Baseball rivalries don't present themselves as readily as in other sports. The long, grinding schedule is one reason. Teams play 162 games in a season, and it's tough to brag to a Chicago White Sox fan about the Tigers' 10-9 record against the Pale Hose in 2014. Teams outside of the same division often don't see one another for bad blood to develop. Does anyone hold any ill will towards the Tampa Bay Rays? Do we hate the Houston Astros? The Seattle Mariners, with Lloyd McClendon and Austin Jackson in tow, almost seem like old friends.
Despite these limitations, Sports on Earth tried to find three rivals for every MLB club. No, we're not talking about the forced AL-NL rivals that Major League Baseball has forced upon every team without another club in their city (heck, even the Angels-Dodgers "rivalry" feels friendly). These are meant to induce as much vitriol as possible; hate, even, if you can work up enough spite.
Here is what author Will Leitch came up with:
I'll say this: he's not far off. The Indians and White Sox have been the Tigers' most competitive divisional rivals over the past half decade, and everyone hates the Yankees. The Tigers have even had the pleasure of knocking them out of the postseason a couple times in recent memory.
But are those teams truly the Tigers' biggest rivals? I think the list could use a little modification. Here are my choices for the Tigers' three biggest rivals, along with a couple of close cuts.
Honorable mention: Chicago White Sox, Nelson Cruz
It's tough leaving the White Sox off this list. From their tiny ballpark to their hideous Sunday uniforms to Hawk Harrelson, there is a lot to dislike about the White Sox. Joe Crede. Jermaine Dye. A.J. Pierzynski. Gavin Floyd. Mark Buehrle. Great players in their own right that all seemed to play like Hall of Famers against the Tigers. Chris Sale even added to the feud when he accused Victor Martinez of stealing signs late last season.
But it's a little tough to rank them right now. All of the players listed above, save for Sale, are gone. Ian Kinsler turned a heated moment into a laugh when he openly mocked Sale after an RBI double. The team is still annoying, but they have not been very competitive over the past two seasons, which puts a damper on the rivalry.
Then there's Nelson Cruz, who doesn't truly count because he's not a team. However, CAN WE PLEASE NOT THROW FASTBALLS DOWN THE MIDDLE TO NELSON CRUZ IN THE PLAYOFFS?! Thank you.
This is a bit of a dark horse pick, but the high stakes matchups between these two teams over the past several years vault this rivalry over your run-of-the-mill divisional matchup. They have met in the playoffs three times in the past nine years, with the Tigers winning all three series. The last two have come down to a decisive fifth game, with Justin Verlander putting Moneyball in its place both times. See, I can't even resist a Billy Beane jab, even if it is outdated and inaccurate. The A's are fun, but also fun to hate.
They don't play each other often, but the regular season games have even been heated! Last season's walkoff grand slam from Rajai Davis was fun, but especially because it came against the A's and their formerly indestructible closer. Torii Hunter also hit a big walkoff home run against the A's in 2013. Josh Donaldson did the same against the Tigers last year. Nearly every game has come down to the wire, which makes the rivalry all the more enjoyable and heated.
#2: Minnesota Twins
The White Sox and Royals have been more competitive over the past few years, but no team has been a bigger thorn in the Tigers' side in my lifetime (and even a little beyond) than the Twins. I was born shortly after the Twins knocked the Tigers out of the 1987 playoffs, and they haven't stopped tormenting the Tigers since. You can just list things about the Twins that incite hate: 1987. Game 163. The Metrodome. Ron Gardenhire. All of these things are horrible and I want them to go away.
The worst part is that the Twins never even seem to be very good! Scott Baker and Nick Blackburn pitched the Twins to their 2009 division championship (UGH) while guys like Jason Kubel, Nick Punto, and Michael Cuddyer tortured us every step of the way. Even Torii Hunter and Joe Nathan, who played for the Tigers in 2014, did their fair share of damage to our collective psyches for a number of years. Last year's Twins finished 70-92, but still won 10 of 19 games against the Tigers.
#1: Cleveland Indians
Older fans might disagree, but the Indians and Tigers are currently the biggest rivalry in the AL Central. The Indians have finished second to the Tigers twice in the past four seasons, falling a game shy of the crown in 2013 after a late season surge. The two teams are projected by PECOTA to be within a game of one another again in 2015, though both teams can't be happy with their estimated win totals. Some Tigers fans are even bitter that their team was unable to land Terry Francona, now the manager of the Tribe.
The Michigan vs. Ohio State rivalry also spills into this border war, as no two AL Central clubs are closer in proximity. The Tigers have struggled mightily in Cleveland over the past several years, effectively turning Progressive Field into the new Metrodome. The Indians have faded down the stretch, losing several pivotal series to the Tigers in convincing fashion. Bullpen meltdowns and utter beatdowns have added fuel to the fire.
What do you think? Who are the Tigers' biggest rivals?