Friday, October 25, 2013

Wait 'Til Next Year, I Guess. . . Again

Well, those of you who have been following the first couple games of the World Series have no doubt noticed that my Tigers aren't playing in it.  Alas.  They could only manage to win two games in the time it took the Red Sox to win the requisite four, and so our friends from Boston have duly moved on to the championship round, and congratulations to them on that account.  They are a good team, and most definitely worthy contestants for Baseball's Ultimate Prize; we wish them well.

I hope it doesn't come off sounding like sour grapes, but I will admit to a degree of frustration that you all didn't get to see my Tigers at their best (starting pitching aside).  Our best hitter (and, if I may be so bold, the Best Hitter in Baseball Today) (heck, one of the best ever), Miguel Cabrera, was a shell of himself, owing to an injury that hobbled him from the beginning of September on.  Now, a shell of Miguel Cabrera is still pretty decent, as hitters go, but quite a hit to the Tigers' offense, nonetheless.  And our bullpen was a trainwreck.  Losing one game of a best-4-of-7 series to a late-inning grand slam is bad, but stuff happens, right?  Doing it twice in six games is awful.  But then, really, it's nothing new.  Our bullpen struggled all year, and our bats were prone to maddening stretches of quietude, especially given some of the hitters we've got on our team.  Given the overall level of talent on our roster, we should have won our division by WAY more than the single game that separated us from the Cleveland Indians at season's end (and in saying that, I do not denigrate the Indians in the slightest; they played well and hard all season, and I take my hat off to 'em).  So, the Boston series was, in many ways, a microcosm of our whole season - excellence punctuated by glaring flaws.  And ain't that just the way of things?

Anyway, congratulations to Red Sox Nation, and good luck in the World Series!

(If my friend Suldog is reading this, the ingredients for the bean soup are now in place, and the slow-cooking should be commencing soon.  Then it remains only to get the payment of my debt into your hands.  Soon, my friend, soon.)


And then Monday (at the risk of totally driving away the non-baseball portion of whatever meager number of readers I still have left), our manager, Jim Leyland, announced that he was retiring, and wouldn't be managing the team any more.  He's 68 years old, so I suppose it shouldn't have come as a complete surprise, but it did.  Man, that is a blow.  I'm hopeful that our team is strong enough to attract a capable replacement, but Jim Leyland has been one of the best managers the Tigers have ever had.  You can see my previous post about three post-seasons in a row, and four in eight years, and all that.  It's hard to express, as a Tiger fan, how unique this period of time has been.  The Tigers have not been prone to long, sustained eras of excellence.  Typically, they've had short peaks of 'Wonderful', amid long stretches of Competitively Above Average (and, in the decade or so before Leyland arrived, more years of Putrid Awfulness than we'd have preferred).  So, we're not used to this Every-Year-In-the-Playoffs thing.  And Jim Leyland presided over all of it.  Even Sparky Anderson, our Hall-of-Fame manager from the 80s-90s, only took the Tigers to two League Championship Series, and one World Series, in 17 seasons.  Leyland doubled both those accomplishments, in half as many years.  The only thing he didn't do with the Tigers is win a World Series (though he did win one with the '97 Marlins).

Anyway, good luck, Mr. Leyland.  We will sure miss you.


I would have intended to post this a few days ago, in the more immediate aftermath of our series with Boston, but the end of last week, work, um. . . exploded.  Stuff was breaking that wasn't supposed to be breaking, and the first order of business was to figure out WHY it was breaking, because, as designed, it wasn't supposed to be seeing any load conditions that would even remotely cause it to break.  And then we had to re-work the design, so that it doesn't break any more.  And math, math, science, science, etc, etc. engineer-speak.  The immediate upshot of which is that I worked last Saturday, and, even given that I didn't go in to the office until 8PM Sunday, I worked another 6 hours that day, too.  And this week has featured 10-12 hour days pretty much every day.  I'm starting to lose track of my normal circadian cycle.  I like my job, and there's something exhilarating about really kicking ass to solve a problem, but a week is about all of that that I can stand.  I'm fortunate that Jen is willing to take up the slack while I help slay the dragon, and that our marriage is strong enough to bear the strain, but any day now, I'm ready to go back home and kiss my wife and hug my kids and forget all about cars and machines and computers and such.  KnowwhatImean?

And then, last night, as I was wrapping up the latest 12-hour day, my phone rings with a text message from Jen, informing me that 7M broke his wrist playing football, and she was on her way to the hospital with him.  So, there's that.  He'll recover, and so will we all.  But right about now, I could use a cold beer and a ballgame on TV, and absolutely nothing to think about for the next three days. . .

Friday, October 11, 2013

Movin' On. . .

Well, once again, for the third year in a row, my Tigers have passed through the Division Series round of Major League Baseball's post-season playoffs, and earned for themselves the right to play for the American League championship.  And this time, we get to play against my friend Suldog's Boston Red Sox (or Sawx, if, you know, you're from there. . .)  Now that the Sox have won themselves a couple World Series in the last decade, they'll happily revert to their status quo ante as baseball's (or at least the American League's) calvinistically star-crossed team, right?  The Curse of the Bambino, and all that (or, maybe now there's a Curse of The Youk) (well, there could be. . .) (or maybe a Curse of Josh Beckett; wait, is that laughter I hear coming from the Northeast?)  Yeah, I know. . . probably not. . .

But you know, it's actually fairly amazing to me that we're here.  A couple days ago, it really didn't look like we would be.  When the A's won Game 3 of our series, things were not looking good for mis Tigres.  Of the first 27 innings between the Tigers and A's, the Tigers had failed to score in 25 of them, including one excruciating stretch of 20 in a row.  Incredibly, Justin Verlander threw 15 innings in two starts against the A's, without giving up a single run, and only had one victory to show for it (and the tying run was at the plate in the 9th inning last night. . . but, I'm getting ahead of myself).

Game 4 was a great game, unless you have heart issues.  Once again, the A's took the early lead, and halfway through the game, the Tigers had yet to score, running their scoring drought to 29 of their first 31 turns at bat.  They tied the game in the bottom of the 5th, but the A's re-took the lead in the top of the 7th, leaving the Tigers nine outs from elimination.  But Victor Martinez tied the game on a home run that may or may not have been interfered with by a fan (OK, OK, it WAS interfered with, but if Reddick actually catches that ball, it's one of the great catches of all time; just sayin'), and then Austin Jackson, who set a record by striking out 13 times (13 times!!) in a 5-game series, drove in the go-ahead run while splinters of his bat were flying in every direction at once.

Looking good, right?  Not so fast.  In the top of the 8th, Max Scherzer (this year's Best Pitcher on the Tigers, and possible Cy Young Award winner), pitching in relief, loads the bases with nobody out.  Uh-oh (as in, Uh-freakin'-Oh).  Two strikeouts and a fly-out later, and the lead is intact.  Edge-of-the-seat, pressure baseball at its very finest, right there.  We add three more runs in the bottom of the 8th (and a good thing, too, 'cuz the A's scored two more in the 9th), and escape to Game 5.

Then, last night, Justin Verlander pitched for the Tigers, and, just like he did last year, squeezed all the life out of the poor A's, who have got to be having nightmares about Verlander about now.  In the last two playoffs, Verlander has started four games against the A's, allowing a single run in the first inning of Game 1 last year, and nothing since.  30 consecutive turns at bat against Verlander, and the A's have yet to score their second playoff run against him.  (Just as a footnote to what I was saying above - counting the two playoff games so far, Verlander has had ten starts this season in which he gave up no runs; ten starts, no runs, and his record in those ten games is 5-0, with five - count 'em five - no-decisions, every single one of which eventuated in a loss for the Tigers; and thereby hangs a tale of the sometime frustrations of this season for Tiger fans. . .)  The A's didn't get their first base-runner until a one-out walk in the 6th inning, and two outs into the 7th, Verlander was still working on a no-hitter.  The Tigers weren't exactly lighting up the skies offensively, either, but somehow or other, Miguel Cabrera (who is to hitting roughly what Verlander has been to pitching, except that nagging 'lower-body' injuries have sapped his power, and his ability to, uh, move, since September; ever see a 370-foot single off the wall? Tiger fans have). . . Okay, uh, where was I, before I was abducted by parentheses?  Oh, yeah - Miguel Cabrera turned on an inside fastball with a runner on, so we actually had a couple runs on the board.  Which, the way Verlander was pitching, could last into February, if it had to.  And we're movin' on. . .

. . . to Boston, and a best-of-seven series with the Suldog's Red Sox for the championship of the American League.  It should be a good series; the Red Sox are a good team, and one of the few whose starting pitching is close to as good as ours (*cough*Dodgers*cough*).  And their hitting might be better than ours (at least, the way we've been hitting lately).  We've never played the Red Sox in the post-season before (heck, from the beginning of divisional play in '69, through 2005, the Tigers played in exactly three League Championship Series, all of them while the Tigers and Red Sox were in the same division, so that wouldn't be as surprising as all that).

And all of a sudden, Jim Leyland's move of using Max Scherzer in relief in Game 4, looks like a genius move; now, Anibal Sanchez (the AL's ERA leader, and nominally the second-best pitcher on the Tigers this year) will start Game 1 against the Sox, and Scherzer and Verlander will pitch Games 2 and 3; should the series go the full seven games, Scherzer and Verlander will pitch Games 6 and 7.  Nice.

Anyway, it should be a fun series, between two really good teams.

Let's Go, Tigers!

Friday, October 4, 2013

October Baseball. . . Again

Well, it's October, and my Tigers are back in Major League Baseball's post-season for the third consecutive year, and the fourth in eight (I'm tempted to say the fifth in eight, since we did have that Game 163 thing with the Twins in '09, which sure seemed like a post-season game to me, but the baseball purists are adamant that things don't work that way, and it doesn't count.  So, PPPHHHLLLBBBTTT!!!!).  Anyway, Woo-hoo!  Honestly, the Tiges have never had such a sustained run of prosperity in my lifetime.  They've typically had one monster year (say, 1968, or 1984), followed a couple years later by a lesser, 'aftershock'-type season (eg, 1972, 1987) where the old gang manages to wring out one last bit of glory before they all retire en masse (or, you know, sign with the Dodgers as free agents).  But four post-seasons, and two World Series, in eight years?  Be still, my heart!  You'd have to go back to the Ty Cobb days of 1907-08-09 to find another Tiger team that played beyond the regular season for three years in a row (of course, in those days, all they had was the World Series, so that seems like a bigger deal than this, but I wasn't around in those days, so I wouldn't know) (hard as that may be for some of you to believe).  Or the Hank Greenberg - Charley Gehringer days, when they made four World Series in twelve years between 1934-45.


Incidentally, the 1908 Tigers are the last team to lose a World Series to the Chicago Cubs (the Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance Cubs, among whose pitching staff were Three-Finger Brown and Orval Overall), and the '45 Tigers are the last team to play the Cubs in a World Series.  Which, given the way Cubs fans go on and on about their team and post-season futility, seems like it must be a big deal, somehow or other.


This year's Tigers began the season with great expectations, and by-and-large, they met them, although it never seemed to be quite as straightforward as it was supposed to be.  The team is headlined by the splendid Miguel Cabrera, last year's Triple Crown winner and American League Most Valuable Player, who was still in the hunt for a second consecutive Triple Crown (which, baseball types are well aware, is simply ridiculous) at the end of August, by which time nagging injuries wore him down, and he had to settle for just winning the American League batting and slugging titles (although a second consecutive MVP is very much a live possibility).  Prince Fielder and Victor Martinez, along with Torii Hunter and Austin Jackson, made major offensive contributions (not that anyone was offended by their contributions; it's just that, you know, the batting and scoring-runs part of the game is called 'offense'. . . never mind).  And mid-season, they picked up Jose Iglesias from Suldog's Red Sawx, to provide wizardly defense (because the guy who played the first two-thirds of the season at shortstop, Jhonny Peralta (yes, I know the 'h' and the 'o' are transposed; take it up with his mother), managed to get himself suspended for 50 games for using illegal Performance-Enhancing Drugs) (*sigh*)

The real strength of this Tigers team is its starting pitching.  Justin Verlander is a former Cy Young award-winner, finished second in the voting last year, and he was no better than the third best of our five starting pitchers this season.  Max Scherzer might well win this season's Cy Young award, and Anibal Sanchez led the American League in Earned Run Average.  Doug Fister would be a solid #2 starter on most other teams, and Rick Porcello, still only 24, had the best of his five seasons in the big leagues so far.

All that being said, this is not a flawless baseball team.  Our relief pitching was an area of concern all year, though it did get stronger toward the end of the season.  And for all the big bats in our lineup, we were prone to maddening scoring droughts.  I think that we led the majors in losses in which our starting pitchers gave up 1 run or less.

So, who knows what lies ahead?  Another World Series would be wonderful, but I take nothing for granted.  Just based on how the season has gone, I can see us winning it all, or I can see us getting swept out by the A's in the Division Series, possibly scoring less than a run a game.  But one way or another, I am simply enjoying the ride, for the third year in a row.  I'm not used to this.  But I admit, I could get to like it. . .