Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Detroit Tigers ups and downs

The Detroit Tigers are an unpredictable bunch. When they're playing well, they're as good as anybody. Then the next day they might just stink. Whether or not they'll make the playoffs would seem to be a good question.

Not that long ago they were only two games back of division leading Cleveland and positioned solidly for a wild card berth if they couldn't catch the Tribe.

Fast forward a couple weeks and the Tigers are back to 6 games behind the Indians. Not only that, they've watched several other teams blow by them for a possible wild card. In the East, Baltimore, Boston and Toronto are all a few games ahead of them. In the West, Seattle has overtaken them with Houston lurking close behind. Even within their own division, the KC Royals -- after a so far Murphy's Law season -- have gotten hot and closed to within 4 games of the Tigers. Don't count out the defending champs just yet.

With roughly a quarter of the season still to be played, anything can happen and a lot of it probably will. Teams will get hot -- or cold. Key injuries could rear their ugly heads -- on the Tigers or elsewhere. Detroit slugger Miguel Cabrera tweaked his bicep on an innocent enough looking play. Severity of injury and games to be missed unknown. If this injury lingers or adversely affects Cabrera for any length of time, the Tigers chances take a big hit, no pun intended. They need their big man down the stretch.

Many pundits think the wild cards will both come out of the East. The Blue Jays, Bosox, and O's are only a game apart between them after about 120 games. If so, the Tigers would need to win their division to qualify for the post-season dance. But being 6 games back of Cleveland, who have been hot themselves lately, is a lot to overcome over the course of 40+ games. Sure it can happen, but the odds are against it. Cleveland's too good to go into a tailspin. But ya never know.

Detroit manager Brad Ausmus, in the last year of his contract, likely needs the Tigers to not only make it into the playoffs, but make some noise once there to keep his job. Who the Tigers would plug in next is anybody's guess, but a $200 million player payroll all but demands the team contend for a championship. Anything short and the blame will fall on the manager. It's not his fault, of course -- the players have to play the game -- but that's pretty much the way it's always worked.

Just when the Tigers looked like the real deal a couple weeks ago, boom, they lose a bunch of games and fall back down the ladder. Owner Mike Ilitch, now 87 years old, has been waiting and hoping since 1992 -- a quarter century -- for his Tigers to win a World Series. It hasn't happened. They got there once -- only to lose. In fact, the Tigers haven't been world champs since way back in 1984 -- 32 years and counting.

Thing is, time is running out on the Tigers in more ways than one. Though they have some young talent, notably J.D. Martinez, several of their key players are at or quickly approaching the age where their skills will likely begin to diminish. In other words, the window of championship opportunity is closing. Through various moves in the last few years, the Tigers have depleted their farm system to get "win it now" major leaguers. Still, no ring.

Perhaps it will happen this year, but it's becoming somewhat of a long shot. It might just be that the Pizza Man was destined to never taste a World Series championship, regardless of how much money he spent on players. And speaking of the window of opportunity -- 87 years old is what it is. Sure, the team would pass to his heirs (family) someday, but you just KNOW the elder Ilitch would like nothing better than a World Series championship to go along with the several Stanley Cups his Red Wings won during his tenure as their owner as well.

One thing for sure. The Tigers winning a few then losing a few the rest of the way out isn't going to get it. Too many other good teams are in the hunt. The Tigers need to get hot -- and quickly. 40 games to go is plenty of time. However, if a few more weeks pass and things don't change much, trying to overcome the same deficit with, say, 20 games to go become just that much more difficult.

We shall see......

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