Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Baby Steps Are Tigers Answer

We all know that true progress advances slowly.

Quite often things improve at such a gradual pace it is hard to see.

Take as an example the experience of watching your children grow. It's not until you look at pictures from a couple of months prior that you realize how quickly they are really developing. Since you see them every day, their daily millimeter of growth occurs unnoticed.

The same is true for the Detroit Tigers.

A quick recap for those who are interested – the Tigers were picked this year to handily win the AL Central Division, the American League, and the World Series. It was expected that the combination of amazing pitching and collection of All-Star power-hitters would result in a romp through the American League.

And .. well .. so far .. that hasn't happen.

Instead the Tigers lost their first seven opening games of the season and went on a horrific slide to start the year, reaching at one point 15 games below the level .500 mark. The problems were so numerous that it takes a long list to explain, but in short, the lineup couldn't hit – the starting pitching was weak and only able to last a few innings, and defensively errors were being made at all positions. The disabled list (DL) is perhaps the longest in the majors – with many of the remaining players playing hurt with broken fingers, bad backs, shoulder injuries, and even hemorrhoids.

The team that was supposed to burn up the league instead got burnt to a crisp.

In Detroit, the term "emotional investment" is used quite a lot when discussing fan loyalty to the teams this town supports. If you stop and think about rooting for a team, you can actually track the level of your caring for a team by the emotion that you invest in them. High emotional investment translates to great faith and large expectations for the season. Little to no emotional investment comes when the faith and / or expectations are failed to be realized, or never existed in the first place.

And for many Tiger's fans – the investment was cashed in already – willing to accept their loss and invest elsewhere.

Too bad.

Because the Tigers are quietly getting better.

The Tigers are winning more frequently than losing right now. The starting rotation has taken us seven innings, and giving up four or less runs – quality starts as the sports pundits say. The hitting has come to life a bit more day by day, and rally's to come from behind have started to erupt. Hits with men on base have started to increase. And the small ball play of sacrifice bunts, steals, and hit-and-run plays called by manager Jim Leyland have started netting some rewards.

Slowly but surely they are getting better.

They still sit ten games behind Chicago for the lead of the AL Central. And they still sit ten games below the even mark. And coming into this current series, the White Sox were red hot. But the Tigers put some water on that fire last night with timely hitting, solid pitching, and strong defensive play including a throw from left fielder Brent Clevelan to catcher Pudge Rodriguez for a close out at the plate.

It was a great game.

It was the Tigers baseball we expect.

And we have been seeing a lot more of it lately.

The sparks of life are coming from the farm system in Toledo. Names like Clevelan, Mathew Joyce, Ryan Raburn, Clete Thomas, and Armando Galarraga have provided sparks lacking from the superstars Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis – Willis sent yesterday to Single A Lakeland, Florida.

If the Tigers sweep this series with Chicago, they are only 8 games back, and it is only June. And Chicago can't stay hot forever.

And in recent history several teams have come back from ten or more games behind on June 11 to win their division, and even the World Series.

Stranger things have happened.

And what goes around, comes around.

So I am keeping my emotion invested in the Tigers. It's a long term investment renewed each year, and I don't plan to withdraw until October.


caputo said...

If the Tigers get to within a game or two of .500 and within five games of the A.L. Central lead, the whole dynamic of the season will change. Their starting pitching will have to hold up, though. I can also see them getting a real shot in the arm from Zumaya.

Fred Brill said...


Pat the Book, I think the oddest dimension of this season for this version of the Tigers is that I have never seen this core group (Pudge, Polanco, Ordonez, Guillen .. et al) get better as the season progressed.

They started extremely strong in '06 and '07 and then wore out.

And I have a feeling that once these guys find the spark - they will hold it at least until mid-August - and then they might wear out again.

This could be the start of a great ride.

But I think you're right (as usual) about the pitching.

Thanks for the comment Pat, I'm a big fan.


Chris F. said...

The sports scene in Michigan has been a terrible one for much of the past 10 or 20 years with the exception of the Red Wings. At least you are better off investing your time and money into the Tigers than most of the others and certainly the Lions.

Fred Brill said...

Chris F,

If you're a Lions Fan, the last 50 or more years have been bleak. But in the last 8 years that I have been back in the area, I have enjoyed the following:
* 2 Redwings Stanley Cups (with playoff showings every year)
* 1 Pistons NBA Championship (with postseason play almost every year)
* 1 Tigers World Series Appearence (how they lost to St. Louis still dafts me)
* 1 UWM National Championship - with bowl games every season
Strong MSU basketball appearences.

Toss in there:
* A Superbowl (sans Lions)
* An MLB All Star Game

Not to mention as golf fan,:
* the Buik Open,
* the PGA championship (this year)
* and a friggin Ryder Cup?

It doesn't sound to terrible to me.I think this is the best North American sports region one can reside in. And that's just on the American side of the river.

Enjoy it while ya got it man.

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