Wednesday, July 27, 2016

The confounding Detroit Tigers

The Tigers have something in common with the team that plays across the street from them. The Lions. Both are named after large ferocious felines (or puddytats -- depending on one's point of view). They also both give their fans just enough of the fabled "hope" to keep them addicted and coming back for more.

The Tigers haven't won a championship since 1984. A lot of good (and not so good) players have come and gone along with a few managers and front office personnel. Thirty two years is a long drought by most standards, especially of teams that pass themselves off as being competitive, not to mention continually raising ticket prices.

The Lions? Well, they last tasted glory when a guy named Eisenhower was President (1957), fittingly enough about the same time the ill-fated Edsel made it's debut. In all those years, the Lions have won a grand total of one playoff game.

Currently the Tigers sit 4 1/2 games behind the AL Central division leading Cleveland Indians (5 in the loss column). Just close enough for hope. Also, they're within a couple games of qualifying for a post-season "wild-card" with about 60 games to go. Plenty of time and games remaining to make a move. Hope. As we know, when the playoffs start, anything can happen.

By most objective standards, the Tigers don't measure up as a serious "contender". Sure, they have lots of hitters that can pound the ball, but sometimes they go cold for long stretches. Their starting pitching is OK, not great, but passable. The defense is about average. Their bullpen is almost a joke and they lack overall team speed. For most of the year they've hovered around or just over .500 as one would expect from such a team.

They just concluded a three game sweep of the Boston Red Sox on the road. Few saw that coming. It was the first time all year the Bosox had been swept in a series -- and at Fenway, no less.

Sure, even last place teams can beat first place teams in Major League Baseball. It happens all the time. Sometimes luck enters in. In the final game, top of the ninth inning with two out and the score tied 3-3, Tiger Miguel Cabrera lofted a fly ball to right field. The ball should have been caught for the third out. The Bosox defender got turned around, or lost it in the sun. It wound up bouncing off the top of the rather short outfield wall and into the stands for what would turn out to be the winning run.

As the trade deadline nears, the Tigers could certainly use some pitching help (see bullpen above), but it might not be easy to get. Any other team will obviously want a player or players in return. The Tigers find themselves in the situation of having most of their core players locked up with long-term contracts. This is a good thing for stability -- if they're performing up to snuff. Not so good trying to unload one on another team is he's been playing sub-par. Taking on long term guaranteed contracts is risky business. Besides the performance aspect, one never knows when an injury, perhaps major, could rear its ugly head. Further, the Tigers don't have a whole lot of top "prospects" to offer, and the few they do have they dearly want to hang onto. So being "buyers" in the trade market is easier said than done.

On the other hand, the Tigers remain just close enough to contending where they don't want to wave the white flag and become "sellers", looking to build in the future.

Could they actually win the World Series this year? It's possible, but highly unlikely. Too many other teams in the AL are superior to them. Even if they make it into the postseason, the playoff gauntlet would be formidable.

Instead, they keep hanging around, winning a few and losing a few, never making a serious charge, but not falling by the wayside either.

There is always hope, some say. Truer words have never been spoken. But hope is the very thing shrewd people play upon to get rich at the hands of suckers.

Hope seems to bloom in Detroit like no other city featuring big time professional franchises. There's a difference between teams like the Tigers/Lions and those like, say, the Chicago Cubs. The Lions haven't won squat in 60 years? The Cubs have gone over a century. Thing is, their fans didn't EXPECT them to win. They were just the lovable sad sack Cubbies. The Detroit franchises hype their teams to the heavens as contenders every year, and their local media helps sell the kool-aid to the ever gullible fans. Up, up, up they go, shelling out money hand over fist to see games, buy paraphernalia, and root, root, root for their heroes. Inevitable, the house of cards will come crashing down -- again. Then it's -- wait until next year.

Hope. Sigh. You'd think they'd learn.

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