Ten weeks into the season and Detroit Tigers fans are getting that familiar feeling that some things just never change. 22 games ago the Tigers had just swept Boston in Fenway and were holding onto a lofty seven game lead in the AL Central.
Since then the Tigers have won six games and lost 16 while being outscored during that stretch by 53 runs. Even with their successes gained in recent years, it hasn’t come easy and despite a red-hot streak that seems like ages ago already, it looks like more of the same in Motown.
A quick check of the AL Central standings reveals that the Tigers still hold a 2-game division lead over the surging Royals. However, another glance reveals that the Tigers have only won two more games than the last place, and vastly improved, Twins, who only lag behind the Tigers by 3.5 games in the standings.
Jim Leyland haters were put at ease in the offseason by the hiring of the younger and more relatable Brad Ausmus. Early returns on the new manager have been favorable, but is he really that different from Leyland as a manager? The discrepancies are far from obvious. More of the same.
Ian Kinsler and Rajai Davis were brought in to ignite the Tigers on the base paths and in the clubhouse with their contagious attitudes and fiery style of play. They’ve both performed admirably but anybody hoping for a less business-like approach by the team this year has to be sorely disappointed here in mid-June. Cinch up those ties boys, Detroit Tigers Incorporated is seemingly here to stay.
With a division as shockingly tight as the AL Central, who then, is the Tigers’ biggest threat?
Chicago’s offense has been revitalized with the addition of Cuban star Jose Abreu. Their pitching, even when being led by Chris Sale, has been bad though and will ultimately be their downfall.
Kansas City is oozing with talent and if their bats could ever match their potential then they seem like the most likely candidates to chase down the Tigers once the pennant push kicks into high gear.
But even Minnesota has turned a corner and Cleveland is showing signs of life again. Unfortunately for these squads, like Chicago, pitching will probably undo both of their playoff chances, but hey, stranger things have happened.
One thing is clear, Detroit possesses more top to bottom talent than any team in the division and it’s not particularly close. Who then poses the greatest threat to unseating the Tigers? That’s the easiest question of all – it’s the Tigers themselves.
How can a team with Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, Anibal Sanchez, Victor Martinez, Miguel Cabrera, Torii Hunter, and Ian Kinsler have a +2 run differential this deep into the season in an obviously weak division?
The reasons that can be pointed to (bad outfield defense, roller-coaster bullpen, Verlander’s struggles, lack of batting order depth) are all legitimate, but none of them acceptable.
Tigers fans, some of the best in the game, want to see some fire from the players, consistent energy, conviction, whatever it takes to show the faithful that they want it as badly as fans think they should. Tigers supporters wear it on their sleeves and they’d like to see the team join forces.
But those expecting or hoping for change aren’t likely to see it. The Tigers are who they are, even with the new faces who were expected to change the landscape. Their fight is a 162-game battle, not a game-by-game crisis. They’ve been around the block long enough to know that the law of averages will play out and that the cream almost always rises to the top. Or at least it has lately.
They’re comfortable with that, as uncomfortable as it is to watch. But press cruise control enough times, start getting heavy-eyed as the traffic comes nearer, and your chances of getting passed by a hungry young driver increases by the mile.
Tread lightly, Tigers, because eventually ‘more of the same’ has a funny way of backfiring. Actually, scratch that, don’t tread lightly, get angry and stake your claim to what is rightfully yours.
Assuming it still is.
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