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Celebrating four consecutive divisional championships

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The Tigers have finished in first place for four years in a row, which happens much less than you might think

Detroit Tigers players celebrate after winning the Central Division Championship on September 28, 2014
Detroit Tigers players celebrate after winning the Central Division Championship on September 28, 2014
Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

SB Nation 2014 MLB Bracket

Kirk Gibson and Alan Trammell are out of work, let go by the Diamondbacks after five years as manager and bench coach respectively. The Tigers have come a long way from the days with Trammell as manager and Gibson as bench coach which ended in 2005. The Tigers finished no higher than third place in every year from 1992 through 2005, and no fewer than 20 games out of first place.

But in 2006 they finished in second place, one game out of first after failing to win any of their last five games. And you thought last week was stressful. The Tigers finished in second place in three out of the first four years under Jim Leyland. Now they have finished in first place for four consecutive years.

So the Tigers had a long dry spell, and they are just making up for it. Or maybe this unusual, and we should feel an extra measure of gratitude for the run of success?

Teams with four consecutive first place finishes are more rare than you might think. The Tigers are only the seventh organization in all of baseball that can claim this as part of their history.

In the American League, of course the Yankees have achieved this in spades. While Babe Ruth did not accomplish it, the Yankees won four in a row transitioning from Lou Gehrig to Joe DiMaggio in 1936 to 1939. Joe DiMaggio passed the baton to Mantle from 1949 to 1953 while they repeated the feat. Mickey Mantle led the way from 1955 through 1958, and again from 1960 through 1964. Derek Jeter led the way to a divisional crown from 1998 through 2006.

But other than the Yankees, whose 2014 season has concluded, there are only two other American League teams to finish in first place four straight years. This is not just since the wild card era, or since the split into divisions. There are only two other teams in the history of the league.

The Cleveland Indians finished in first place from 1995 to 1999. In those five trips to the playoffs they twice did not get past the ALDS, once lost in the ALCS, and twice lost the World Series.

The Oakland A's took first place from 1971 through 1975, and won three consecutive World Series in 1972 through 1974. The best streak under Billy Beane is three out of four from 2000 through 2003, losing in the ALDS every year.

The National League of course has the Atlanta Braves from 1995 through 2005. Do not let it color your expectations. It was an extreme occurrence, and it will not happen again.

The 2007 to 2011 Philadelphia Phillies had five consecutive first place finishes. Their postseason success was reasonable, with a World Series win and a loss. Being a recent run of success, it can affect our perception of the frequency of a divisional dynasty.

The only pre-divisional-era team besides the Yankees to win four in a row was John McGraw's New York Giants from 1921 to 1924. The Tigers' manager of 1907 to 1920, Hughie "Ee-Yah" Jennings, managed 44 of the Giants' games in 1924. Jennings started his tenure in Detroit with three consecutive first place finishes, 1907 to 1909. He could not win the World Series against the Cubs in 1907 and 1908, with Chicago in the midst of first place finishes in four out of five years.

Scanning the history of each team, it was not unusual to see a run of five seasons with four first place finishes and one second or third place finish. Sparky Anderson's Big Red Machine and Tony LaRussa's Cardinals both achieved this level of success.

Maintaining excellence for this long is subject to all kinds of interruptions. One year, key pitchers are injured. A key player leaves for free agency. A star has an off year. A strike or war intervenes. A majority of one run games are lost. The pessimist would say that this was the Tigers in 2010. But for today, enjoy the rare sustained success. Soon the stress of playoff games begins.