How does a supposed eternal optimist create such a crass headline for a Detroit Tigers preview? Is this the same Bobby B who bet a friend the Tigers would win 80 games in 2003? (Bobby B lost that bet.) The Tigers are coming off their fourth straight AL Central championship; they still have a slugger named Miguel Cabrera in the middle of their lineup; they have starting pitchers named David Price, Anibal Sanchez and Justin Verlander; and an Ivy League skipper with a photographic memory is calling the shots — why so glum then, Debbie D? [Enter whiny baby voice] Because they were already supposed to have won the World Series, and they didn’t! Now I’m afraid that window is closing…
But seriously, for the first time in the better part of a decade, I’m not oozing with confidence going into Opening Day like I often unreasonably am. The Tigers arguably got worse while the Indians and White Sox enhanced their respective rosters. There’s also the defending AL pennant winners. This has the makings of one of the most competitive divisions in baseball this season. While the Tigers’ roster carries veterans who have “been there before”, the majority are also older and more likely to break down and/or diminish in production.
My feelings couldn’t have been captured any better than what was written by Michael Baumann on Grantland — Is Detroit’s Time As the Alpha Cat Over?
You should read the entire article, as I found myself nodding begrudgingly throughout, but here are the three paragraphs that hit me the hardest:
The most obvious parallel to draw is the 2007-11 Phillies, who also ran off a string of division titles by assembling the kind of rotation that seems outside the realm of possibility until you see it in action. Both the Tigers and the Phillies had as many as four Cy Young–quality starters, plus one of the half-dozen best position players in baseball, and a few other MVP-quality or near-MVP-quality position players besides. Both overcame shaky bullpens, and both were somewhat fortunate to hit their peak while the rest of the division was down.
The comparison starts to get scary when we consider what undid the Phillies. Their first-among-equals ace finally wore down and fell apart, while other key players left via trade or free agency, and still others aged out of their prime and became merely very good, and sometimes worse. And their farm systems, raided for prospects as trade fodder to bolster the team in the short term, were unable to provide adequate reinforcements. […]
As someone who spent a lot of time drinking alone and listening to Elliott Smith because of the 2012 Phillies, trust me when I tell you that when a team has that many thirtysomethings in its lineup, it’s very unlikely that nobody will get seriously hurt and that nobody will suffer a serious decline. Like any mechanism with so many moving parts, the human body wears down over time, and eventually reaches a point of no return. Most teams can deal with that happening to one guy, but when it’s three or four at once, there’s no turning back.
Ugh, I can’t imagine the Tigers losing one of their starters to serious injury, but even if everybody stays relatively healthy, there will still be at least a dozen games when names like Hernan Perez and Andrew Romine get penciled into the starting lineup behind Alfredo Simon. Those will be the games the Tigers will lose more than not and those will be the games, closed by Joe Nathan, that could cost them their fifth straight division.
Sure, there have been bigger problems in the history of Tigers fandom, but those are the present day stumbling blocks for almost-30-year-old fans who have yet to see their favorite baseball team win a World Series… punctuated by a flick of the horse’s chin.
That’s why they play the games, though, and I’ll be watching all the way. While previous teams have felt like deadbolt locks to win it all, they never did. Maybe it’s these dubious Tigers that finally get it done.
Let’s talk again in November, okay?
Please leave your thoughts in the comments.