The Detroit Tigers are ready for their first trip to the World Series since 2006. They’ve proven that the way you play in the regular season does not dictate your success in the postseason.
In 2012, the Tigers didn’t play championship baseball. They didn’t play with the sort of fire or resilience that hints at World Series contention. Hell, they couldn’t even reach 90 wins.
The Tigers made it into the playoffs this year without a top 10 record in the majors. They won their title in baseball’s worst division- the AL Central.
Detroit was in the bottom half in overall home runs, finishing out of the top 10 in runs scored by a team. They barely made the Top 10 in hits and RBIs and they were nowhere near the Top 5 in team ERA or strikeouts.
Yet they are walking away with the American League Championship, crushing the supposedly best team in the American League, the New York Yankees – a team with unconscionable loads of experience in October.
The miracle can only be explained using three words: starting pitching turnaround.
Detroit’s pitching rotation has never looked better. Dominant Detroit starters went nearly 30 innings in a row without giving up a run. Verlander is undefeatable with an incredible 0.74 ERA in October. And Max Scherzer, as of Thursday morning, has yet to give up a run.
As for the bullpen, no team has proven to have more depth.
Guys like Drew Smyly, Al Alburquerque, Octavio Dotel and Phil Coke are making a name for themselves in October. All four have yet to give up a run. If Jim Leyland grants Valverde and Benoit too much time on the mound, however, the Tigers could be in trouble.
In the National League, a similar story is emerging out of San Francisco. Sixty-one percent of ESPN SportsNation voters predicted the Reds to defeat the Giants in the NLDS. After 5-2 and 9-0 wins for the Reds in San Francisco, just about everyone declared the series over. So, the Giants made history. They became the first team ever to win the NLDS after being down two games to none. Behind Ryan Vogelsong, Gregor Blanco, Buster Posey and Pablo Sandoval, they stormed back and won three in a row – in Cincy – to advance to the Championship Series, where they are locked in an intense battle with last year’s defending champion St. Louis Cardinals. Game 5 of that series is tonight.
The Cardinals, who finished with the same just-adequate-enough record as the Tigers, are way ahead of the pack in runs scored, team batting average and on-base percentage. Carlos Beltran (.400 AVG, .867 SLG) is producing numbers similar to those he produced for the 2006 postseason Mets. As for the rest of the lineup, last year’s World Series MVP David Freese (.344 AVG) and Danniel Descalso (6 RBI, 2 HR) are getting the job done.
In the three games between the Cards and Tigers in June, Detroit just barely took 2 of 3, outscoring St. Louis 9-7. I imagine they will just barely beat the odds again in a 7-game World Series.