Now that we've had some time to digest what happened in those awful three games against the Orioles and allow our emotions to settle out, it's a good time to look back on the 2014 season as a whole.
Oh, who am I kidding? It still hurts like crazy.
But we don't have time to wait for those feelings to subside, because that could take years. Let's take a look back anyway, and try to put a letter grade on the 2014 season.
It all started last October. Not when Torii Hunter flipped over the right field fence in Boston, but close. Dave Dombrowski began assembling this team, allowing a large number of players to leave. He made a pair of blockbuster trades; one sent Prince Fielder and $30 million to the Rangers for Ian Kinsler, and later he swapped Doug Fister for a trio of youngsters. He acquired Joe Nathan, Rajai Davis, Joba Chamberlain, J.D. Martinez, and Andrew Romine. Jim Leyland announced he'd be stepping down as manager, and Dombrowski eventually hired the rookie Brad Ausmus to fill those shoes.
The expectations coming into the season were the same as they had been for years; win the Central Division, and make a run for the World Series. But many had even higher expectations. The Tigers should have dominated the Central. They should have been a nightmare for opponents in the postseason. Unfortunately, it didn't happen the way it was drawn up. The Tigers continually found new and creative ways to frustrate fans. They had all the pieces to be a dominating team, but time and time again their opponents would find a way to a win.
A few injuries in Spring Training were cause for concern, when Jose Iglesias was diagnosed with stress fractures in both legs, Andy Dirks suffered a back injury and was sent away for surgery, and it was deemed that Bruce Rondon would need Tommy John surgery. At the time, these injuries didn't look debilitating to the team, as the Tigers wouldn't be relying on those guys for huge chunks of production anyway. The team still had Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander, after all.
Yeah, about that. Cabrera and Verlander both underwent a mysterious "core muscle surgery" during the offseason, and both ended up having their worst seasons since 2008. Perhaps it was a coincidence, perhaps it was the effects of age hitting them both at the same time, but the evidence pointing towards the surgery is pretty compelling. Either way, the effect of injury on this 2014 squad was much greater than most originally anticipated.
The Tigers jumped out to a hot start, posting a 27-12 record that you're probably sick of hearing about. Another stat you've likely grown weary of; they went 63-60 after that start, an 83-win pace. Midseason, Dombrowski provided some help in the forms of Joakim Soria and David Price, two of the best pitchers in the league in their respective roles. The cost was high, but the Tigers had a decent lead in the division and were looking to ensure a playoff appearance and add some valuable tools for October.
And they did win the division, just like they were supposed to. They just didn't do it in the manner they were supposed to. Instead of blowing their opponents out of the water, they let the division come down to the final day. Some credit goes to the Royals, whose 89 wins were more than most expected, but the feeling that the Tigers underperformed remains. They sneaked into the playoffs by one game and promptly got swept back out, leaving fans with a fresh wound we're all still nursing.
That's not exactly what we had in mind.
At the end of the day, The Tigers' goal was to win the World Series, and they failed. But they won't be getting an F from me. Failure versus success in the ultimate goal is a little too black-and-white for my tastes. They did win their division. It wasn't pretty, but they punched a ticket to the playoffs, without having to go through a sudden death wild card game. But I won't be giving them an A either.
I'll give them a B. Maybe a B-minus. It's a battle of an angel and a devil on my shoulders. One side says this was possibly the most frustrating team I've ever watched. Not the worst team, not even close; but maybe the most frustrating. The other side says that many of their problems were out of their control.
No matter how much I try to rationalize the reasons why they were so frustrating, and use my head rather than my heart, I can't shake this "feeling" that they just weren't as good as they should have been. Getting swept certainly didn't help. But I've never been one to rely too much on gut feelings.
Still, they made the playoffs. They gave themselves a shot to win it all and came up empty. As a huge believer in the idea the playoffs come down to pure luck, that's all I can really ask for. Make the playoffs, and hope and pray that a few guys get hot. Can I really mark them down for not making me feel comfortable? Well, yes, I think I can.
Injuries were a huge part of this season, and that may be the one thing I remember about 2014 in 30 years. They had a rookie manager and two rookie infielders. They were dealing with a closer who decided to finally look at his birth date right after signing on with the Tigers. The temptation to chalk everything up to bad luck or "that's the way the cookie crumbles" is real, but those things are all part of what happened.
Bottom line: the 2014 Tigers were a really good team, and they were a really frustrating team. They failed while succeeding, and that's probably how they'll be remembered.