The Roar is Back
Anyone who doubts that baseball is back in the Motor City failed to witness last night’s unbelievable celebration as the Tigers rallied from a Game 1 loss to knock off the massively favoured Yankees in four games.
Watching the team carry manager Jim Leyland on their shoulders; seeing the younger Tigers doing a victory lap around Comerica; witnessing the vindicated 40-year-old Kenny Rogers interacting with the crowd — it all served as a great reminder that the roar is back in these Tigers, just three years removed from being baseball’s laughing stock.
So what was the big difference for Detroit this season? After averaging 100 losses a year since 2001, just how did this club, scheduled to open the ALCS against Oakland on Tuesday, turn things around so fast? Let’s look at a few factors:
- The Leyland affect can’t be minimized, and to hear the Tigers to a man discuss what he’s meant to the team suggests he somehow got these 25 players to become a real team.
- Pitching, pitching and more pitching. This team had the top ERA in baseball and led the majors with 16 shutouts. Justin Verlander led a staff that had no one ace, but four solid starters, but it was the bullpen really shone through. Joel Zumaya, Jamie Walker and Fernando Rodney provided a seamless bridge to closer Todd Jones. The club did a great job limiting walks, which was huge, because this is not a big strikeout staff.
- Speaking of Jones, he may be far more hittable these days and nowhere near as dominant as he once was, but who can argue with the results? Detroit blew just 16 saves (only three teams had less) and its 74 per cent save conversion rate was tied for third in baseball.
- Ivan Rodriguez not only racked up his 10th .300 season, but he completely shut down opposing teams’ running games. With just 49 steals against and a 42 per cent caught stealing rate, Detroit ranked number one in the game. Credit must go to Pudge for taking that away from the opposition.
- Small ball: although the team had its share of boppers (six guys with 19 or more homers, and that’s not even including Chris Shelton, who in April looked like he’d wind up with about 90), it was the likes of Placido Polanco and Carlos Guillen that really drove the offense.
The fact that Detroit was able to succeed with a club that wasn’t exactly Billy Beane-worthy (just a .329 OBP, 24th in MLB), had no running game (only 60 steals and tied for last with just a 60 per cent success rate on the basepaths) and got little contribution from the bench (16 pinch hits all season), underscores the strength of the pitching staff. It also proves how Leyland was able to maximize his offense, considering the Tigers still managed to rank eighth in the Show in runs scored.
Sure, maybe it’s the Red Sox fan in me that loved seeing the Yankees and this supposed greatest batting lineup in playoff history take one on the chin, but I couldn’t help but get swept up in a little Tiger mania this week.
So what the hell? I’m wearing a tail under my pants this week in honour of the Tigers.