There's a certain solace that can be taken from the Tigers' ALDS defeat. Not in the loss itself. That hurts. The end of a season hurts. The view into the abyss that is the offseason hurts. The lack of a World Series victory 30 years after the last one hurts. And yet, it all seems to hurt a little less this year because you really can't say the defeat came as surprise. We saw it coming. We had time to prepare mentally. Loss hurts. It's always going to hurt. But at least it wasn't sudden. At least it wasn't unexpected.
The season began to unravel before it even began. We just didn't know it. First the surprise news of Justin Verlander requiring the same core muscle surgery as Miguel Cabrera. Reports he'd be ready to go early in the season were accurate, yet hope that he'd be ready to be Justin Verlander again were overly optimistic. He never was. Then defensive keystone Jose Iglesias' surprise shin splints, which turned into stress fractures, which turned into a lost season. We wrote Andy Dirks into left field but quickly had to remove his name when he had sudden back surgery. The running game lacked organization in March and never came together in April. A team that would transform from statuesque sluggers to better defenders and base runners never remotely achieved those goals.
The bullpen was a worry -- the bullpen is always a worry. It was cursed from the start, too. You could have argued the relief corps had potential. Joe Nathan, aging though he may be, came off a great season in Texas. Joba Chamberlain was a TBD to be filled in, but Al Alburquerque and Bruce Rondon gave you hope the late innings would be fine, even if the question of a left-hander better than Phil Coke remained. They were hopes, of course, not facts. Then Rondon was lost to Tommy John, Nathan's effectiveness was lost to age and Alburquerque just sorta became lost in the shuffle. By the time the weather warmed up we all knew the Tigers had a glaring issue to fix. They traded for Joakim Soria, another pitcher enjoying a great season in Texas, only to watch him implode from the start.
The team started with potential and quickly settled into mediocrity, playing .500 ball for months on end. So we fast forward to October, and watch as the Tigers' fatal flaws serve as their undoing. In the first two games, the bullpen, with a little help from the defense, fell apart. Errors, mental gaffes, pitches that didn't arrive where the catcher asked and results that didn't arrive in the field of play. Baserunning mistakes. A team that couldn't field, couldn't run, couldn't call on the bench and couldn't count on anyone outside the rotation managed to lose three games for those reasons. It hurts but are you really all that surprised?
You know what hurt? 2012 hurt. To get through the ALCS looking dominating only to have the team disappear in the World Series, again. You know what hurt? 2013. If ever there was a year ... if ever there was a year. That was the year. When you believe you have the best team, when you believe it's the year, it feels awful. The World Series was there for the taking two seasons in a row. It was theirs. It was ours. It was the culmination of years of the franchise struggling, years of fandom spent on a team that was Major League Baseball's worst of the '90s being reborn, taking its place among the elite of the game, and finally cementing its place in history. But the step never came. The cement is drying fast.
The Tigers falling short in 2014 hurts. But only a little. Unlike so much of what goes on in baseball, and especially during the playoffs, at least we can say the result of the Tigers' season makes sense.
That's good for something, right?