The Detroit Tigers down 2-1 to the Oakland Athletics, I decided I would try to get the feel of the fan base by spending a couple of hours tuned into to their flagship station, 97.1 the Ticket - WXYT-FM.
From listening to the callers, the Tigers are DOOMED. No, actually they are DOOOOOOOOOOOMED. Time to press the button!
This team is apparently lacking in so many areas, it's amazing they haven't been swept! But the biggest culprits, as always, are the intangibles which you can't measure.
They don't want it enough. They don't care enough. Leadership is lacking. So let's BLOW EVERYTHING UP.
Let's check out the tropes.
1. The Tigers aren't playing with enough emotion, heart and hunger.
This is my biggest pet peeve when it comes to sports fans. The lacking in emotion/heart/hunger argument is utter BS.
I would LOVE someone to walk up to Prince Fielder and say, "You just don't have enough heart to win." Who wants tell Justin Verlander to his face, "You lost your hunger to win when you signed that huge contract!" How about letting Torii Hunter know he's just not showing enough angst when talking about losing Game 3?
You don't get to the top of any profession, let alone stay there, without a driving hunger to be the best. These players have fought overwhelming odds to make it to the big leagues and they want to stay there. If you really believe Verlander wasn't pitching well for parts of 2013 because his new contract made him lazy, you are delusional. This team has won three straight division titles, one of the hardest things to do in sports. To say they don't care is the biggest insult you can give.
As for emotion? All we ever see of the Tigers are fleeting close-ups in the dugout. Say a player is sitting there stone-faced, or worse, happens to smiling. You'll hear parts of the fan base scream, "SEE! He doesn't care!" What a crock.
What we didn't see is 99% of what goes down in the dugout and 100% of what happens in the clubhouse. Remember the organized cheer during the post-game clubhouse celebration after the division clincher? THERE'S your emotion. It's there. It's always there. We just rarely get to see it unless it happens between the lines.
2. The Tigers have no leadership!
See the "What we didn't see is 99% of what goes down in the dugout and 100% of what happens in the clubhouse" comment above. There's more to leading than yelling and screaming with fire and brimstone filled speeches. That might work ... once.
The Tigers have been through the wringer over the years, highs of making the World Series, lows of getting swept out of the World Series. This a talented, veteran team which has been through the baseball wars, and for the most part, have handed the pressure pretty damn well. For example, this season alone the Tigers have overcome injuries, suspensions, personal problems and ridiculous winning streaks by the Royals and Indians to make the playoffs for a third straight season. Keep in mind, the last time the Tigers made three straight post seasons, Ty Cobb was 22 years old.
I would tend to think the leadership on this team is just fine, from Leyland on down.
3. The Tigers have lost two straight. The season is on the line. Let's blow everything up!
Is there anything wrong with tweaking the lineup? No, and Jim Leyland has done it in this series. He moved Alex Avila up in the order for Game 1 and 2.. Jhonny Peralta got the start in the left field in Game 3. But the cries to play Peralta at third and bench Miguel Cabrera, take Austin Jackson out of the lead off spot, send Fielder to parts unknown of the batting order (to name just a few)?
When the lineup was released for Game 3, even the hosts were saying they didn't like the idea not making major changes.
The Tigers should just do that worked so well for the Yankees in last season's ALCS, right? Make major lineup changes. Wait, what? If you remember, Joe Girardi benched Alex Rodriguez and Curtis Granderson when the Yankees were down 3-1 to the Tigers. The result? They got blown out, 8-1.
At this point, the Tigers are who they are. You have to run with what brought you. Will there be changes? As the game proceeds, quite possibly. But a radical overhaul, benching players with long and successful track records because they haven't hit in three games? That's cutting off your nose to spite your face.
Move Martinez behind the plate, even though Avila has had a great second half and is the Tigers' best defensive catcher.
Let's shuffle the batting order to kingdom come, just because!
In the next few hours, the Tigers need to show far more emotion, develop a hunger to win, amp up their desire, stop being lazy, blow everything up and more than anything else, get some heart!
Problems solved! The A's (a damn good team whom we tend to give short shrift, by the way) will never know what hit 'em!
If the Tigers are going to win the next two games, the recipe is a simple one. Leyland has said it time and time again. The Tigers have to hit the ball in the gaps, hit it over the fence and out pitch the other team. No small ball. No bunting. No stealing bases. Just hit the ball hard, and let the starting pitchers do their thing.
The Tigers do that, they'll be fine. They don't, and we start looking toward next season. Everything else is just so much overwrought noise.