The 2013 Tigers regular season was a season to remember, a season to celebrate, a season in which, above all, to drink gallons of beer and eat our body weight in hot dogs. There were ups, there were downs, there were difficult losses, and there were thrilling walk-off wins. We got to watch Miguel Cabrera give legitimate chase after another Triple Crown, we got to see Prince Fielder hit a baseball off a freaking stadium catwalk, we learned all about Brayan Pena's NERTS, we got to watch a horrifying (but ultimately harmless) sequel to "Jose Valverde: Dude, Where's My [Bleeping] Closer?", we got to see Joaquin Benoit come of age, and we got to see Justin Verlander ... well ... we're still waiting to see how that story unfolds.
So before we settle in for another thrilling postseason adventure, let's belly up to the Bar of Reminiscence, order a few shots of 100 Proof Flashback, lick the Salt of Nostalgia from our hands, bite into the Lemon Wedge of Excited Anticipation, and recall some of the highlights of the 2013 regular season, which began in ...
... where, on Opening Day, the Tigers beat the Twins on five shutout innings from Justin Verlander and a save from Phil Coke. This later proved to be the high point of both their seasons. The Tigers opened 2013 with a 1.000 win percentage, but finished the day tied for first place, inciting Facebook commenters to demand that Jim Leyland be fired on the basis that the division should have been clinched by now.
Otavio Dotel called in sick for work, and was never heard from again.
Two weeks later, the Tigers went on a four-game winning streak, with the final game ending in the 14th inning in Seattle on a dramatic play at the plate. Justin Smoak, attempting to score the tying run from first, was cut down at home in a collision with Brayan Pena that left Pena's nipples in a permanently erect state. The winning streak was promptly followed by a four-game losing streak, inciting Facebook commenters to demand that Jim Leyland be fired on the basis that World Series-winning teams don't lose, ever.
In a particularly rough outing against the Angels, Rick Porcello gave up about a zillion tillion runs to an estimated 7,000 Angels batters (some of them who came out of retirement specifically to get in on the action), before mercifully being allowed to return to the dugout and take a breather after having pitched an entire two-thirds of an inning. The offense was so shaken that they forgot how to score runs, and the team, under the "neener-neener" section of the unwritten rules of baseball, was forced to play the rest of the season's games against the Angels pantless.
The team closed out the month in strong fashion, going on a five-game winning streak that included a series sweep against the Atlanta Braves, who never had any fun playing baseball ever again. In the first game of the series, Anibal Sanchez set a new franchise record by striking out 17 batters in a single game, a feat last accomplished by Mickey Lolich in the same year that "Crimson and Clover" was a hit single. Ironically, later that night Sanchez went to a local bowling alley and hit nothing but gutter.
In bullpen news, the Tigers welcomed the formerly exiled Jose Valverde back to the closer's role, on the theory that no one who imploded so hard just a few months ago could possibly do it again. The inventor of the "fool me once" adage immediately set up a new bank account to collect all of the inevitable royalty checks.
And speaking of inevitable implosions, in ...
... the Tigers began the month a half-game ahead in first place, and took on the Houston Astros for a four game series. The Astros foolishly turned down the Tigers' offer of amnesty in exchange for a series forfeit, preferring instead to give up 37 total runs during the four games, one of which nearly ended in a no-hitter for Justin Verlander. This later proved to be the high point of his season.
Miguel Cabrera finished the month with a .372 batting average and an OPS of 1.116, having hit 16 home runs and knocked in 61 RBI's, leading many to speculate that he might just win a second consecutive Triple Crown, and leading several others to think they should probably hurry the hell up and buy the movie rights to his life story already. Cabrera hit three mammoth home runs in a single game against Texas on May 19, but the Tigers lost the game anyway when a bullpen pitcher named Jose Ortega blew a 7-5 lead in the 6th inning by giving up four runs. This incited Facebook commenters to rise up as one and universally issue the statement, "Who the hell is Jose Ortega?"
Meanwhile, Jose Valverde was turned down as a sponsor for Rolaids when he incorrectly answered the question "How do you spell relief?" with the response "H-O-M-E R-U-N-S." His May statistics featured four saves, two blown saves, and an ERA of 4.66. Jim Leyland addressed the glaring bullpen issues in a thorough statement given during a post-game interview, and to this day translators are working feverishly to figure out what the hell he said.
After playing the first nine games of the month, Austin Jackson decided he could no longer cope with a nagging hamstring injury by rubbing dirt on it, and elected to do a stint on the 15-day disabled list. Unfortunately, during this period he became addicted to stints, and missed an additional 15 games in the Dotel Rehab Clinic for athletes hooked on injuries.
And while we're on the subject of hooks, in ...
... the Valverde Experiment came to an end in the middle of the month, when near the end of an already ugly 9-3 game against Baltimore, the Big Potato was brought in for mop-up duties. He proceeded to give up two singles, a double, and a massive two-run home run, allowing four runs in the span of ten pitches - and this was before he'd even finished spitting out his water at the bullpen gate. Papa Grande was sent to Toledo approximately 18 seconds later, where at least he could be of use buying pizzas for the Mud Hen gang. Jim Leyland clarified his position on the bullpen problems by emitting a string of expletives so colorful that Disney immediately turned the speech into an animated feature film called "The Princess and the [Bleeping] Manager Who Didn't [Bleeping] Know Who to [Bleeping] Close With." He later named Joaquin Benoit as the official/unofficial closer, to which the local media and fanbase unanimously responded, and I quote, "duh." (A German word meaning "it's about [bleeping] time.")
The offense had an off month (by which I mean they only scored 123 runs instead of the 148 runs they had scored the previous month), but continued to lead the league in Miguel Cabrera appearances. In a game on June 1, also against Baltimore, Victor Martinez, Jhonny Peralta, and Alex Avila hit back-to-back-to-back home runs. Five batters later, Miguel Cabrera hit a grand slam, thus forcing the Orioles to wear their Astros dunce caps for the rest of the game.
When the All Star votes began pouring in, Cabrera took an immediate and healthy lead over all other player candidates, a fact that is worth bragging about until you realize that the top voted candidate for shortstop was Derek Jeter, who had not technically played in any games so far, and who -- as far as anyone really knew -- may have actually died in the off-season. This is not to suggest that the fans who vote are complete morons who barely pay attention to the games, but it was rumored that over 10,000 votes were cast for a write-in candidate identified only as "That one guy who hit all those home runs for the Giants in the early 2000's."
Speaking of steroids and PED's, the rumblings heard earlier in February about a Miami clinic called Biogenesis (Motto: "No, seriously, that's our name") were now developing into more bloggable rumblings, as MLB began indicating that it would definitely, maybe, probably soon but not yet, be issuing suspensions for a large number of players whose names had been linked to the clinic.
The most damning evidence appeared to be a notebook (or a day planner, or possibly just a bar napkin) turned over to MLB by Biogenesis owner Tony Bosch, containing the names of players who had received "treatments" (or possibly "brochures") from the clinic. Many people were unconcerned, noting that "Tony Bosch" was a fictional character from "The Godfather" (or maybe "The Sopranos"), but Tigers fans became a little more concerned when it was revealed that Jhonny Peralta's name was on one or more of the Biogenesis lists. Peralta was not initially available for comment when the story broke, because he was shut up in his stable for the night and eating oats from his feed bag, but he eventually released a strongly-worded denial that he had ever taken PED's in the last 15 minutes.
The story continued to gain traction in June as MLB began interviewing individual players connected with Biogenesis, and Peralta did little to help his case when, in the 9th inning of a game against the Red Sox on June 20, he hit a walk-off home run using a tree trunk, pausing while rounding the bases long enough to bench press a Lincoln Continental.
But even these distractions could not steal the spotlight away from the Lincoln Continental of the pitching staff, Max Scherzer, who began the month of ...
... with a perfect 12-0 record, causing some sports writers to wonder aloud if he had possibly locked down the Cy Young Award before the first half of the season had even ended. Facebook commenters argued that Scherzer would have already had the award if not for Leyland, and demanded that he be fired and replaced with a plastic bag full of damp noodles. Scherzer was chosen as the starting pitcher for the American League in the All Star Game, despite the fact that Brayan Pena launched an Erect Nipples Campaign to get Joaquin Benoit voted into the bullpen.
On July 3, in a game against the Blue Jays, disaster struck twice. Colby Rasmus (hereafter "Public Enemy No. 1"), in an attempt to break up a double-play, crashed into Omar Infante at second base and sent him off the field limping. Both fans and media members debated whether the play was "dirty" or "just part of baseball," but everyone agreed that it was a little strange that Rasmus was driving a station wagon at the time of the incident. Infante's X-rays came back negative, but he still went on the disabled list and didn't return for 33 more games, fueling speculation that MLB trainers' X-ray machines are, in fact, Polaroid cameras from the 1950's.
Meanwhile, after having played several consecutive games at both Tropicana Field and Rogers "Centre" (a Canadian word meaning "center"), Miguel Cabrera developed an allergic reaction to AstroTurf that caused his hip flexor to go, quote, "pwaannng!" He was removed early from two of the games in Toronto, and sat out the final game completely, but somehow still managed to hit two home runs from the dugout (unfortunately, the Orioles' Chris Davis was routinely hitting home runs during his morning shower, thus threatening Cabrera's bid for a second Triple Crown). Pitchers all across the major league made a mental note, and vowed to only throw Cabrera balls made of AstroTurf from then on.
The Tigers sent six players to the All Star Game, including Jhonny Peralta, who still maintained his innocence in the PED/Biogenesis scandal, despite the fact that his All Star jersey featured prominent product placement for HGH. The American League won the contest 3-0, shutting out the National League on the strength of superstar starters like Scherzer and Chris Sale, and high-octane relievers like Mariano Rivera and Joe Nathan. This incited Facebook commenters to demand that Leyland be fired immediately for failing to bring Joaquin Benoit in to close the game, even though he was not technically even in New York at the time.
Justin Verlander continued to struggle to find consistency in July, pitching shut-out baseball in one outing, only to give up five or more runs in the next outing, sometimes to teams like the White Sox, who consistently placed last in the American League in number of runs scored per game, and who normally posed about as much of an offensive threat as a young girls' softball team. Bloggers and beat writers alike spilled gallons of ink addressing the subject, saying, "Hey! Who left the caps off these bottles of ink? Also, why do we even have bottles of ink?" They then cleaned up the mess and proceeded to write dozens of online articles about Justin Verlander, providing the fanbase with endless theories, proposed solutions, and clickable ads for motor oil.
Near the end of the month, Bud Selig and MLB officials indicated that they would probably soon, maybe in a little while, definitely by 2014, be issuing suspensions for the players named in the Biogenesis/PED case and by-God crack down on all usage of performance-enhancing drugs, just as soon as Bud Selig woke up from his most recent Viagra-induced coma.
The Tigers ended the month in the midst of a five game winning streak that would continue into ...
... where the streak would blossom into a full 12-game bouquet of consecutive wins, tying their 2011 record, surpassing their 1984 and 1968 record, and falling just two games shy of the all-time franchise record set in 1934. Facebook commenters, enraged that the team had failed to break the franchise record, demanded that Jim Leyland be replaced by a circus monkey and a janitor named Steve.
Bud Selig and the MLB police finally lowered the boom, issuing 50-game suspensions to several players, including Jhonny Peralta, who at the time was busy competing in a local bear-wrestling event (as one of the bears). He accepted his suspension and issued a statement, admitting that he had made a "mistake" during Spring Training in 2012. This admission caused everyone familiar with Peralta's 2012 stats to fall out of their chairs, laughing hysterically to the point of incontinence. Bud Selig also issued a statement, vowing that "performance-enhancing drugs will not be tolerated in our game," and then proceeded to also suspend the entire Marlins team and Marlins Park itself, on the grounds that the Biogenesis clinic was located less than 10 miles away. Michigan parents who were concerned about the message MLB was sending their kids breathed a sigh of relief, and let their children get back to watching Tigers games featuring commercials for Miller Lite, Cialis, and Sam Bernstein, which effectively communicate to their children the far more wholesome message, "Drink beer and take drugs that will help you have enough mountain-top sex in a hot tub to sustain an injury, then sue your partner!"
Thankfully, Master Trader and General Manager Dave Dombrowski had prepared for this eventuality several days earlier, first by wetting himself, then by pinwheeling his arms and running around the room screaming, and finally by executing a three-way trade with the Red Sox and White Sox that resulted in the acquisition of Jose Iglesias, Shortstop of the Future. Iglesias quickly proved himself to be a defensive black-belt, routinely pulling off lightning-quick acrobatic plays in the infield with all the liquid grace of something that is both liquid and graceful. His masterful moves at shortstop regularly made MLB highlight reels, especially the ones where he would momentarily disappear from the dugout and turn difficult double-plays in ballparks several states away.
Peralta's suspension created a deep rift in the fanbase, which split into two equally passionate factions. One group, angry at the betrayal and longing for happier days when baseball was a pure sport (1845-1846), felt that Peralta should never wear a Tigers uniform again, even though he would be eligible for the playoff season. The other group, standing firmly on similarly solid moral grounds and arguing their case with fervent vigor, pointed out that the letters in Jhonny Peralta's name can be rearranged to spell "A Plan Jet Horny," and thus, he should be allowed to play in the postseason.
After missing the first two games in August due to his ongoing injuries, Miguel Cabrera returned with authority, smacking another 11 home runs and 31 RBI's, finishing out the month with a batting average of .358 and an OPS of 1.130. Opposing pitchers intentionally walked him four times, opting for the safety of throwing the ball as far away from Cabrera's bat as possible, preferably straight into the dugout. Meanwhile, someone had accidentally left Chris Davis on "Super Double Double Bonus Baseball Mode," and he maintained a consistent lead over Cabrera in the home run department, while trailing far behind Cabrera in the awesome tattoos department.
Phil Coke continued his season-long struggles, retaining an ERA over 5.00 for most of the month. Used almost exclusively as a specialist to face left-handed batters, opposing batters still hit .389 with an OPS of .921 against him, and so on August 20 he was sent to Toledo, partly to straighten out his pitching, and partly to make sure Jose Valverde wasn't still hanging around. (Valverde was officially released from the team several paragraphs earlier, while we were busy making fun of Bud Selig.)
And speaking of hanging around, the Cleveland Indians didn't seem to be going away in ...
... which saw the Tigers' lead in the Central Division drop from a season high of 8 1/2 games at the end of August to 4 1/2 games by the end of the first week of September. Facebook commenters stopped demanding that Leyland be fired, and started demanding that he be set on fire, on the grounds that a real manager would have secured a World Series trophy before Labor Day.
Part of the issue stemmed from the fact that Miguel Cabrera, after turning in a beautiful August performance, inadvertently began wearing underwear made of AstroTurf, further complicating his injuries to the point that he missed three of the first five games in the month. In the games he did play, his hip/abdominal/groin issues prevented him from executing his powerful swing to its full capacity, and made him easier to throw out on the basepaths than a crippled turtle doped up on Valium.
Fortunately, Prince Fielder, who had struggled in July and early August, experienced a return to form in September, hitting .368 with an OPS of .997 leading up to the night of the Big Game. That is a reference, of course, to September 25, the night when the Tigers defeated the Twins in a 1-0 game to clinch the American League Central Division. Max Scherzer racked up his 21st win of the season, pitching seven innings of shut-out ball and striking out 10 "batters" (and here the quotes are used to denote the fact that these batters were, after all, Twins).
And so, with the division locked up, the Tigers now head into their third playoff season in as many years, and here we must end our seasonal retrospective.
What will the playoffs bring? Will the Tigers finally bring home a World Series title after almost 30 years? Who will be the surprise hero? Will Jhonny Peralta make the postseason roster and supply some sorely-needed offensive power to a lineup struggling with a nearly-crippled Miguel Cabrera? The answer to all of these questions is, of course, "can you repeat that?" But whatever the 2013 postseason brings, we can march on with the full confidence of knowing that, win or lose, the Facebook commenters will never go away.