Sunday, July 19, 2015

Detroit Tigers and the clock

After their most recent loss at the hands of Baltimore, the Tigers have now played 90 games, and find themselves with a 45-45 record. Exactly .500. Tick.

With 72 games remaining in the regular season, a lot can happen and probably will. Yet there is little doubt Kansas City remains the class of the AL Central Division. After the All-Star break, the Royals have picked up right where they left off. They just chalked up another win. Tick.

The Tigers are now a full 10 games, and that's a lot, behind KC. Tick. For that matter, Detroit is only a game and a half ahead of the Cleveland Indians -- barely hanging on to third place in their division. Tick.

They still remain very much in the wild card race for post-season play due in most part to the amazing parity that exists in major league baseball today. In the AL East, the Yanks have opened up a slim lead, but no other team is above .500. In the West, the Angels and the Astros are the only teams with more wins than losses. But as the season slowly marches on, every loss for the Tigers becomes another tick. And things really don't look that promising for them.

Slugger Miguel Cabrera remains out with a leg injury, duration unknown. Their best pitcher, David Price, just pitched a very good game. Though giving up several hits, he only allowed one run, a dinger by Oriole Manny Muchado. Problem was, Oriole pitcher Chris Tillman was even better. He pitched 8 innings of 1 hit, shutout ball. Price had surpassed his pitch count and the Tigers brought in reliever Bruce Rondon for the ninth inning. Much has been made about how hard Rondon can throw -- in the upper 90s -- but almost predictably Rondon was quickly lit up for a couple runs. The Oriole hitters seemed to have no problem solving Rondon. They knew he was going to bring heat, were waiting on it, and hit it hard. In the end, after a very good outing, the Tigers' best pitcher -- David Price -- got taggd with another loss. Yes, it happens to the best of them, but it's another game and another tick for the team. At any rate, the Tigers' bullpen remains cannon fodder for other teams. Unless Tiger hitters have spotted their starting pitcher a big lead, they're in trouble when the batting practice relievers enter the game. Lots of ticks over the season.

Ninety games into the season, former ace pitcher Justin Verlander has yet to chalk up a single win. Is the Fastball Flakes man heading down the same road as Tiger Woods? Maybe. But when a guy's making a whopping $28 million it hardly seems unreasonable to expect him to put a few Ws on the board. Every game JV starts and doesn't win is another very expensive tick. Put another way, Verlander makes roughly a MILLION DOLLARS every time he takes the mound. There's a reason for the outrageous ticket and concession prices fans have to pony up.

Though the Tigers can, and have, boast(ed) of winning several recent division titles, post season series' and even making it to the World Series -- they haven't actually won anything that truly matters since 1984. Thirty years worth of ticks and counting.

Worse yet, it would appear their window of opportunity to win a championship is rapidly closing. David Price is up for free agency after this season. Justin Verlander will likely never return to his former dominant self. Second baseman Ian Kinsler is on the back side of his career bell curve. Designated hitter Victor Martinez is, well, getting old. He can't field a position and is slower than molasses on the basepathes. J.D. Martinez has been sensational this year, but does anybody really expect him to continue at the same torrid pace? Third baseman Nick Castelannos was once a promising star, but has underachieved both with the bat and the glove. Rajai Davis rarely sees any action any more. Center fielder Anthony Gose was a career minor-leaguer before the Tigers brought him up. Recently, he's begun to show us why. Yoenis Cespedes was once a hot commodity, but has since reached his level of mediocrity. Slick fielding shortstop Jose Iglesias is known for his fast starts in a season with the bat, and had one this year. But he's also known for fading badly down the stretch. His once .330 batting average was a mirage. It will come down -- a lot. It already has.

The Tigers will boast of the players they drafted, because every team does that. But the reality is their farm system has been gutted through trades. This was part of the "win now" plan of owner Mike Ilitch and President Dave Dombrowski. Sell the future in the hopes of bringing a title home to Detroit soon. It hasn't worked.

As stated above, the Tigers have a few assets, but their liabilities continue to grow as time marches on. Tick, tick, tick.

If a World Series championship doesn't happen soon -- as in this year or next -- they might have to blow it up and start all over. In this day and age of professional sports only one thing really matters. Winning a championship. Ask Lebron James. After he and his Cavaliers were defeated by Golden State in the NBA Finals, James said he would rather have missed the playoffs entirely than eventually go down in the championship series. That was an honest man talking. He's been there, done that, both ways.

And let's get real. The teams and their media hypesters will trumpet minor accomplishments to the heavens, but in the end, nobody cares or will remember who came in second. Only losers find a way to brag about close but no cigar scenarios.

Or maybe just getting close enough to sniff a championship is good enough for some teams and their fans. Tom Brady would disagree, as would Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers. So would the Yankees, Jerry Jones of the Cowboys, Jimmy Johnson of NASCAR, and the USA baskeball dream team in the olympics every four years. Anything less than a win is a failure. Tiger Woods used to think like that in his heyday and Jordan Spieth likely does now. Certainly the same could be said of Serena Williams. Making it deep into a sporting event only to come up short in the end is not acceptable. Granted, nobody wins everything all the time -- even the Harlem Globetrotters were beaten a few times.

Yet some teams, their media and fans have a different standard of excellence than others. For the Detroit Pistons, it's become merely making the playoffs. For the Detroit Lions, it's winning a game once they get there. The Lions have won exactly one playoff game in the entire Super Bowl era -- 50 years worth -- way back in 1992. But they'll crow every year about being "contenders". Amazingly enough, their fans continue to believe it. See ridiculous ticket prices and concessions mentioned above. There's no shortage of suckers in the Detroit area.

But back to the Tigers. One never knows how the rest of the season will unfold, and it's entirely possible the Tigers could get on a roll, qualify for the post-season, and -- gasp -- actually win the World Series. Stranger things have happened.

Problem is, they're trending downwards. Meanwhile, Kansas City continues to get even better. They've got starting pitching, are terrific defensively, have speed galore, added some pop in the batting line-up, and a lights-out bullpen. KC is definitely trending upwards, and let's not forget which American League team wound up going to the World Series last year and came within an eyelash of winning it.

It wasn't the Tigers. Despite the local hype, they were unceremoniously broomed by the Baltimore Orioles in the first round of the playoffs.

They have since regressed to become an average team. Nothing spells mediocre more than a .500 record after 90 games.

72 to go.

Tick, tick, tick.......

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