a tee. The starting pitching and bullpen were more consistent – good starting pitching, awful bullpen – but those were fairly up and down too. It was a season that, more than any other I can remember, was an odd combination of thrilling, exhilirating, terrifying, and flat out infuriating to watch. Sunday’s game that clinched the division was a prime example of this but overall, it was a sensational performance by David Price, complete with an unexpected contribution from the bullpen and the heroics of Ian Kinsler.
So, here we are on the eve of the ALDS, and the boys have done it yet again. I still vividly remember watching them clinch the AL Central in 2011 at Oakland, after going on a ridiculous run and just burying the rest of the division over the course of 4 weeks from mid-August through mid-September. I’ll never forget staying up till 3 AM, the night before my brother’s wedding, watching interview after interview from the post-game celebration and just soaking it all in. After all, it had been 24 years since their last division title, and it could be 24 years until the next one.
Now, they’ve wrapped up their fourth straight AL Central title, and in baseball, winning the division is an accomplishment that deserves the type of celebration that happened at Comerica Park Sunday. The MLB season is so long and so many things can go wrong that, no matter how maddening it is to watch a team at times, they have to do a lot of things right to win a division. And as a fan, it just never gets old to watch these celebrations.
The Tigers still need to claim the ultimate prize – a World Series title – but four straight playoff appearances is an accomplishment in itself. I grew up watching the hopelessness of the Tigers in the final years at Tiger Stadium and the first few at Comerica Park, and still sometimes can’t make sense of the idea that the Tigers are good. It just wasn’t part of the picture in those days, when they were always out of it by the All Star Break.
Now, on to Baltimore, where the ALDS starts Thursday evening. I have no idea what to expect because of the ups and downs this year. I wouldn’t be shocked if they got swept by Baltimore and I wouldn’t be surprised if they went on to win the World Series. They could average 1 run a game or 7, Justin Verlander could pitch a shutout in his Game 2 outing or give up 6 runs in the 1st, Joe Nathan could completely implode like he has so many times this season or look like he did before he got to Detroit, and none of it would be surprising at this point.
But, I love the way they came together when, in mid-August, they just looked done. Their turnaround actually started with a game that seemed impossible to win, when Buck Farmer, who had only made one start above A-ball, was called up to start vs. Pittsburgh on August 13 due to injuries to other starters. I remember thinking at the time, this win seemed like it could be really big, and it was. From there, the road wasn’t smooth, but they got it done at the last minute and I think any Tigers fan would agree, it was worth the wait, because the alternative would have been so much worse. It would have been hard to swallow if, after all the promise of this season, they had lost the division to the Royals. Somehow, not wrapping it up until the very end makes it even sweeter. It makes the frustration of those mid-season cold streaks and the ugly late-season losses (think of the middle 2 games of the final series against the Twins) worth it.
In a future post, probably when the season ends – whether that’s this coming Sunday or October 29, the date for which Game 7 of the World Series is scheduled – I’ll talk about my MVP for 2014, my unsung heroes, and offseason moves I’d like to see. But for now, let’s all get ready for more October baseball in the D!