Detroit Tigers diehard fans have been through many ups and downs since the new millennium. They’ve been through 100 loss seasons; they witnessed the magical 2006 year where they reached the world series, (only to lose to those pesky St. Louis Cardinals), in 2009 they were part of a play-in game against the Minnesota Twins where they witnessed their team lose a game for the ages, the division title, and their playoff hopes all in the 12th inning of the 163rd game of the season. That game had such a strong impact on the MLB that they decided to add a wild card to both the American and National League. Where beginning this year, the top two wild card teams will face-off in a play-in game to face the number one seed in the divisional round.
In 2011, they witnessed their ace pitcher Justin Verlander not only run away with the CY Young award, but also the MVP award. This was the first time a pitcher won the CY Young and MVP award in the same season since Roger Clemens did it for the Boston Red Sox in 1986. But in that same year Tiger fans also witnessed their team get throttled by the Texas Rangers in the American League Championship Series.
Then there is the Detroit Tigers 2012 season, whereas a diehard Tigers fan my own self, I have to admit this was the most frustrating year to watch them play. That says a lot since in 2003 I was only an eleven year old little leaguer who watched his hometown team, which was probably the worst baseball team in the history of this sport, lose 119 games in a 162 game season. But at least coming into that year Tiger fans knew the 2003 team would be bad, we only won 55 games the year before.
But with acquiring big name free agent Prince Fielder in the offseason to a team who made the ALCS the year before, this year’s team had all the hype going into the season. Almost every analyst picked the Tigers to run away with the Central division, and maybe half of those analysts picked the Tigers to represent the American league in the World Series. How could you have gone against those assumptions anyways? The Tigers have the best pitcher in baseball, maybe even the best player in baseball in Justin Verlander. The Tigers have the best hitter in baseball that goes by the name of Miguel Cabrera, and is followed in the line-up by a 40 home run, 100 RBI guy in Prince Fielder. Relief pitching looked good on paper, and the team had five returning all-stars from 2011.
But inconsistency from Tigers pitching, hitting, and fielding made this year a roller coaster ride so to speak. And I don’t know about what you viewers across the world think when you hear the word roller coaster, but here in the Midwest, the first thing that comes to our minds is Cedar Point and the Millennium Force. So read along as I analyze the 2012 Tiger season as riding through the Millennium Force roller coaster.
The Millennium Force ride begins with a 45 degree lift hill at 15 mph. That is similar to the Tigers season where all the hype and optimism was positive to begin the year. And after a 9-3 start, where the Tigers offense and pitching was at its highest, things were right in place.
But then comes the stop at 310 ft. in the air, followed by the 300 ft. drop where the train ride goes over 90 mph. The Tigers went 1-7 in the next 8 games to find themselves with a .500 record of 10-10 after the first 20 games.
Then comes the twist and turns, the ups and downs of the Millennium force ride. This part of the ride indicates the dog days of May and June where injuries, inconsistent play, and the surprising surge of the Chicago White Sox taking the division lead plagued the Tigers, and they found themselves having a hard time getting their record above .500. Many analysts started second-guessing their prediction of the Tigers winning the AL Central division.
Then the train ride completes a 105-foot, 360 degree helix. This part of the ride indicates the quick turn of events where the Tigers had a five game win the streak heading into the all-star break and found themselves only 3.5 games back of the division leading White Sox. And after the All-Star break the Tigers won 8 of their next 10 games, 13 of the last 15 dating back to the five game win streak before the break.
Then the train ride takes a quick fall down a hill, and a few more twist and turns. After the impressive play before and after the all-star break, the Tigers followed it up by winning 2 of their next 8 games. From the end of July to the end of August, the Tigers had a hard time staying consistent with victories and staying on top of the division. It seemed like every time the Tigers would have something going, a team that they are suppose to beat will face the Tigers and take 2 of 3 from them in a series. For God sakes after the all-star break the Cleveland Indians only won four series, two of them were against the Tigers, as in that span the Indians were the second worst team in the MLB to the Houston Astros.
Finally, the train ride travels 68 feet high through another right turn and then is brought to a stop by magnetic brakes. This part of the ride symbolizes Detroit Tigers September Baseball. To begin the month the Tigers were only one game back of the division leading White Sox. But after a 16-12 month, the Tigers found themselves one win away from clinching back-to-back division titles. And on October 1st, the Tigers defeated the Royals 6-3 to clinch the American League Central Division and the 3rd seed in the American league.
Now I have to admit the White Sox going 11-17 in the month of September had a lot to do with the Tigers clinching the division. But if the Tigers picked the right time to play their best ball, it was now.
Clinching back to back division titles is a great accomplishment for a team. But what Miguel Cabrera did in his 2012 season has to be the most impressive individual performance I have ever seen from any player from any of the major three sports in the United States. Tigers 3rd baseman Miguel Cabrera won the first Triple Crown award since 1967, when Carl Yaztremski did it for the Boston Red Sox. Cabrera finished the year first in average (.331), RBI’s (139), and home runs (44). With the talent level now and days being on a whole other pedestal to what it was in the sixties, nobody thought any player in the MLB would ever reach the triple crown milestone. But after the season and hitting Cabrera had, I think it’s safe to crown him the king of hitting baseballs.
But the season is far from over for the Tigers. If you talk to any Tigers fans they will tell you that winning the division was just the first step and is just a consolation prize from what they expect out of this year’s team. Tiger’s fans will only be satisfied if on their home opener next year they will see a banner being rose which reads 2012 WORLD SERIES CHAMPS.
Throughout the year Tigers fans kept telling themselves all we have to do is get in the post season. Because they know they have the best strikeout duo pitchers and best duo hitters in baseball. They know they have a bullpen that at times may be shaky, but overall are good enough pieces to get the job done. Tiger fans know their team has a lineup that opposing pitchers wouldn’t want to face. Tiger fans know they have a starting rotation that opposing hitters wouldn’t want to face. But what Tigers fans know that many other fans may not is that the players have a sour taste in their mouths from last post season, and that playoff experience can only benefit them this year. So as long as the Tiger players stay hot and hungry, Tiger fans may get what they want on their home opener, April 5th, 2013, against the New York Yankees.