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A dream season it wasn't, but the Tigers were good enough when it counted to win a second Central Division title
Should you have slept through the past nine months, you might wonder what all the excitement is about.
In January, the Tigers were favorites to win a second-consecutive American League Central crown. They'd just added Prince Fielder to an already-potent lineup, and fans and experts alike were salivating for what was to come. There were issues to consider; there always are. Superstar batter Miguel Cabrera had to move across the diamond, to a position he hadn't fielded well before. Clubhouse leader and slugger Victor Martinez was lost for the season due to an injury to his knee that happened during a workout session. Still, minor quibbles. The coronation was set. Detroit would be back-to-back champs in the Central.
Should you have slept through the past six months, you might wonder what all the excitement is about.
You'd watched spring training. You'd read all the articles. Every expert at ESPN.com -- and they seemed to have dozens -- picked Detroit to win. The Tigers opened the season with four consecutive wins, including a 10-0 clubbing of the Red Sox followed by a come-from-behind extra-innings walkoff. A four-game win streak in the middle of the month put them at six-games-over-.500, and the rout was on. Talk of leading the division from Game 1 to Game 162 may have been premature, but didn't feel unrealistic. The division was never in doubt.
Man, you slept through a lot.
It would have been hard to believe at the time, yet for months you had to wonder: were the Tigers really going to blow this? Was this going to be one of the worst disappointments in Detroit's history -- not the Tigers history, but Detroit's history? They struggled mightily, falling to a tie, then a game out, then two, then three and four and five. June 12, it was all but over. Six games out of first. Sure, a team has plenty of time to make up that kind of deficit. But you have to have a peg to hang your faith on. What, exactly, was Detroit's peg?
Justin Verlander reigned as the AL MVP, the AL Cy Young, but he was just one starter. Miguel Cabrera could hit -- boy could he ever hit -- but he was just one man in a lineup of nine, one position player on a roster of 13. At times it felt like trying to use a comb with most of the tines missing. Sure, it would get the job done -- but never as neatly or as easily as you hoped.
Just as quickly as hopes ended for many, they began anew. With five wins in their next six games, it was a race again. Drama.
The Tigers' did not have an aesthetic season. The fielding did not please the eyes, nor did it please the defensive metrics, nor did it benefit the groundball pitchers in Detroit. Night after night, the Tigers frustrated. Manager Jim Leyland's lineups were not written out to address the concerns of the fans. Hitters swung at pitches they shouldn't. Runners were sent to bumble their way around the bases, asked to shift into a gear they did not own to beat out a throw that they could not beat.
Things were not easy. They were, at times, downright awful. This wasn't the way things were supposed to go.
Should you have slept through the past two weeks, you probably can't believe your eyes.
Sept. 17, the Tigers lost a makeup game in Chicago to fall three games behind the White Sox. The writing was on the wall. There would be no Champagne celebration, no new T-shirts and hats to be purchased, no joy in Detroit, only ridicule and firings. The White Sox were a bit better, and the Tigers were a colossal let down. It would be a long time before fans let themselves get fooled by that hype again.
Then it happened like April and May in reverse. Three games behind, two games behind, one game behind, tie, a game ahead, two games ahead, three games ahead. A sweep of the Royals to end the regular-season at Comerica Park. Wins in two of three games in Minnesota, then another win in Kansas City. Detroit went 7-3 during a 10-game stretch. The White Sox went 3-7 during that same stretch. It all happened so quickly, you could barely believe it was real.
After the celebrating of April, the teeth grinding of May and June, the infatuation of July and August, then the disillusionment of September, the Tigers won the Central Division title anyway.
Their season wasn't a dream season, but it was good enough to earn back-to-back division titles for the first time in 77 years. In the end, that's what history will record.
Bring on the postseason.