The 2013 season came to an end Saturday night for the Detroit Tigers with a 5-2 loss in Game 6 of the ALCS in Boston.
On Monday an era came to an end, as manager Jim Leyland announced he is stepping down after eight seasons.
Leyland had the Tigers in the playoffs four times, the ALCS four times, and the World Series twice, but never brought home a title.
While many people will be quick to point out that he never won a title, his success goes far beyond that. Leyland was able to turn the culture around, and he has left Detroit as a desirable destination.
His legacy will take a few years of him being away from the game (barring he doesn’t take another job elsewhere) before it truly takes shape. The 68-year-old has a World Series title with the Marlins in 1997, and three Manager of the Year awards (two with Pittsburgh and one with Detroit).
As for this season, it most certainly did not end how Tigers fans wanted it to. And Leyland’s career didn’t end the way most wanted it to.
But that’s not to say 2013 was a bad year, by any stretch.
The Tigers won their third straight AL Central title, and advanced to their third straight ALCS.
And they were much closer to a second consecutive World Series appearance than many will think, looking at a 4-2 series loss.
Frankly, the Tigers should have won all six games. Throughout the series the Tigers were subject to untimely double plays (just one for example, Game 5 Cabrera hit into one with no outs and runners at the corners, and heading to the eighth still trailing by one).
Further, the bullpen couldn’t hold onto the great games thrown by the starters. In 39 1/3 innings, the starters gave up just 27 hits, 9 earned runs and collected 54 strikeouts. The bullpen on the other hand, gave up 8 ER and 14 hits over 12.3 innings.
Game 6 saw a turn for the worse when former Red Sox player Jose Iglesias booted a routine double play that led to the game-winning grand slam by Shane Victorino.
But when it came down to it, the Tigers weren’t able to get it done. These aren’t excuses for the Tigers getting eliminated, but turning points that clearly changed the outcome of the series.
So while Boston’s search for a title continues, the Tigers begin a few new searches. They’ll be looking for a new manager, as well as a bullpen, and they’ll be searching for the answers of what to do with Prince Fielder and Max Scherzer in the offseason.
The first search will be the managerial spot, and a few names immediately come to mind. Within the organization, Gene Lamont and Lloyd McClendon could be possible choices, but not necessarily fan-favorite choices.
Outside of Detroit (at least at the moment) one big name on the radar could be Kirk Gibson. The Michigan native and former Tigers outfielder has been the manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks since 2010. During his tenure in Arizona he has had one postseason appearance, two .500 seasons and just one subpar season. Gibson would be the clear choice in the aspect of rejuvenating the fan base.
One last name that might be on the radar is Cal Ripken, Jr. The Orioles’ former ironman announced earlier this month that he would like to get into the managing career. It may be a long shot, but there is certainly the possibility.
As for Prince Fielder, many fans are upset with his performance, and many haven’t been a fan of him since the day he came to Detroit. While he hasn’t been quite the home-run machine and savior that he was hyped up to be, the fan base needs to take a deep breath and let it pan out.
They shouldn’t be calling for his head yet. After all, he has been a crucial part in making Miguel Cabrera more dangerous, as pitchers are less likely to pitch around Cabrera to get to another slugger.
There likely won’t be anything done with Cabrera, which would be a smart move for the organization.
Max Scherzer is the frontrunner for the AL Cy Young award. And rumor has it that the Tigers are exploring the idea of trading him. Not because he’s performed poorly, but because he’s done so well.
He’s got one more year on his contract, and is up for arbitration this year. The idea is that they would trade him to free up cap space, as he’ll be looking for a big-time contract next year.
That would be a mistake, however. They need to hang onto Scherzer, because obviously he was a big part of the rotation that was nothing short of dominant this year.
Perhaps the biggest question, certainly prior to Leyland’s departure, is what to do with the bullpen problems.
They made a huge move earlier this year getting rid of Jose Valverde, but they’re still in pretty rough shape. The Tigers need to invest in a solid closer, as Joaquin Benoit had a pretty rough year too. Benoit had two blown saves during the regular season with a 2.01 ERA. In the postseason he put up a 6.35 ERA with one blown save.
Other problematic relievers include “veteran” Phil Coke, the newly acquired Jose Veras, and youngster Bruce Rondon.
Perhaps the only solid piece left in the bullpen is Drew Smyly, who could even be a starter. But he has shown a lot of maturity out of the pen. During the regular season he has a 2.37 ERA over 76 innings. In the postseason he gave up just one hit and one earned run over three innings.
So there you have it. The team that entered 2013 with the most poise to win a championship leaves 2013 with the most questions.
We’ll see how it plays out over the offseason. For now though, here is a happy memory of Jim Leyland. Thanks for the good years, skip.