The Tigers are so good right now, they’re too darn good. It’s almost incomprehensible what they’ve done the past five weeks, so dominant they’ve rendered their closing seven-game home stand moot.
If you were planning to celebrate wildly at Comerica Park as the Tigers clinched their first division title in 24 years, oops. With a 12-game winning streak, they’re almost certain to wrap it up this weekend in Oakland, far from home and late at night.
I’m sure Jim Leyland doesn’t mind, and he shouldn’t. Because even if they clinch somewhat under the radar, the Tigers will be all over the radar once the playoffs start. I swear, this team has a better chance of winning it all than the 2006 squad that won 95 games, beat the Yankees and A’s in the playoffs, then lost the World Series to the Cardinals in five. These Tigers have more hitting and a much more dominant Justin Verlander.
Honestly, the only time I’ve seen the Tigers play this well for this long was that 35-5 streak to start 1984, their last championship season. Am I nuts? Nope. The current Tigers are on a 22-4 run, which isn’t that far off. The last time the franchise had a winning streak this long was 1934 — 11 years before Leyland was born!
Since Dave Dombrowski acquired Doug Fister at the trade deadline, then added Delmon Young in August, the Tigers have been virtually unbeatable. Everyone knows Verlander is 23-5 and churning toward the once-inconceivable MVP-Cy Young combo. But Fister has been a major key to the resurgence, 5-1 with a 2.28 ERA.
And remember all that whining about Leyland’s lineup and Dombrowski’s inability to plug the holes? Sure is a lot quieter around here these days. I always thought the lineup issues were overblown, because with Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, Jhonny Peralta, Alex Avila and Brennan Boesch (now injured, essentially replaced by Young), the Tigers were going to score runs. Shortly after the trade deadline, they looked more and more like a lock to win the wobbly Central.
Talent wins, and the Tigers have at least five legitimate All-Stars. The pitching had to come around, and it has. Max Scherzer will scrap with Fister for the No. 2 spot in the playoff rotation. And the eighth-ninth-inning pairing of relievers Joaquin Benoit and Jose Valverde has been untouchable.
Anything is possible now. It really is. The other likely A.L. playoff teams — Yankees, Red Sox, Rangers — are tough, but have injury issues and pitching concerns.
As badly as you wanted to see the Tigers clinch at home, fret not, and rest up. Enjoy this lull, right before the October storm. The daily pennant-race obsession may have slowed because the Tigers have been so good, but I wouldn’t waste time wondering if they peaked too early. The evidence is thoroughly mixed on whether hot teams or stumbling teams fare better in the postseason.
Based on the completeness of their roster, the Tigers might even end up as favorites to win the A.L. pennant. It’s an unbelievable turnaround, as stunning as anything I’ve seen in Detroit sports in a long time.