All in the Metro Detroit area long for a season close to the one that the 2006 Tigers had. However, the road to match that glorious year is full of minefields.
As the season has progressed, no matter the negative banter of many, the Tigers are still in first place in the American League Central Division.
I know at times it looks like they have gotten there with smoke and mirrors, and maybe they have. Yet, here we are with less than 50 games remaining in the season and the Tigers are still on top of the heap.
I am like many Tigers faithful who are somewhat concerned that two-thirds of the season has been passed and the hitting has not risen to the level of the pitching.
Manager Jim Leyland has cajoled, prodded, elbowed, jabbed, stimulated and egged on this unique bunch of Detroit Tigers.
With a little more than seven weeks left in the season, an, Chicago and
Minnesota hot on the Tigers heels, the end to this interesting and strange Tigers season is in the hands of soothsayers.
Well, not entirely. The truth of the matter is the Tigers will live or die on the strength of its pitching.
With the Tigers hitters producing game after game of 3-2 and 2-1 losses, it has become very clear that the pitching arms will be the means or recipe that will propel them back into the playoffs.
Yes, I know the journey to baseball’s Promised Land will be full of nail-biting and hands-over-theeyes moments, but I believe that starting pitchers Justin Verlander, Edwin Jackson, newly acquired Jarrod Washburn, and whoever else Leyland inserts into the rotation (Armando Galarraga and Rick Porcello) will be just enough to carry the Tigers to a Division title.
When one looks at starting pitchers Dontrelle Willis and Jeremy Bonderman’s inability to recapture the form that saw them become two of the more promising pitchers in baseball, it is even more interesting that Leyland and general manager Dave Dombrowski has managed to recreate a viable starting pitching staff.
It also helps that the Tigers American League Central Division foes are also struggling with their flaws. However, in the end it will be the Tigers’ pitching that will push them to the finish line ahead of its foes and antagonists.
I’ve listened to all the retorts that, quite frankly, have merit about the incredible number of 3-2 and 2-1 losses the Tigers have endured.
In particular, Jackson’s 8-5 record with one of the league’s best ERA’s is criminal. He has lost too many games where he has given up three or less runs.
Conversely, that is one of the reasons I expect the Tigers to capture and hold onto the division title.
Regardless of the ever-present, persistent and recurring lack of run support, the Bengals are still the team to beat.
One area that has proved to be cause for concern is the relief pitching. The bullpen now includes rookies like Ryan Perry, Casey Fien and Fu-Te Ni and excluded is Joel Zumaya for the remainder of the season.
Most baseball aficionados routinely exclaim that pitching in the long run taps out hitting. That may be true, but one has to score some runs to augment pitching.
I expect, and the Tigers need, a rejuvenated Carlos Guillen and Magglio Ordonez, a more consistent Marcus Thames and a healthy Brandon Inge. The Tigers’ successful last-third of the season will also hinge on a recharged Curtis Granderson and Placido Polanco.
And then there is the Leyland carousel of hitters like Ryan Raburn, Clete Thomas and now catcher Gerald Laird and just-called-up rookie Alex Avila.
None have the Big League experience one would want from a team in the middle of a close pennant race.
Yet, no matter, the just up from the minors inexperienced players, the smoke and mirrors coaching from Leyland and the less than stellar batting averages from some of the team’s veterans, the Tigers are still in first place.
I’m sure they will not win 90 or more games, but maybe they are the 2006 St. Louis Cardinals.
If the Tigers indeed hold on and make the playoffs, a pitching triumvirate of Jackson, Washburn and Verlander could be just enough to outlast opponents in a playoff series.
Of course, the rejuvenation of the Tigers hitters will in the long run decide the team’s fate.
Leland Stein can be reached at email@example.com.